365 Days Later | Part 2


One year on from COVID, schools are finally beginning to look forward to some normality after periods of remote learning. Of course, the impact on teaching and learning has been well reported but what are the next steps for education?

During part 2 of the discussion, Martin, Paddy and Greg delve deeper into what the future holds for education post COVID-19. From using data to inform instruction to how we can help teachers use technology in a way that complements their existing teaching practices.

If you haven't checked out part 1 yet, you can listen here.

Reports from Australia:

Transcript

Patrick McGrath:
Welcome back to part two of 365 days later on the Texthelp talks podcast. I'm Patrick McGrath, and I'm joined once again by our CEO, Martin McKay, and our edtech manager from Australia, Greg O'Connor to continue our chat on the future of education. Now that we're beginning to come out the other side of COVID 19 school closures and a change from remote learning to perhaps a little bit more of a hybrid model. We're looking at the lessons that we've learnt and the opportunities that lie in front of us. We hope you enjoyed part one as much as we did, but if you're listening to us today and you haven't listened to part one yet then pop on over to check it out and join us back here, but really today, together on our podcast today, we want to look ahead. We want to explore what the next steps for education are 365 days later.

Patrick:
We've heard about learning loss. We've heard the buzzwords around catch up. We've seen that exams have been stopped the move to center assessments. So there are many changes have taken place. There are negatives within COVID, but there are many, many positives. I think there has been, I'm not sure if you've seen it in Australia as well, a kind of a shift, I suppose, in educators around what I call data culture, where data used to be that statutory thing. These are summative tests. These are attendance data. This is SEM data. This is end of year tracking data. Now with what we've seen as a consequence of this increased use of technology. We've seen all of those wonderful opportunities that Martin's talked about, but I think we do need to work on our data culture, of data not being a dirty word and actually data being a very, very incredibly useful thing to inform teaching and learning and to help us get a better picture of how our students are progressing. Do you see that as well Greg or-

Greg O’Connor:
Yeah, definitely. And that kind of this we're talking about disruption. One of the disruptions that have happened was around assessment and you know, Oh my goodness, I don't have this, the kids aren't in my room with me. I can't actually see what they're doing. And did you notice Paddy and Martin? We began talking now about synchronous and asynchronous environment. This became, oh, that's right. Oh, formative versus summative. And what we found in the schools that we were working in was teachers realize that just because I wasn't sitting next to a student, I can still give immediate feedback. You know, I can give impact. I can give probably more immediate feedback to more students than I was previously when I was kind of physically walking around my room. I can personalize that feedback. So I can actually, not only give immediate, but I can actually make sure it's personalized.

Greg:
And also the other piece was I can get my kids to collaborate and actually have peer feedback and peer monitoring and a whole bunch of other ways. And that was like last year, here in Aus, we launched some pilots with WriQ and that's really, the data piece has been the important piece that -, and having said that too, that petty is, it's a journey. Now that teachers are going to thinking, okay, so what is data? What am I going to use this for?

Patrick:
Yeah.

Greg:
And I remember Martin, once I heard you and Dave Edyburn talking about this and talking about when you just have a data point, it's quite a blunt way to actually measure something. If you're just a one-off event. What do you want to do is you want to have data over a period of time and you want to see growth. There'll be ups and downs, but over this period of time, I want to see that why I'm providing teaching learning instruction is actually having a positive impact upon my kids. So that's definitely one Paddy, but it's a new field. I think it's something that we're going to be tackling into the future.

Martin McKay:
Yeah. I think that teachers have been looking at assessment score for years and administrators looking at assessment score for years. So actually looking at data in the context of focus perform, I don't think that's new, but I think it's a little bit blunt. This takes one big task maybe two or three times a year, and it's not passive at all. And I think that we can gain a hundred small pieces of information a day from kids and build a really rich picture of their learning behaviors and the learning preferences and start to measure their success and measure their growth in a much richer way than just kind of 2.2 year. I'm 50, and if you measured my height, you would say that I haven't grown in the last 30 years and I absolutely have, but it's not being measured in my way. And I think some of these assessments aren't really capturing the growth that kids are showing.

Patrick:
Yeah. And I think that the big takeaway for me from this year is how useful things like the data sets can be to inform teaching and learning going forward, or to inform instruction because access to that data and real time, literally to things like automated scoring to things like live data can help inform a teacher in a really meaningful and relevant way, but also from a student perspective, it helps them set better goals. It helps them identify their progress. It helps them do better to stress and challenge them. And I don't know about you guys, but that's what I've seen certainly evidence from our educators.

Greg:
Yeah. I had a really good example of that. So I was working in the school, we're doing a pilot around WriQ. And a part of the WriQ is the program where the students getting their data feedback, and they're looking at their word cloud, the vocab they're using and stuff, but also the teachers giving feedback. And some of the feedback is generated things like the vocabulary age. So you've just written this passage, and what we can see is your writing is this particular vocabulary age. And it came up in the discussion in the same room, two teachers have a totally different way they approached it. One teacher said, Oh, I don't want to give that to my students because it'll -, they might see it as a positive outcome that'll be. They'll kind of be like, Oh, I'm not writing at a high enough level.

Greg:
Whereas, the other teacher might, No, that's a really good point to actually help the student reflect on where they are and give them set goals for where they're going. And so, it was really this idea, I think, of the ed tech in this case was WriQ, being an amplifier of the pedagogy that the teacher was using and putting a mirror on that and making them reflect on what they were doing. And that's been a really positive, as well. Paddy, the other thing about the data was, and you had mentioned this before, is it depends where you sit in the chair. So data to a school principal is different than data to a classroom teacher, data to a district supervisor, whatever, it's a difference between having data to get global insights versus instructional pinpoints to know where to next.

Patrick:
I'm listening to both of you talk there and what's hitting me quite hard, we would not have had this conversation a year ago, whilst passionately we believe in data on this approach and Texthelp. The understanding and the wider education sector about just how powerful it is, I don't think would have necessarily, would have had at this point. So it's an incredible testament to what COVID has done, that we're actually able to have this conversation and educators are able to listen and understand, actually, yes, I can get that data. And the other thing, I think that's come out of that in a similar way, is a year ago, we would talk more about marking.

Patrick:
So when we're talking about WriQ, teachers would identify with that conversation about marking, now the conversation shifts, and it's about feedback. So it's about data and it's about feedback. And these things are a result to me of what we've found through a newer, here to stay. And you see, Greg, you mentioned earlier, about hybrid learning, you see hybrid learning, and we'll use that in inverted commas, your air commas, as we said earlier, do you see that staying, and Australia going forward, is that here to stay?

Greg:
That's what the report from Monash and is also a report from PWC is indicating. Yeah, that teachers are basically seeing that it's here to stay. And so then, how do we use that? It's going to be really reliant on just not a teacher in the classroom, it's actually a systemic issue. So how do I, as a school, as a system, put that in place as well. So we have a way to go because it'd be easy just to go back to old habits, wouldn't it? It would just go, Oh, that was interesting. But let's -, like when you get challenged, when you get disrupted, you tend to want to go back to your comfort zone. So we need to keep it -.

Greg:
Interesting things are going to happen, just a little side story, we're talking in Oz about in some of our large CBDs, that office spaces not being used because the work from home, and that whole change has happened as we've talked about Texthelp. And so some of those office spaces will be turned into residential spaces for people to live in, but the irony is that people will move into them, live there, but they'll work from home physically in the space that used to be an office anyway.

Patrick:
Yeah.

Greg:
But I thought that was funny. So there will be all sorts of unknown paths for us, I think, down the track. So definitely, we are seeing, as we just said, we wouldn't have talked about data like this 12 months ago, and schools definitely wouldn't have talked about any degree of online learning or remote learning or a hybrid or blended teaching model.

Patrick:
Yeah. And I suppose, nor would we all have necessarily seen the core advantages, that we've all known for some time, but the reality of that lack of face to face teaching, the increase and devices, the increase in technology on it, you know, I've said to a lot of teachers I've been working with just this year that this is here to stay. This is not something that's going to disappear, that improved access. Anything in the UK, and the U.S., and Australia from improved broadband through to greater access to devices, to increase government initiatives around that, to this year, learning that an educator on our educators have ramped on. That's not something that's necessarily going away, while it may be a case of it's homeschooling or it's remote learning. I certainly see it going forward for all of us being that combination of the two. That wherever, whenever learning and using technology to the advantage of average students.

Greg:
And so, part of that Paddy, is important is professional learning or PD for teachers. Give them the support that they need to use these tools that are -. Everyone quickly and learn how to use zoom, as an example. We're watching the zoom videos to find out how to use this tool, but I know that what we do at Texthelp, we actually, it's one thing for people to use our tools, but we place a lot of emphasis on actually then providing the professional learning and the resources that you need to actually use those tools in your classroom and use them to their full capacity.

Patrick:
Yeah. I think the nature of CPD Greg, globally has certainly changed. I mean, we were forced into this change where everybody had to go to webinars and online learning, but now I think that's changed because teachers are realizing that they can get access to on demand CPD. They can get access to it on flexible digital formats, it's tied directly into their specific needs. So I think it's an interesting parallel Martin, that teachers are now realizing that they're learning on CPD. It's starting to become more bespoke. They're able to cherry pick the things that support them on the tools that help them and that mirrors the human experience, I think.

Martin:
Yeah, I think that's -. I know we're kind of, as a technology firm, we think that COVID has sort of unlock more positives than negatives. I don't want to give the impression that we think COVID has been a force for good because there's been some good stuff that's come from it. It's been a disruption and there's been some positive change because of disruption. I think that the kids really have had a tough time and the teachers have really had a tough time, and there has been Microsoft and Google and a lot of the kind of big collaboration platform people really did deliver a lot of free training for teachers to help them get online and get digital. But it must've been incredibly difficult for lots and lots of teachers who aren't early adopter technology geeks.

Martin:
We're probably all early adopter technology geeks, so it's definitely been a really tough year for them. But I think, I'm positive about the future. I do think that the disruption has allowed people to see what can be delivered with technology from a CPD perspective. I suppose, in the same way that we are not used to doing everything digitally, teachers are probably quite happy to get their training digitally and don't have to pick a whole day off. You can dip in and do an hour here and an hour there. And that probably makes more sense, probably suits the world that we're in now.

Patrick:
Yeah. And I think they -, it's important that -, and you're totally right to bring that up Martin in terms of, I definitely don't want today to be seen as it's all global and it's all been a great experience. It has not, let's just be clear, but we have some fantastic learnings. But that said, we've got to put some really solid structures in place at all sorts of levels. Us as a company, government level, teacher level, district level. So that has to be put in place. And I'm thinking about how do we do that from a student perspective? Things like our tools are built around a UDL Principles, Universal Design for Learning Principles, and that's something that I know Martin, you've been an advocate, we all have for some time. But is it important to talk about those things going forward and recognize that teachers have saw equity of access and accessibility as key? Do we need to focus on areas like that as well?

Martin:
Yeah. Well, I think stuff should just be accessible and kids who need AT should get that, the thing for me, that's pretty straight forward. If you go into a modern hotel, there's always braille. If you go into a lift, there's always braille on the buttons. It's a universally designed building, and I just think that the learning environment should be similarly universally designed, so the people who need help with their running data -. I actually just thinking about what -, I do think that thinking New Zealand, Greg, there's an initiative going on. New Zealand obviously reacted very quickly because of their previous experience with SARS and locked down the borders. But even in the retrospectives, I believe that they could have done a better job with education. So I think they've gotten an initiative going on to try to make sure that there's more digital provision so that if they do need to shut schools urgently, that learning won't be interrupted. Can you just talk about that a little bit?

Greg:
Unfortunately I don't know a lot about it, but that's true. They want to be prepared. They don't want to repair. They want to be prepared, so they don't want to go, Oh, schools are shut down again. Oh my goodness. We better get all this stuff in. They want to be with where they're actually prepared for whatever comes. A bit like we want to do around UDL. I actually think part of that is around, even the term assistive tech to me, we should be calling it inclusive tech because the assistive has this implication, you get something done to you by somebody else you're being assisted. Whereas, inclusive tech means the tools that I have are wherever I am, whatever platform I'm on, whatever environment I'm in, whether I'm at school or online, wherever that's for the tour.

Greg:
And I think that's what the New Zealand government wants. They actually, with their schools, they want to look at having that kind of idea. And I think, just on that point around inclusive tech, you actually get from a Assistive tech, you go from the Assistive tech tends to produce passive learners. You just receive stuff as it's given to you, whereas inclusive tech when it's actually embedded in what you do, you're a more of an active learner. You actually have more agency because you're actually in control.

Martin:
Yeah. I completely agree. Yeah. I think the New Zealand thing's interesting, they were ahead of the curve with the physical controls of COVID and they've done that thing where they look back at the year and said, what can we do to improve that? And part of what they can do to improve that is to actually continue to deliver more connectivity devices and technology and professional development to make sure that learning can just continue if they're doing it to shut down the classrooms.

Greg:
I should have done more homework before this podcast. I knew the answer to that question.

Martin:
I sprung it on you Greg. I just I've made the assumption that because you're in that time zone you would know. But background it's -, I think it's fantastic. If we could do that in the UK, it would be brilliant, it'd be a real boost. I think that lots of the interruption around learning occurred because of not having access to devices, and bandwidth, and tech for teachers not physically in the room to help. They need to get help from somewhere else.

Patrick:
Yeah. And I think we need to have a, certainly in the UK here, Martin, we need to have a better joined up approach as is happening in New Zealand. There are pockets of activity, there are good government initiatives around, provision of access for them. Perhaps, there's a lack of identifying the need for broadband access, as well. And how do we join those dots? I think that's very much needed. Greg, what's it like in Australia from a national perspective of reflection on what was and moving forward on a plan for what we need to do?

Greg:
Well, coming back to the -, as Martin said before, it's not all -. There are major challenges that had major impact, particularly around social isolation for kids. Around student wellbeing has been a major thing that we've had to reflect on, that for students who have been isolated who might have their major social connection, what's actually in school and now they, they didn't have that. And also the interruption to learnings for students with additional needs has been -. So I guess we're kind of at the moment, reflecting on that. There's been a few reports -. Paddy, are we going to -, with this -. We can actually put some stuff in this podcast. I'll actually give you some links to some of the reports that have been done here in Aus, about where we've been, and also where are we going?

Greg:
So, we definitely, the things that are being asked are things like, how can we deliver education from kinder to year 12 with an evolving technology landscape? What's that going to mean? And there are bigger issues around the digital access. So the digital divide, not being generational, not being -. The use of technologies, is irrelevant to your age, it's actually socioeconomic. Do I have access, and for us geographic too, because you've got folks in the middle of nowhere and just physically can't get access too. So, all that kind of stuff. Yeah. But I'll get some links. We'll put some links in the podcast, or have a transcript and stuff.

Patrick:
We'll drop those in the podcast notes and we'll also make them available on Twitter under the #TexthelpTalks. In general today, we've heard about how teachers have embraced technology, we've heard the challenges that students and teachers are faced with, but also, going forward, we start to see these opportunities. We recognize that governments have to step up. We recognize that devices have to be in place and infrastructure on broadband clearly has to be there, but Martin what role does an edtech company like Texthelp or any of the other edtech companies globally have to play in that?

Martin:
So I think there's sort of two things to just solve real problems. That's the first thing. If it's not a real problem to solve, we should keep out of it. The second thing is, to some extent we have to envision the future and then deliver it. There's a famous quote, which is occasionally attributed to Henry Ford, who said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses". They sort of had a different vision. I don't know if it's actually true.

Greg:
I thought it was Mark Twain, but anyway.

Martin:
Was it?

Greg:
No, no I'm joking.

Martin:
Yeah. Well, to some extent -. First of all, we have to solve real problems in the real world, because if we're not making life easier, we're just getting in the way. And the second thing is, we really need to sort of be bold and have a sort of vivid vision for the future where we can really make a profound change and create more inclusion and then just deliver on that. And sometimes that requires -. Well, every time that requires teachers and technologists becoming an early adult person, making that leap with us. And trying to create a slightly different future. But I think those are the two things.

Patrick:
I think Martin when I talk to other edtech companies they go, any advice on this, and I say, remember, it's all in the name, it's education technology. You put the education first, and your job is to design the technology that underpins that education. But I entirely agree with you, you've got to be visionary in that and look well ahead as to what solutions will occur. And I think, hopefully people have recognized you've been able to do that in Texthelp on that basis. But you mentioned Martin, we want to include teachers in this as well. And of course, Greg, technology is not about no teachers. It's absolutely about empowering teachers I guess in this, and focus on that pedagogical side. Would you agree with that?

Greg:
I definitely could. Because, as you know, Paddy, the ICT doesn't stand for information, communication technology. It stands for it can't teach, and the technologies is what the teacher-, it's in the hands of the teacher. As I said before, it's the edtech is a amplifier of your pedagogy. So it's actually something that you use as one of your instructional tools. So, yeah. So technology won't replace teachers, but as they say, teachers who use technology, maybe replaced as with that, maybe down the track, because it just there's too many -. There's too much. I mean, as Martin said, you're not going to take my glasses away from me because I won't be able to see your two faces on the screen, which could be a good thing.

Greg:
Nor should we take away things like text to speech from some students, because that technology is really, for lots of kids, a game changer for them. You know, the first thing I don't have to do when I experienced any new text is decode. I can jump straight in and find out what it's about, how awesome is that? And so that's what it's all about is actually how we use this tool.

Patrick:
Yeah.

Greg:
Yep.

Patrick:
And of course, to underpin all of that, the importance is in access to the basis, which Martin you talked about earlier on. I know you have as well, Greg, but I go back a number of years in edtech and remember using the phrase, whenever, wherever learning. And I think certainly for me, one of the takeaways from COVID has been that, that has never been more important because we've realized that students have different needs. We need to support those needs, but also they need to be able to learn on terms and have agency that suits them and builds on their unique skills. So that ability to move cleanly from school to home on whatever device, I think is one huge takeaway. And I hope that going forward, to gather both as edtech companies and as educators will start to pick those right tools and those platforms and devices that can support that.

Patrick:
So that takes us very nicely to the end of our session today. And I just want to thank everybody that has joined us for our podcast today. Of course, there's a two-part podcast. We've looked at how the learnings that we've had from COVID. We looked at the opportunities. We've looked at the challenges. We've talked about, catch up, and how perhaps we can address those areas with technology. But I hope you'll agree with the panel, with Greg, with Martin, and myself that there are better days ahead, going forward. There are huge opportunities for our students, and for our teachers and teaching and learning. We've got to take each one of these as we find them, and we've got to address them, but I think together we've all shown that we can do that. So I want to thank you again for joining and do feel free to join in the conversation using the hashtag #TexthelpTalks on Twitter. I've been Greg Martin, our CTO, sorry, CEO. I should say CEO on the call today and also Greg. So thank you. And we'll see you again soon on the next edition of the Texthelp talks podcast.