Edtech reforms that ignore FE’s ‘dual professionalism’ will make things worse

26 Nov 2019, 5:00

Edtech can improve teaching, learning and assessment – and save time (but only if it’s done right), says Vikki Liogier

It is cliché by now, but the world of work really is changing and no industry sector will avoid technology’s transformative impact, not least education. As pointed out by Nora Senior in these pages last week, this has implications for the professional practice of teachers and trainers, from the curriculum they deliver to the professional development they experience.

I agree with Ms Senior that professional development must include improving the digital skills of the workforce in line with changes in the workplace. However, efforts are likely to be counterproductive if they focus on this and don’t account for helping practitioners to excel in their distinctive “dual professionalism” – their necessary expertise in teaching and in the industry sector their curriculum prepares young people for.

Being an effective, productive practitioner in any sector means developing sustainable practices, avoiding overload and stress – a tall order in FE at present. Unless we get the implementation of educational technology right, we could compound problems with workload, recruitment and retention.

Using educational technology or “edtech” to develop teaching practice is a well-rehearsed theme, and one that has come back into focus with Ofsted’s new education inspection framework. With a fresh emphasis on “quality of education”, the framework will review how teachers and trainers are implementing proven and well-regarded teaching and learning practices. Edtech offers an array of tools to support practical approaches to implementing established pedagogy.

Using these very tools, the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) has created an online training service – the Enhance Digital Teaching platform – based on bite-size modules to provide practitioners with easy-to-access ways of developing their professionalism in this area. The training service supports our digital teaching professional framework.

The ETF is also consulting on a possible “edtech teacher status” award to recognise and reward professional development in digital skills. This would recognise advanced practitioners and would enable teachers and trainers to demonstrate how they are having an impact by supporting other practitioners to develop their pedagogy using edtech.

It is cliché by now, but the world of work really is changing

So much for developing how teachers teach, but developing practitioners’ industry-related digital skills is also under scrutiny. The government’s new essential digital skills entitlement for adults aged 19-plus comes into force from summer next year; the ETF has been commissioned by the DfE to develop and provide a continuous professional learning and development (CPLD) package to prepare practitioners in FE and training to deliver the new qualifications.

Aside from these generic skills, each industry sector also has its own hardware and software that are constantly upgraded, and its own evolving practices. It is important our teachers and trainers are kept abreast of all these developments, which ought to define what they teach.

Mirroring our dual professionalism, the digital revolution we are experiencing is affecting pedagogy and curriculum.

We need sustainable practice to give practitioners the means to save time and cut workload, and it is welcome that this is one of the DfE’s priorities as highlighted in its strategy document Realising the potential of technology in education published in April this year.

Use of edtech and enhancing digital skills can be key to productivity in education just like every other sector. Esam Baboukhan’s session at last week’s Society for Education and Training conference showed that edtech can improve teaching, learning and assessment while saving time. Done right, it can provide fresh opportunities to inspire and sustain the professionals who are the foundation of our sector’s success

However, the dual professionalism of FE demands a careful approach to implementation. With intensified pressure on every aspect of teachers’ and trainers’ work, sustainability needs to inform all our actions or things could get a lot worse before they get better.

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  1. Bob Harrison

    Good piece Vikki…the fundamental point, and flaw in the DfE strategy, is we must start with culture, people and pedagogies NOT products and services. There is no evidence of a causal link between technology and improved learning outcomes. The crucial correlation is how effectively teachers and learners use technology and improved learning outcomes.