The influence of ed-tech in Australia’s schools, before and after the Covid-19 pandemic

The influence of ed-tech in Australia’s schools, before and after the Covid-19 pandemic

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and its lockdowns, schools everywhere have been forced to think outside the box with regards to how they use technology for the continuity of teaching and learning.

One could argue this has been the most consequential ‘trial and error’ process for education in living memory.

For schools whose IT resources, distance education contingencies and staff were ill-equipped for the shift to remote learning, the 2020-2021 period was a painful experience. For others, the lockdowns were a chance to put years of planning into practice.

This real-time experiment has led to multiple studies to examine what works, and doesn’t, when it comes to the remote learning programs initiated during the pandemic, but the role technology is playing, and will continue to play, as schools adapt to the trends that are crafting 21st Century teaching and learning.

Indeed, the way schools have been using technology, even prior to the pandemic, is often informed by long-term trends – the most noticeable being the marked shift towards mobile devices like tablets, laptops and mobile phones, which all played a critical role as schools moved learning online in 2020 and 2021.

Michelle Dennis, Head of Digital at Haileybury, said that while technology has always found a way into schools, usually at a slower pace compared to most other industries, that changed abruptly with the arrival of Covid-19.

“The pandemic accelerated the impact and momentum,” Dennis told The Educator.

“Teachers are increasingly having to adopt technological tools to support their teaching methods and we’re seeing an increase in technology organisations not only willing to work with education, but to put education first.”

But while technology has an important place in classrooms, quality teaching is pivotal in underpinning education, she noted.

“There are some things that only a teacher can do exceptionally well, like relating to a student and initiating questions that can open up a new line of thinking. Technology that is thoughtful and evidence-based can help teachers do their jobs and provide insights,” she said.

“In the world of education, technology has to be used at the right place and right time and when it makes the most sense. It’s not about using technology for technology’s sake – it’s about using technology in a genuine way to make learning better.”

Ed-tech is changing the way schools interact with parents

As of May 2022, nine in every ten Australians own a mobile phone, second internationally only to the United States

“This has translated through to how schools communicate with a trend towards immediate push notification ahead of more traditional electronic forms of communication such as email or SMS,” Compass CEO John de la Motte told The Educator.

“We’re seeing less school and parent visitors on-site in schools, however, the demand for information is increasing. Schools have embraced improved community engagement through technology with many schools offering virtual parent-teachers interviews.”

de la Motte said that while the willingness for staff and parents to undertake video calls or interact electronically instead of calling, brings with it many efficiencies, it also brings significant challenges in terms of expectations.

“Previously you could call a school between 8.30am and 4pm, outside of these times you couldn’t get through - now we’re seeing increased teacher activity outside of these hours, as teachers juggle class teaching time with administration and parent communications,” de la Motte said.

“Covid has rapidly increased the use of video conferencing, real-time messaging and the associated expectations on software providers. We’ve also seen the number of phishing attempts and compromised accounts skyrocket.”

de la Motte pointed out that in the 2022 calendar year, the number of compromised teacher passwords had already exceeded the previous year’s figure by a factor of 4. He also noted that the majority of the password hacks had been traced back to students at the school.

“As a provider that processes over 4.5 billion requests through our platform each month, we have fast tracked a range of additional identity verification features into the platform to assist schools in securing data they manage through Compass products,” he said, adding that the company has also further invested in Compass’ Chat solution which is due to be piloted in schools this term.

“We have been working hard on the Chat solution since schools began remote learning in 2020. While seeming like a somewhat straight forward project, we have continually had to redesign our approach with this module [and work with business partners] to accommodate a whole range of challenges we have encountered, the least of which providing live messaging to over 2.5 million active users [whose usage usually comes during simultaneous peak periods].”

Disruption has opened the door to new possibilities

Craig Askin, head of learning and innovation at Ormiston College, recently attended the ISQ’s Big Ideas Summit in Brisbane, where 22 private schools converged to share best practice on how to develop pioneering and inspiring learning spaces and programs that are improving student’s learning outcomes in their local communities.

“Innovation matters because we are all striving to achieve the best educational outcomes for our students. Making small changes every day is vital in ensuring our students meet their potential,” Askin told The Educator.

“One of the key takeaways is that we can always start with a small idea and take iterative steps which can lead to those big changes we are making. Design thinking can be used in many contexts and can be applied in any school scenario where we are looking to have change.”

Leigh Smith, head of Future Schools and Partnerships at Australian Industry Trade College, said major disruptions, like the one seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, can have some important silver linings for schools – namely forcing them out of their comfort zone to try new things.

“I have learnt many things from today, obviously lots of people have been speaking about their ideas, but more importantly for me, it is the process of disruption, innovation and entrepreneurship – how we almost force ourselves to have those difficult considerations to be able to do something differently to disrupt education,” Smith told The Educator.

“The danger within education and within schooling is that we can be very intrinsically focussed. If we want to do something different, we have got to get out and speak to others, find out what they are doing and incorporate some of that in our practices.”