Opinion Piece | December 2020

Education technology trends
for 2021 and beyond

James Browning, Head of Software, RM

LONDON, 2nd December - 2020 has challenged schools like no other year in recent memory. With the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic still being felt throughout the UK, schools have experienced a dramatic transformation in an incredibly short space of time. From digitally transforming how teachers deliver lessons, to introducing and embracing hybrid teaching models, it has been a year of significant change for the sector.

And, while many institutions have already laid the groundwork during the initial lockdown to ensure they can easily create and manage remote learning environments in the future, the question now is what lies ahead for schools next year and beyond? What opportunities can educators look forward to in 2021 – whether through digital assessments, the introduction of new classroom technologies, better data analytics or safeguarding solutions – and how can they plan for it?

Technology will become the cornerstone of every education strategy

The focus for schools, trusts and Local Authorities this year has been in ensuring that teachers have been able to continue to educate their pupils, whilst schools themselves can continue to operate – even when closed. This has necessitated a new perspective on technology – from implementing remote learning capabilities, ensuring staff and pupils have access to the right devices, to putting in place a stable internet connection for those that need it. Next year, however, we can expect to see this take off even further as remote learning provision evolves from “nice-to-have" to being the cornerstone of every school’s education technology strategy. And with that, comes demand for the right IT solutions, from ensuring your management information system (MIS) can be accessed from anywhere (i.e. is cloud-based), to ensuring that your approach to pupil assessment reduces – rather than adds to – teacher workloads.

To go a step further, remote learning must be as seamless and innovative as the home working options created by the private sector since COVID-19 hit, and must be up to the same, if not higher, standard set for safe and secure classroom-based learning. We can expect local councils, the Department for Education and schools to work closely together to ensure that, in the next five years schools, the education sector builds on the early steps towards remote learning during lockdown, to a truly hybrid way of teaching – both in and out of the school.

Digital assessments will free up teachers to focus on lessons

Newly published research from University College London has found that teachers work amongst the longest hours of any profession in Europe – with a quarter of teachers working more than 59 hours a week. Their paper concludes that “there are two clear areas where reducing teachers’ workloads would help reduce stress: lesson preparation and marking”, and technology can play a key role in both of these.

The assessment landscape is changing day by day – the expectations and metrics that teachers measure work against regularly changes, from end of year exams, essay marking to reviewing student textbooks. But a lot of this process can be digitised. For instance, auto-marking solutions can help take a lot of pressure from teachers, freeing them up to spend time marking more qualitative work such as essays.

With many students now learning remotely, technology can also make peer assessment simpler and easier than ever before. While previously, students had to pass around textbooks, this was a slow and potentially unreliable task should a textbook be over-looked. But with digital assessment, peers can easily check each other’s work online – more quickly, effortlessly and accurately.

Looking ahead, digital assessment technologies are poised to dramatically reduce the amount of admin that teachers are presented with – freeing them up to focus on what matters most, creating and delivering excellent learning experiences.

Schools will begin using data in context to better understand classroom trends

Data has always been a necessity for teachers in the classroom; from keeping track of attendance, exam results and performance in class, data – and the MIS which handles it – is the backbone of modern teaching. However, there are now dozens of different data sets – from attendance and assessment software to a school’s MIS, curriculum applications and even the HR and payroll systems – which lack a common data language. This means that while an MIS allows teachers to easily understand performance in a classroom, the data can only be viewed outside of its wider context in the school.

By looking at the data systems in a school and working with an education technology provider to integrate them, schools will be able to spot key trends in and out of the classroom, and then make predictions for the future. These predictive analytics, and the visualisation of this data, will save teachers time, and anticipate any challenges on the horizon, such as a period of absence. An integrated data system will form the backbone of everything from remote learning to digital assessment and beyond.

Safeguarding solutions will give everyone the confidence to embrace technology in schools

The prevalence of remote learning technology means that reliable and accessible safeguarding solutions are more important than ever. With students now taking school devices offsite, it’s imperative that the students and materials are kept secure. There are particular tools which can help with this – most safeguarding technologies currently sit on a school’s network, and these now need to follow the user wherever they are with authentication. This means wherever a student is studying is safe, and they can be assured they’re protected and secure from the world and to the world.

And these robust safeguarding solutions play another crucial role – by guaranteeing the safety and security of students learning outside of schools, key stakeholders will become more aware of the positive use of technology in education. Parents will be confident their children are secure; teachers will be confident materials and technologies are helping them deliver their educations and governors and trustees will better understand the decisions schools are making about technology.

This confidence is crucial for implementing any education technology strategy – schools must come to understand that they possess teachers of all levels of confidence and ability when it comes to technology. In the next five years, the focus must be on guaranteeing that every teacher is comfortable with the solutions within a school and provide training to fill any gaps in confidence.

Predicting students’ futures with data

One final development in education technology schools will begin to see emerge over the next five years is a result of all of these components coming together. With an intelligent data platform, remote learning, digital assessment and robust safeguarding in place, schools will be better able to see where the education of students is heading. This means they will be able to potentially prepare students for roles which may not exist yet or equip them with curriculum and skills needed for the future. Giving teachers useful data to better inform the routes their students take through school will help pupils truly embrace their goals.

About RM

RM helps schools save time, save money and improve the impact of technology on teaching and learning. It is a market -leading supplier of software and services working in partnership with thousands of schools to improve outcomes for all learners. rm.com/education

About RM plc

RM plc is a publicly listed, £224m turnover, British business, with over 2,000 employees globally, established in 1973, specialising in providing information technology products and services to educational organisations and establishments. Its key markets are UK education (including schools, colleges, universities and government education departments) and assessment and educational bodies around the world rm.com

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