Every summer, the international edtech community comes to London for the regular EdtechXEurope conference — and stays around for a programme of associated events about everything edtech known as London Edtech Week. As in the past, this year, Edspace and Emerge Education opened our doors to educators, innovators, and investors from around the world to share some insights into what makes edtech startups work — both as an innovation opportunity for our educational institutions and as businesses.
The teams at Edspace and Emerge are passionate about opening up new paths to innovation in education. We know that the only way innovative practices succeed and become embedded in mainstream education is when they are based on strong evidence or at the very least the desire to understand whether they are having a positive effect on learners, educators, and institutions. At best, innovation without evidence of impact creates pockets of excellence that are never replicated across the system; worse yet, it may end up introducing change for the sake of change and create disruption without improvement.
This is why our first event in London Edtech Week focused specifically on the impact of edtech, creating a space for dialogue between entrepreneurs and educators about what makes digital innovation in the classroom effective. To help us make the most of the evening, we turned to our partners at Innovate My School, a community of educators who share our desire to improve the quality of dialogue between these two groups.
With dozens of teachers, entrepreneurs, and aspiring innovators in attendance bonding over pizza and drinks, the event kicked off with an overview of the results from a recent survey of school leaders ran by Innovate My School:
We were delighted to co-host an event with Edspace during London Edtech Week to raise awareness of edtech impact. With an eclectic mix of delegates from both schools and industry, it gave us the opportunity to canvass a wide range of opinions through surveying the audience throughout the event. Their opinions were compared to our latest edtech survey results, which — apart from schools wanting more money (who doesn’t?!) — revealed that context is a critical factor in schools choosing to invest in a specific edtech product.
— Michael Forshaw, CEO @ Innovate My School
The survey results highlighted many of the driving forces behind edtech purchasing decisions and the barriers to implementation that are known to anyone working in the sector. Social media and user reviews continue to drive discovery of new products, as do independent reports from trusted sources; budget constraints and lack of training remain major impediments. However, as the impact agenda continues to gather pace, the survey also brought up the issue of impact evidence — and how relevant it is across different school contexts.
For a greater insight into how edtech founders think about their impact in schools, we hosted lightning presentations from five companies from the Edspace and Emerge communities, followed by a Q&A with respected educator Bukky Yussuf on how schools think about the impact of edtech:
- Eedi’s Ben Caulfield talked about the power of diagnostic questions to provide maths teachers with the information they need to address the specific misunderstandings of each student and not rely on a ‘one size fits all’ approach. With years of data behind the products, the effectiveness approach is now set to be studied on a national scale through the EEF’s largest ever grant.
- TeachPitch founder Aldo de Pape shared the journey his platform for sharing and finding high quality curriculum materials has been on and highlighted the importance of helping teachers develop digital skills to drive impact in the classroom.
- Chris Cooper from Edval wowed the audience with the unexpected impact of a well-designed timetable — from better flexible working arrangements to higher student satisfaction and engagement as each pupil gets to study the subjects they chose. He emphasized the partnership and close dialogue with educators that informs Edval’s design and shared the company’s plan for academic evaluations of the product’s impact.
- DoodleMaths founder Tom Minor walked us through the scientific principles underpinning the maths teaching platform, with tasks designed to fall into each child’s Zone of Proximal Development and automatically adjusted on the basis of their rate of progress. That the principles behind the app work has been shown in an RCT ran by the University of Bath.
- And finally, Georgios Papadakis from Filisia backed up the academic evidence behind his engaging tactile controllers for SEN pupils with a live, audience participation demo!
Approaches to impact from the presenters varied quite widely — some have secured major research grants from the EEF and others areworking with individual researchers on focused RCTs; some have a relentless focus on improvement through close dialogue with customers and others are empowering teachers to drive digital practices in the classroom themselves. What united every one of them was their passion for creating a real impact in the classroom and an understanding that we can all do better to produce high-quality evidence of edtech impact in the classroom — something that requires educators, entrepreneurs, and researchers to pool together knowledge, skill, and effort.
It is clear that there is a long way to go before the sector can self-evaluate, with the robustness required, which edtech products are likely to have the biggest impact, and in which context. This event, however, showed there is an appetite, from both sides of the fence, to get there. We look forward to continuing to move the needle through www.edtechimpact.com
— Michael Forshaw, CEO @ Innovate My School
To finish off the week, we held our traditional Founder Breakfast, attended this time around by over 80 investors, educators, and entrepreneurs who came together to learn more about Edspace, Emerge, and how edtech startups drive innovation across the system. As a special treat for the London Edtech Week audience, Emerge CEO Jan Lynn-Matern held live interviews with some of the most successful edtech startups of recent years about different aspects of their business journey:
- Teacherly, the lesson planning tool that saves teachers up to 40% of their non-teaching time.
- Edurio, the platform that lets governments and school chains monitor progress and track improvement across entire school systems.
- Bibliotech, which helps universities drive and understand student engagement with great electronic textbooks.
- Aula, the student-centric communication platform displacing traditional learning management systems across the HE sector.
- EasyPeasy, which helps preschoolers and parents to bond and learn through positive play that helps disadvantaged kids build crucial school-readiness skills.
For those unable to join us, here’s a summary of the morning, as live-tweeted (!) on the day:
Many thanks to everyone who was a part of our London Edtech Week programme of events — we look forward to seeing you again throughout the year! And remember, you can always sign up to come along for our monthly Founder Breakfasts — the next one is on 12 July.