BETT 2015: Mathspace: New educational technology needs new educational research

By Mathspace

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You can visit Mathspace on stand G151 at BETT 2015

When being innovative, a question that often gets asked by teachers is what research backs up the development of that innovation.

A perusal of research studies before making an intervention of some kind is often useful. The Education Endowment Foundation toolkit is a great example of where research findings have been drawn together to give schools and teachers some idea of the impact they could expect when making an intervention.

Mathspace logo But as technology gets increasingly more innovative due to the power of the new technology available – and I am talking here about just the past 12 to 18 months – the research cannot show any evidence of success because the research is based on outdated models. Even now, much research into the use of technology is just replicating an existing model using technology. If we know face to face individual tutoring has an impact, then one to one tutoring using an online system will be likely to be just as successful. Do we really need more classroom or subject management systems or multiple choice tests? Even if they are supported by a cool looking app?

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Another example. There is much excellent research on the utility or otherwise of feedback. There is also much research on the timing of feedback. Depending which research report you read, immediate feedback can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’. And as always, commentators will pick the sections they prefer to back up the case they are making.

But I contend that much of the research available on feedback is not so relevant when we look at some of the innovations technology now makes possible.

Much of the research on feedback in relation to the use of technology, considers feedback once a student has answered a question – often a multiple choice or single answer question – or series of questions. Very little research considers what happens when students have feedback during the question answering process itself, because this has not generally been possible before. Of course, in the classroom, it is what happens all the time, but when using traditional technology, it doesn’t.

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No research has been done on the use of technology to watch students complete their work in real time and intervene – either on screen or personally – because that technology has only just been developed.

But schools should not just assume that because that research does not exist, the innovation should not be used.

If schools are serious about improvement, and want to move to the next level on their ‘sigmoid curve’ of progress, then a step change does need to happen.

Otherwise stagnation can occur and intervening at a downward point is much harder.

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So as new uses of technology, of which some may be seen at BETT this year – for example, immediate step by step feedback and handwriting recognition such as used by Mathspace, real time work monitoring, ibeacons or augmented reality - are introduced, then start using such developments in a small way in your class. If you wait for some University or research report, or depend on a company to produce its own ‘research findings’, then you could be in for a long and maybe unsuccessful wait.

My advice in the meantime? Well, it comes from an old business adage

Think big – look at how technology could radically change what you do. Small changes are just that, small changes. Another set of laptops with a slightly different spec will just keep the school plodding along the same path. A whole school move to tablet technology? Well, that is big and takes some thought for obvious reasons. But the possibilities…

Start small – maybe in one or two classes, or across a year group. Try out the innovation in your school, in your circumstances, with your teachers, students and parents and with the full involvement of the senior leadership team

Scale quickly – once you have decided something is useful and has a real impact on children’s learning and understanding, then being able to scale this quickly to benefit other students is the only way to go. If is deemed to have no impact, then move on.

By doing this, the ‘research findings’ will be yours, be personal and be relevant to the new technologies now available for use.

Tim Stirrup

CEO Mathspace UK

BETT 2015 stand G151

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