Texthelp Talks Podcast

Podcast: Reimagining education in Australia

In this episode of Texthelp Talks, our host Greg O'Connor sits down to chat to one of the co-authors on our recent 'Learning in a changing landscape' whitepaper, Dr. Chris Wilson from ImpactEd. They explore key results from the research, including Australia's response to teaching in a pandemic and how this is causing us to reimagine what education looks like in Australia moving forward. They discuss challenges including teacher workloads and how to effectively select EdTech tools that can compliment existing pedagogy and help to close the achievement gap for all students.


 

To read the results of our full paper with ImpactEd, visit text.help/whitepaper-findings


Transcript

Greg O'Connor:
Welcome to another Texthelp Talks podcast where we get a host of experts covering a range of topics about education right through to the workplace, so. So at the end I'll mention this again. Make sure you subscribe through your preferred podcast player or streaming service so you won't miss an episode. And really important, this is our first episode coming from the Australian Texthelp team. My name is Greg O'Connor. I'm the education and technology lead on the Asia Pacific Texthelp team here, based in Brisbane, and I'd like to welcome Dr. Chris Wilson from ImpactEd. Hi, Chris.

Dr. Chris Wilson:
Hey.

Greg:
Now, Chris, you're currently an associate consultant at ImpactEd, and I'm going to talk a bit more about ImpactEd in a minute, and you do lots of work around supporting charities and social enterprises to design strategies for impact, financial sustainability, and growth, which I find fantastic. And one of the things I read with interest was your... And I think you've just recently stepped down as the CEO of The Brilliant Club, where you mobilized PhD students and graduates to support the progression of underrepresented students to get to university?

Chris:
That's right. Yeah. So The Brilliant Club was an educational charity based in the UK, but actually by the time that I had left it, it expanded to South Africa and Malaysia and Ireland, and it focused on supporting pupils from underrepresented backgrounds progress to highly selective universities by recruiting training and placing PhD students into non-selective state schools. So it was one of these things that started off as a hobby back in 2012 and before we knew it we had to run an organization. And so when I left we were working with around 15,000 students per year and had 75 colleagues, which was a shock to everyone who was involved in it at the beginning.

Chris:
But what we learned from that was there was an underlying demand, both from schools and teachers, but also from organizations that worked with schools and teachers, to better understand the impact of their interventions, and to measure and analyze both data qualitative and quantitative to get a sense of where they were having an impact on the lives of young people. And so ImpactEd is an organization that does that effectively. It supports organizations who are really interested in getting a better sense of what impact they're having so that they can improve their programs, but also so that schools and teachers can make good decisions about which interventions to deploy.

Greg:
And so that's probably a good segue to say that here at Texthelp, we got you guys at ImpactEd to... You're one of the co-authors of a report to look at the impact of COVID on education, particularly around technology and student motivation, and coming out was the report, Lockdown and beyond: Learning in a changing landscape. It really looked at the issues around edtech and student motivation, not only during the pandemic, but beyond because, I mean, just here in Australia we've lived through the pandemic and now we're kind of coming through the other side, but just recently a few things have happened and some of us have had to go back into lockdown again and that's just a kind of an ongoing issue for us. So as one of the authors, what did the report tell you generally about how schools cope with the pandemic and in particular schools in Australia?

Chris:
Yeah, I mean, it's a really good question. And I think that the important thing to consider, particularly for countries like Australia, where the lockdown, although it may not feel like it right now, has been less severe than in other parts of the world, was that this shift to periods of remote teaching exacerbated existing trends rather than throw a whole new load of problems into the mix. And those existing trends were exacerbated speedily and rapidly, and that came with a specific set of challenges, but there were trends that we were largely aware of already. So the first is the rising importance of edtech in delivering high quality education to pupils. So obviously, that got put under the microscope in a way which no one was expecting, and at immense speed.

Chris:
Second was the importance of student motivation. So the sense that if you were to be successful with students, they need to be motivated intrinsically and individually. And of course, again, that suddenly got put under the microscope when pupils were working from home.

Chris:
And then finally, and perhaps most profoundly, the sense that there was a divide in achievement and attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their more advantaged peers. And the data, even for a relatively small period of lockdown in a country like Australia, was startling. So if you take Victoria as an example, when they had a nine week period of lockdown, the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their more advantaged peers was six and a half weeks, according to the Grattan Institute. And if you were to build that up on a longer term and larger scale, these are really significant challenges.

Greg:
Yeah, yeah. Well, and let's kind of unpack that a bit because there's kind of three parts to the report, that it's the impact on teachers and obviously the impact on the students, and then generally edtech itself. I've often heard edtech being described as an amplifier or a pedagogy, tech actually kind of brings out stuff, and I was amazed in the report, how in Aus, during... Like in March 2020, the downloads of edtech tools in Aus surged by 190%, which was well above the average at the time, which worldwide was laying kind of around 90%, which is still awesome. What does that tell you, that all of a sudden teachers were just madly downloading apps all over the place?

Chris:
In some cases I think that that's exactly what it does tell you. I mean, one of the things it also tells you is that actually Australia has quite a sophisticated and mature market for edtech compared to other organizations. Before lockdown the predictions about how that part of the sector in Australia would grow suggested that by 2022 it would make up 1.7 billion dollars worth of the Australian economy. So yes, it does tell you that there was a rush to download tools, and maybe in some cases an indiscriminate rush.

Chris:
I think that we've got to be a little bit careful here. It's perfectly possible when looking at some of the statistics that came out of lockdown, and to give a really good example, 70% of Australian teachers said that it had increased their workload. Now, on one level you might look at this data and say, well, this gives sucker to all of those skeptics about edtech out there who were saying edtech is a silver bullet that isn't actually ever going to realize its promise.

Chris:
And I would really contest that, because these were not the conditions in which to assess the efficacy of edtech tools. And also you're talking about two fundamentally different types of edtech that were being used and downloaded. There were those edtech tools and systems that were used to facilitate effective communication and those will range right from Google classroom... Those are very different to the type of edtech tools that are domain specific and looking to support pupils, develop skills in a particular area, and what's really noticeable, and I was saying this to you before we came on air as it were, in the UK, where we're onto our third lockdown, the amount of improvement in the quality of practice and remote learning has increased exponentially. So I think we've got to be careful at looking at statistics like the 190% rise in the download of edtech tools and some of the statistics around things like teacher workload to assume that during lockdown we had the perfect experiment for whether edtech can make a contribution or not.

Greg:
Yeah. Yeah. I've found in my work that I do and the discussions I have with teachers is that teachers who were already familiar and competent around using edtech, they took it on board and they did not necessarily experience an increase in workload, they'd already... it was just sort of a natural progression, whereas teachers who for whatever reason, hadn't incorporated edtech into their classroom, effectively integrated it, they found it challenging. And now that we've kind of left lockdown as such, it's interesting looking at whether teachers continue down this path or they go, oh, that was that little hiccup, we'll just go back to what we were doing before.

Chris:
Yeah. And I mean, there's so much to unpack there. I think you're spot on. The first thing to say is, at the beginning of the first lockdown in Australia the number of teachers who were less than confident of using edtech was quite significant. So 39%, nearly 40% of teachers said that they didn't feel prepared to use ICT in teaching before lockdown. Now, I suppose the optimistic thing here is that after that first lockdown, that percentage will have dropped significantly, but we've got to accept that more training, potentially more effective training on the judicious selection of edtech tools is an important part to resolving this challenge. So that's the first thing to say, but those teachers who were less than confident about using ICT are now more confident in using ICT and all of the statistics suggest that they're going to embed it more confidently into their classroom practice, not just in the context of lockdown.

Chris:
The second thing, I think, to say here is that I think that there is a gulf in some of the perceptions and media coverage and slightly lofty pronunciations on edtech, which suggests that the ultimate aim is to somehow replace teachers and lots of edtech tools... I mean, there have been, I think, some unhelpful comments by edtech tool manufacturers along those lines, but the vast majority of edtech tools are simply trying to support good classroom teaching, not replace it. And I think as teachers become more confident in navigating the marketplace, for want of a less crude expression, they'll select tools that work with the grain of existing classroom practice rather than try and radically reform it.

Greg:
Yeah, yeah. I totally agree. And so, do you, in the work you continue to do, you're kind of finding evidence that these tools, they're actually supporting teacher practice, not replacing teachers, that they're actually supporting their practice and actually shining a light on the things that actually work and then... This is probably a generalization, Chris, but change is a disruptive process and in some ways, did the pandemic in its very nature being disruptive, kind of make people change probably faster than they would have changed normally?

Chris:
Absolutely. And on one level that may have put a group of teachers off this way of working completely. Far more common, I think, were teachers who began to realize some of the potential of these tools, even if they wish they were delivering them in a slightly more controlled and calm context. And I think the thing to really emphasize, certainly in the UK context, is that you're not dealing with teachers who had to shift completely to remote learning in a sort of theoretical utopia where one day they were working in schools with normal classroom practice and the next day they'd flipped a switch and they were online. First, they were often dealing with some pupils who were still coming into school, so the pupils of critical workers, so they were doing two things at once.

Chris:
Second, the schools didn't have all of the fundamental infrastructure to allow for these tools to be used most effectively. And that's the big change between in the UK, I think between lockdown one and lockdown three, those schools who didn't have Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams set up effectively in lockdown one will now have had it set up in lockdown three.

Chris:
And then thirdly, they were dealing with a pastoral or an overwhelming pastoral pressure in relation to pupil wellbeing. And actually it's really interesting, if you look at the statistics from Australia and New Zealand, a greater percentage of teachers were worried about pupil wellbeing during the lockdown than they were around pupil learning. So the focus of what teachers were doing wasn't necessarily the environment to test some of these edtech tools. Nonetheless, I think that despite all of that, according to the statistics coming out of Europe, 70% of teachers are saying that they'll use more edtech in the classroom when they return. So there must have been something that they saw as having potential as they worked through these challenges.

Greg:
Yeah. And you've also started to talk about students, and this is kind of time to kind of dive into that bit of it, about what impact this will have on students. I was chatting to a teacher in a Brisbane school just last week, and the schools are going back in Australia, here, all our schools have had their summer break and they'll be back over the next few weeks, and she was saying that... One of the things I realized, it's some of their kids actually thrived in a blended learning environment. And so the challenge for them now is to think, okay, so it's not a one size fits all modality education, we've got kids who are saying, oh, well, I actually enjoyed what that offered me in blended, and so there's... I'm sure the report teased out a lot of issues around the impact upon students.

Chris:
That's right. And I think that one of the big lessons here is that the challenge of increasing blended learning and remote learning is the risk that that disadvantage gap is exacerbated. That is not the responsibility of edtech tools, that's the responsibility of sensible government policy. So I think that there are lots of students who may well benefit from an increase in blended or remote learning, but we've got to be careful that that drive doesn't accidentally end up increasing the achievement gap.

Chris:
To give a really explicit example of that, in Australia, of the most disadvantaged groups 25% of them didn't have a desk in which they could place a laptop or work from and 47% of them couldn't, or didn't work with a family member on their schoolwork. So that puts pressure on edtech tools to make sure that they're designing in appropriate feedback mechanisms, appropriate support for students to work independently so that it doesn't end up relying on some of that broader infrastructure that sits around remote learning.

Greg:
Yeah. For me, it kind of teases out that issue that the digital divide is not generational. Just because you're young or you're old doesn't mean you're going to use technology different. The digital divide is actually socio-economic, and so, disadvantaged kids who are from a background who don't have a table, but we also have geographical disadvantage, just actually physically you just can't get on the internet because of where you live.

Chris:
Absolutely.

Greg:
So, all those things. One of the things the report talks about is learning loss, and I wonder whether you could talk a bit about that because there's been much discussion around whether learning loss... If you missed half a year of school, is that really going to affect your learning? What does that mean? So, what are some of the things that the report found around learning loss and the impact upon COVID and the move to remote learning?

Chris:
So again, I think it's probably worth distinguishing between that first lock down when a lot of this research was done and a lot of the learning loss was likely to be more profound, precisely because schools weren't ready for that transition. Some of the statistics that I mentioned, Victoria, earlier, were terrifying. The achievement gap was one thing, but the simple raw amount of time that seemed to be lost to learning was something that we can't simply overlook. And only 35% of Australian teachers were confident during that first lockdown that their students were learning well, and that inevitably has a knock on effect.

Chris:
In the US there was one survey completed of teachers which basically said that effectively 25% of their pupils were truant or the equivalent of truant, which means that they simply weren't getting any education during that period whatsoever. And there were a lot of quite interesting, quite terrifying studies produced in the US about the amount of learning loss and the long-term effects both on the number of dropouts of education, but actually on the ability of pupils to earn as much over the course of their lifetime. So the idea that if teaching, and this is actually before additional lockdowns were put on, the GDP loss by 2040 in the US was going to be somewhere between 80 and 125 billion US dollars just as a result of the learning loss.

Chris:
Now, I think it's fair to say that some of the more extravagant claims about learning loss during lockdown are beginning to be unpicked slightly. And that's also true incidentally of student wellbeing. So, we've done some researcher impact and we've tracked a cohort of pupils through lockdown, asking them a series of questions on a fortnightly basis, and what we actually found was that during lockdown overall pupil wellbeing didn't drop significantly, but actually stayed at a pretty consistent level. There were drops in metacognition, but these drops were sort of consistent with what you might expect over a period of time that... they weren't being exacerbated greatly, and they were certainly recoverable.

Chris:
But what I think what we simply don't know is, we don't know yet whether the catch-up initiatives that are being put into schools will achieve the desire to get these pupils back on track. It's perfectly possible that with targeted interventions, better use of technology, that some of these learning losses can be recovered.

Chris:
And so in the UK, the government have funded a national tuition program, which we wait to see the results of. So basically, I think it's too soon to make any huge claims about learning loss. Undoubtedly some students will have really suffered during lockdown, and we certainly shouldn't ignore the need to try and recover some of those losses, but it may well be that it's less profound than we'd initially feared.

Greg:
Yeah. And maybe whatever loss or whatever impact it had, it's probably felt the greatest by those students where existing achievement gaps were already sitting there anyway. And so for lots of different reasons those students tended to... And I'll just think of here where we are in Australia, students maybe have been in quite a supportive environment at a school for whatever reason, and they lost lots of those supports when they couldn't attend- 

Chris:
That's right. And if you take secondary school students in the UK, 39% of the highest income bracket were doing four or more hours a day of schoolwork, and that drops right down to 25%, 23%, if you look at the middle and low income earners. So there is a disparity there, but let's be upfront. There was an existing attainment gap already, so that's why I keep coming back to this idea that it is exacerbating existing trends. I think the lesson though for edtech and for those who are doing remote learning, is to make sure the achievement gap was closing and has been closing over time, very painfully, very slowly, but what you don't want is a drive to blended learning, opening it up again, and then us having to start... and which is why...

Chris:
And I'm on a Texthelp podcast, so I don't want to blow the trumpet too loudly, but it's why it's so pleasing to see Texthelp in the UK working through functionality on its platform that looks at how it might support the most disadvantaged students. So we, at ImpactEd, are working on a project with Texthelp to assess the impact of some improvements to the platform that might particularly help students who have English as an additional language, for example. And it's fair to say that not all edtech initiatives give due consideration to some of the specific challenges that more disadvantaged pupils might face when working with the platform. And I think that that's a really important feature of the next phase of development of edtech tools.

Greg:
And that's my the last question to kind of wrap up our chat, is to talk about where to from here. What is the future of education and edtech tools?

Chris:
Yeah. I mean-

Greg:
If you can answer that we can all go home and be happy.

Chris:
Exactly. Yeah. I mean, so I think that the single biggest promise of edtech, which has failed to comprehensively materialize to date, is this idea that it could support with what is a near universal challenge in the education system, which is teacher workload.

Greg:
Yep.

Chris:
And compelling evidence that edtech, any given edtech tool, can make a significant improvement on teacher workload is a crucial factor in my opinion in its successful uptake, because no matter how impactful it might be on the students, if it significantly increases the workload of teachers then the uptake is going to be low because in most countries teacher workload is already in a perilous position. So, the evidence that the edtech tool can support that, but typically it needs to do a load of other things as well.

Chris:
I think that part of the existing skepticism of some teachers in some quarters to edtech in general is because in the first wave of evangelical edtech providers there was an exaggeration of the impact, a sense that the job of edtech was somehow to replace elements of teaching. And then alongside it, I think, was a drift at genericism, which probably wasn't helpful. The domain specificity of edtech interventions remains a clear indicator of its success. All of the research suggests that if the edtech tool is focused, grounded in robust pedagogy and evidence, then it's likely to have a success. A one size fits all style solution, I think, is not the answer. And I think that quite often, what you had was that edtech companies trying to do everything for schools in one single block.

Chris:
And that's why I keep coming back to this distinction between those tools, which facilitate communication between teachers and parents and pupils, and those edtech tools who are trying to do something specific pedagogically, and that in that latter camp, this idea that successful edtech tools focus on doing one thing very effectively. There are some other indications sitting underneath that, but if they're really to work on an individual level, then they should be generating feedback for the pupils, yes, but also generating useful content for the teachers so that the teachers aren't removed from the process. One of the most powerful things that edtech tools can do is, as well as providing feedback for individual pupils, is collate that and give patterns to teachers that allow them to refine their own practice. Teachers are at the very center rather than, as I say, in an attempt to almost bypass them. So the teacher centricity of these tools, I think, is a really important part of the next phase of the kind of development of edtech.

Greg:
And you just touched on the whole issue of data and how we can use the data that's collected, but that's for another podcast, not for today. Look, everyone listening, if you'd like to read more and like to read the full results from the study from ImpactEd, you can view it and download it by visiting text.help/whitepaper-findings, and there you'll find and download the full paper.

Greg:
Hey, Chris, thank you for getting up a bit earlier to talk to us here in Aus. It's been great. I look forward to... I'm sure we can arrange another chat sometime and kind of... I'll be really interested to dive deeper into the whole issue of data and how we can support instructional decision-making both at a teacher level and then at kind of an admin level as well. So, thank you. And thank you, everybody. Don't forget, make sure you follow us here on Texthelp Talks podcasts and subscribe to us through your preferred podcast player or streaming service so you will never miss an episode. That's it for us, and until next time, thank you.

Comments

Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.
SHARE

Search

Submit

Subscribe To Blog

Google reCaptcha: