Teachers Are the Secret to Tech Success in the Classroom

Is it a case of Teachers vs Tech, or can the two work harmoniously together to drive up standards in the classroom? A longstanding debate has raged on this topic, which can be seen very effectively in the pages of this very publication,.

Is it a case of Teachers vs Tech, or can the two work harmoniously together to drive up standards in the classroom? A longstanding debate has raged on this topic, which can be seen very effectively in the pages of this very publication, Huffington Post.

Writing back in 2014, two "edudemics" Jeff and Katie Dunn wrote about the "onslaught of technology on the modern classroom", but concluded that "a computer can give information, but a teacher can lend a hand, or an ear, and discern what's necessary for a student to succeed".

"Technology doesn't teach," the CEO of Discovery Education wrote in Huffington Postback in 2012, "Teachers teach". Others have written on "How Technology Is Creating Super-Teachers of the Future", and on how New York's tech iZone initiative marks an "epochal change in education, reformatting the very nature of our roles as teachers".

Some express concern over the efficacy of digital. Tim Oates, group director of assessment research and development at Cambridge Assessment, told the London-based Institute of Ideas Education Forum earlier in the week that while digital has been seen to aid recollection in pupils, its impact upon comprehension is far less clear. Unlike a structured textbook, students "wander aimlessly" through online material.

One thing seems to be clear, however. Where tech is effective in the classroom, it is when it is designed in close consultation with teachers - not in opposition to them, by trying to replace them in some way or make them superfluous to requirements.

One example of this is the runaway success of Rising Stars, which began as a start-up in 2002 when Andrea Carr - still the company's Managing Director - spoke to her husband, a classroom teacher, about the need to develop resources to help teachers meet hefty targets around Level 5 that were being implemented at that time. Initially print focused, Rising Stars moved into digital in 2004, recognising how effective the format was for assessment, and how eBooks could be delivered in schools using what was then PDAs (an early precursor to tablets).

Working closely with teachers from the outset, Carr identified the need to develop a portfolio of resources for the gifted and talented, who were too-often-overlooked due to a tendency to focus on generating mainstream products for students of average ability. Becoming a "pain-point publisher", Carr then began working with Nasen on the development of resources for pupils with special needs.

Rising Stars has since grown into one of the largest publishers at primary-school level in the UK, with their products being used in around 14,500 schools over the past two years. The company has become so successful it was acquired by Hodder Education in 2015.

Their secret? Carr is clear: "If you listen to teachers, you can't go wrong. Our core goal is to be the teachers' friend." Even today, Rising Stars undertakes focus groups almost every week with teachers exploring their needs and developing products catered to those requirements.

Another rapidly emerging trend is that of the "teacherpreneur": practising teachers who start to use tech to develop resources because it becomes abundantly clear that they are needed in the classroom. And if they don't create them, who will?

Teacherpreneur and founder of geography platform Oddizzi Jenny Cooke said that as she was teaching geography at primary school level she was getting "increasingly frustrated" by the amount of time she was having to spend developing resources , "because there's a lot of information out there that isn't child friendly."

Rather than returning to teaching after maternity leave, Cooke - who is passionate about travel - instead took the plunge to create digital geography resources that would, "reach as many schools and children as possible". She set about developing resources working extremely closely with fellow teachers in five schools that piloted them for six months. Indeed so attuned is she to teachers circumstances, she even began developing offline resources, due to connectivity issues that some primary schools face (38 per cent say they have inadequate broadband).

This impressive alignment with teachers' - and students' - needs has results in the quizzes, just one part of, her Bett Award-winning site now having been played over 1.5 million times.

At a time when unprecedented numbers of teachers are leaving the profession - over 50,000 in 2014 - and over half of UK teachers are contemplating quitting, teachers urgently need support. Technology can be a powerful ally for them, not least in saving them hugely valuable time and cutting down on their massive workload, which is the primary driver behind teacher resignations. But only if it is designed with them in mind.

The best education technology recognises this, so it's no wonder that EdTech pioneers like Rising Stars and Oddizzi are seeing such demand from over-burdened teachers.


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