The Digital Classroom — Have We Made Progress?

A guest post by Fathima Dada Global Managing Director: English and Schools at Pearson

Working in education technology, we are driven by two things. First, we care deeply about providing equity and access for all students. At the same time, companies are driven to be first and the most commercially viable. Those two challenges are difficult and over the last decade, many companies and even more start-ups have stumbled and fallen, some to regroup and emerge successfully, and many others to have given up the ghost and left the space.

As I see it, several challenges in this space make any progress difficult:

  • Change in education systems and teaching and learning styles take a very long time. Leapfrogging, as we have experienced in banking, has not proven to be a viable approach so far. So how can we accelerate the pace of change to include the benefits of technology in learning?
  • Infrastructure within and across schools, districts, states and countries ranges across a long continuum, from the rudimentary (with perhaps a mobile device between ten or twenty people and little to no electricity infrastructure) to high tech fully digital classrooms (with every teacher and student having a device, with great wifi access). How do we meet the customers and users of our products where they are, but also challenge them to do more? And do we tackle the equity of access challenge?
  • The cost of development of EdTech products is generally quite high and so developing value for money is also a challenge.

On the positive side:

  • Given the right product with great user experience, can increase student motivation substantially, and help teachers retain student interest, which can be tough in these days of digital overstimulation outside the classroom.
  • We are learning more and more about how technology can support student outcome improvement, measurement of incremental improvement, and personalised learning.
  • The cost of development can be brought lower by using lower cost development centres, agile and frugal development.

I am very fortunate to be involved in two initiatives, through Pearson, which does just this.

The one you can hear about on the Nevertheless podcast is a product prototype developed in India by Pearson India, called MyPedia. Through sheer force of will, frugal investment and customer collaboration in the development process, they have managed to take a product to scale in under two years. They have almost 200,000 users who have been on a journey with them which brings technology and learning into the classroom and home through integrated, blended, assessment focused products and services. It is a hard thing to do, many lessons have been learnt, but in the end, through a model of continuous improvement, they have achieved a high degree of success, from which other parts of the business are learning.

Another example is Spark Schools, an amazing low cost, small but fast growing school chain in which Pearson has invested. Spark runs a true blended learning model, where kids spend 75% of their learning time in the classroom with teachers and 25% in a dedicated learning lab, working on their own, using personalised learning curriculum content for English and Math. These Spark Scholars, as they are known, are performing at between one and two years above their equivalent age cohort in state schools. They are motivated, performing high on the efficacy scale, and are very happy children. Technology is fully part of the school ethos and DNA, and it’s what attracts parents to the school, too.

I do believe we can pursue equity and access, in a sustainable way. EdTech is here to stay but it is a questions of what we, with the might and depth of Pearson behind us, will do about it, today and everyday.

Nevertheless is a a podcast celebrating the women transforming teaching and learning through technology. Supported by Pearson. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Soundcloud, TuneIn or RadioPublic.