News / edTech legislation

edTech in a time of Coronavirus: reflection, realism, and rights.

We’ve not responded to much of the reactions about online learning yet, because first we wanted to spend our capacity to address hand hygiene and the use of biometric fingerprint readers in schools, and If Schools Close, what happens to Children on Free School Meals.

As a crisis reaction there was a rush to talk about online learning platforms. The Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, said in Parliament that there will be “a more speedy evolution of some of these learning aids and resources.”

Rebooting the state education system after this crisis will need to be based on trust. Whether that will be a point in time, or a gradual process towards a new normal, trying to go back to how it was before is unlikely to work. edTech has a role to play in state education but what that should look like needs a complete strategic rethink.

For a whole range of reasons. This shouldn’t be jumped on as an ‘experiment’.

Digital exclusion and accessibility are obvious, but staff burden and burnout, safeguarding obligations, expectations setting, parental, pupil and peer pressures, motivation after exam cancellation, lack of training and familiarity with products by both staff and children are all barriers to ‘class as normal but just online now.’ That doesn’t mean there is no role to play, there are good tools that will support communications, administration and delivery of online learning, but no one size fits all. School staff are acutely aware of this and don’t need us to spell it out.

Some people’s reaction has been to propose a similar device distribution approach as they did in New York, USA. But there’s much more to the useful use of technology in learning, than having a screen. If this is the direction of travel families and the sector want to see, then we will need at least as good a law as FERPA. We need it to protect UK children’s rights, in the same way that FERPA protects US children. That’s not happening any time very soon.

Or we will need an alternative data approach in education, something like Estonia for example. Citizens have total transparency over how their data are accessed and processed for purposes that you approve. Companies don’t extract huge volumes of personal data to keep and use for their own purposes, but instead access data attributes.

We will certainly need to give teachers better grounding in much of what they are being expected to do, without any training being given to them. Initial teacher training in the UK, does not yet include a core requirement on data rights and digital training so that the risks and benefits of emerging technologies are fully understood. Not least, the basics of video conference safeguarding, such as setting your permissions so only admins can screen share to prevent outsiders getting into your call. Getting basic teacher training to cover data and digital content, is another change in the future we want to see, for trusted use of technology.

As Ben Williamson, wrote in 2018, data about a child can have significant effects on their life. Schools are responsible for ensuring the use of edTech today, does not negatively impact their future. To rush tech solutions, is a reaction, not a response.

Of course, the ethical issues of datafication of education are considerable and fairly well rehearsed. An interesting one is the ethics of data quality–a topic discussed by Neil Selwyn at the recent Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK) conference. There are significant potential consequences of poor data in learning analytics platforms. In other spaces, such as healthcare and military drones, the consequences of poor data quality can lead to disastrous, even fatal, effects. Poor quality datafication of education may not be quite so drastic, but it has the potential to significantly disrupt students’ education by leading to mismeasurement of their progress, misdiagnosis of their problems, or by diverting them on to the ‘wrong’ personalized pathways.

Schools alone cannot do this today, because so much edTech is exploitative and unsafe. The market has normalised excessive data collection and its exploitation. The whole sector needs to step up and collectively improve their standards, but it’s unlikely to do so in a pandemic if it couldn’t do so previously. Having had years of failing, we think improvement now, is only possible through enforcement and new law for the sector.

But right now, schools are focussed first on communications and safeguarding. How they deliver teaching and learning will follow, and while some have started with a rapid reaction, few yet have seen a sustainable approach, that fits all, over time.

More work on that will follow.

We will also follow up with some recommendations for companies and vendors.

More importantly right now, we want to say thank you to every Head, every staff member, every support worker and volunteers working in our education systems, from the Early Years through the uncertainty of year 6s leaving primary school, GCSE and A-levels students. Your efforts are truly going above and beyond every expectation.

From all of us, parents and teachers, at defenddigitalme. x

Trusted content for a range of age groups

Much of what is being shared right now, are lists of tools and materials to share. We don’t usually do this for a number of reasons.

First, we wouldn’t start from here. It isn’t a great starting point, because it is then centred on the tool, not the learning aims. Frankly, it’s not a good time to start things that are unfamiliar, but we’re all doing our best and every school will need to take the decisions that suit its own needs and communities.

Secondly, because even the best of products change over time. And a recommendation at one point of time for a trusted product, might be meaningless the next day if the owner changes, if adTech tracking is added to the app, or Terms and Conditions change.

That said, we know people like materials and ideas that are tried and tested, so here’s ten of our *personal* favourites, and not defenddigitalme endorsements.

  1. A Coronavirus tech handbook is a crowdsourced work-in-progress.
  2. Consider ready-made, tried and tested public media such as the BBC which offer a range of content across all age groups, such as BBC Bitesize with ideas to keep children engaged. More is coming from the Beeb, we are told.
  3. The Youth Driver Trust has lots of lovely free resources, designed ‘hand-in-hand with their Drive for Literacy (DfL) programme.’
  4. How about a free, downloadable Key Stage 1 & 2 teaching pack on the role of #WomenInSTEM through Artistic Encounters, from the University of Newcastle.
  5. Anyone can complete these free coding tutorials. And if you are working on the tutorials on your own you can join the codebar community on Slack to get help and discuss anything with students or coaches.
  6. We know some schools offer a weekly video ‘assembly’ message for all pupils. This can keep up a human-link to school, and some may find it useful.
  7. Some ideas from CRIN (Child Rights International Network) on the environment, to innovations, to to keep children and adults thinking creatively and critically – as well as entertained and distracted. And for yourself, here is what CRIN is reading: the stuck-at-home edition
  8. Local bookshops need all your support right now, and if you cannot get workbooks for pupils through your usual supplier, may be a delighted alternative. Many will order books and leave them on their doorstep for collection. It may be a time to consider the costs vs convenience of Amazon to shape what the new normal will look like in future.
  9. Audible fiction to listen to, is free for now.
  10. And don’t forget about fitness. Joe Wicks offers short PE lessons for children for free on his YouTube channel.

We hope you are all keeping your spirits up, and will ask for help where and when you need to. If it comes to questions of tech and data, we really are happy to help, and for anything else we might be able to find someone who can. Take care, everyone.