What impact does the pencil have on learning?

Should we expect, as educators, that the technology used in schools has robust reliable research that demonstrates the impact it has on learning before we implement it?

This post is a response to an article that featured in EdSurge on 17 July 2017. You can read the full article here. The article refers to findings from a working group looking into edtech efficacy. The lead researcher is quoted as saying the following:

“Having a lot of research evidence, like the type demanded by the feds, was cool but not essential [for education establishments]. I found that to be pretty surprising and a little bit troubling.”

Dr Michael Kennedy

Is it troubling? Should we be surprised that educational establishments are not trawling research before implementing educational technology (edtech) strategies? If we start with an analogy. When pencils are ordered, it is not underpinned by research about the impact pencils have been proved to have on learning. However, we should expect that the learning taking place that involves the pencil does. For example, in kindergarten or early years we might expect pencils to be favoured over pens for handwriting to enable learners to correct their writing and fail without fear more easily than with ink. Educators should be aware of robust research regarding learning reading and write to inform the curriculum, which in turn helps them place orders for equipment to support the curriculum.

Here, a learning approach is supported by appropriate resources. In the edtech world it seems too often the resources are purchased and the learning approach is then discussed or the new tools are made to fit the existing approach. Therefore is edtech efficacy worth considering, when learning and curriculum efficacy should be paramount?

Chicken or Egg?

The article relates to “Role of Federal Funding and Research Findings on Adoption and Implementation of Technology-Based Products and Tools”, a study conducted by Dr Michael Kennedy in which the findings state:

A range of superintendents, assistant superintendents, technology leaders/specialists, principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches, and teachers from 17 U.S. states responded to the online survey. Results demonstrate only 11% of 515 respondents demand a tech-based product have the type of independent, gold-standard research championed by the federal government for funding prior to adoption or purchase.

This piece of work is part of a wider Edtech Efficacy review which took place as part of Edtech Efficacy Symposium in May 2017.

Are schools using evidence to inform their learning and teaching policy and practices? How much research underpins homework, marking, duty rotas/lunch supervision, school timings, learning spaces and so many day to day aspects of every school’s approach to providing exceptional learning?

In the UK, a professional body for teachers, The Chartered College of Teaching, has recently being created (cards on the table, I am a founding member) and here is a video of the impact it is having of headteachers. Watch and then reflect on where edtech fits in this story.

Sally wants her school to base decisions in research and evidence. On this occasion there was no mention of asking one of their software provides or IT services to produce evidence for the impact their product has on learning. However, there were many questions about how every aspect of the school impact on learning. Their research may show that teachers are setting online homework that children cannot complete because of access to devices… which may inform their device purchasing and policies. Their research may find that teachers are spending too long marking homework, which is not impactful or valued by parents… which may lead them to develop their use of edtech to share feedback with parents.

Therefore, should it be troubling that schools are purchasing edtech without the research to back up the impact on learning? It should be troubling if the policies, pedagogies and approaches to learning in school are not based on valid research and evidence, edtech is a tool, one of many, that support schools in delivering their vision for learning and teaching.

Pedagogy efficacy surpasses edtech efficacy when it comes to impact on learning. The article is focussing on one particular area, which for me elevates edtech towards pedagogy and this must be treated with caution. Make sure your pedagogy efficacy is strong and at the forefront of your thinking and your use of appropriate and impactful edtech will follow.

I welcome and expect some comments, there is much more left to discuss around this area and I have only scratched the surface in this short blog post. There are some very interesting findings from the edtech efficacy group. particularly around claims edtech companies make about the efficacy of their product. I have only focussed on whether we should be troubled that schools are not expecting to see the research before purchase, and there may be a reasonable answer to why… they trust their pedagogy?




Edtech Efficacy Symposium Home Page, May 2017



Design Thinking in Schools: Shadow a Student

Empathy and understanding the ‘what is’ forms the essential starting point of innovation and underpins design thinking. So what better way to get started in schools than to shadow a student. Check out the shadow a student website, which is aiming to get school leaders living a day in the life of a student.

Sign up to commit to shadow a student and learn more about your school than a month of meetings would tell you.

Try using empathy mapping while you do it, add it to an ethnographic wall in your staffroom and encourage others to add too. Father data from conversations, informal chats and observations made while walking the school. You might be surprised what you find.


What you find might be the problem worth solving that leads to innovation…



Design Thinking in Schools: Which personas are in your school?

Students are categorised by grades, level of need, progress from starting points and in some cases background or ethnicity. There are other categories some teachers might wish to use too. Could we use very different characteristics to provide the best learning opportunities for all children?

Clearly I am not busy enough being head of maths for 3 days a week and Technology for Learning lead across a Multi-Academy Trust for the other two days. To fill in the slack I signed up to an online course on Coursera. The course title is “Design Thinking for Innovation” which has content and cohort discussion over 5 weeks with an assessed reflection at the end.

Why Design Thinking?

Design thinking provides a methodology and toolset for developing innovation (innovation is something we can all produce) and I am keen to apply it where appropriate to the way we work in schools. One aspect of the ground work needed to create conditions for Innovation is to go deeper rather than wider to understand the situation in which you are operating.

Ewan McIntosh’s book “How to come up with great ideas (and actually make them happen)” is a great place to start your design thinking journey.

How would it work in schools?

An example for a school would be to consider putting the whole school excel sheet to one side and take time to conduct interviews with 10 to 15 students. The interview in Design Thinking needs to be conducted carefully, taking time to listen. The themes that come from a few deep interviews can provide more understanding of a problem than data from 100s of students.


The course is not education specific, in fact it is mostly business focussed. However, I have found relevance in most of the sessions. One in particular led me to write this post.

A case study showcased the Design Thinking used by a healthcare start-up who interviewed 20 ‘users’ to define the things that influence their health and well being. From this work the company developed a set of personas to encompass their users, including strategies to help each persona improve their health.

Consider if in schools we used design thinking to get an understanding of the personas of our students in order to develop strategies for each that help them become better learners? Leaders may also consider this for their staff as recruitment becomes tougher it is valuable to know what will keep your staff motivated and happy. These things won’t be the same for everyone!

Would this be of use to teachers and staff in your school? 


If your school takes an approach like this please do share. I will be using this idea as my reflection assignment for the course.

Further Reading

Have a look into design thinking in education via the Teacher’s Guild.

Other books you may wish to consider are:

  • Designing for Growth: A Design Thinkers Guide for Managers by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie
  • Edupreneur: Unleashing Teacher Led Innovation in Schools by Aaron Tait and Dave Faulkner




The class blog is working!

Just a sort post to reflect on today’s class blog effort from my year 8 group.

The students have all completed a blog post so we are now into our second rotation. My aim had been to review the blog with them so the process would improve, which I have not got round to. However, today the bloggers were much more independent than before, able to add pictures without instruction from me. Infact another member of the class advised them when they had a couple of issues, so my time was spent entirely with the class working on maths.

They are discussing the post and choosing pictures that are relevant rather than just throwing them in.

My reflection on this is that if the students value a task and enjoy it they learn and improve. Hardly a new concept but a delight to witness first hand.

So if you are thinking about blogging, stick with it, it will pay off.

Happy blogging one and all

Ben Rouse

Google Teacher Academy 2012

Google have offered another chance for educators to become a Google certified teacher. The application involves creating a one minute video on one of two themes provided by Google. The themes are “Classroom Innovation” and “Motivation”. I chose to focus on the former and created a video looking at the new innovation spreading through education, the flipped classroom.

Having offered my classroom for the Flipped Classroom open house on 30 January 2012 it seemed sensible to focus on this innovation. Since my last post regarding the flipped classroom a couple of my classes have become fairly familiar with the concept and show no shock, concern or trepidation when they are set homework which requires them to research/prepare for topics via videos I have created in order to focus on higher order skills in the following lesson. My lesson evaluation Google form has been essential for responding to the student’s needs and reflecting on how the flipped classroom can work best for my classes.

I almost didn’t submit my effort as I made the mistake of looking at the competition… wow! Some people’s application videos are technical masterpieces other have a large contribution from their students and colleagues. But after my colleague (@talktofile) had a word with me I made a last minute drive to submit something that made a attempt to showcase my efforts in the flipped classroom.

Why do I want to be Google certified?

I use Google documents constantly for myself, for faculty and with students for collaboration so a chance to work more closely with Google on education may develop my use of the products I already value.

I want my school to go Google so email, resource sharing, blogging and many other services can come under one login. Also if the students could have access to Google documents without me asking them all to create accounts it would make the collaboration in class much more successful.

#ukedchat takes place through twitter every Thursday from 8pm until 9pm and allows educators to subit their experience and views on a chosen topic. On Thursday 16 February the topic was “technology on a shoestring” and the conversation was very thought provoking and something I hope leaders of #edtech in schools pay attention to. Google Docs came out as a favourable free alternative to help schools have effective edtech that represents value for money, or value for learning…

@peterweal: @MrG_ICT agree VLEs surplus to goggle docs and blogs. No brainer. #ukedchat

@MrG_ICT: Agree Google docs is amazing collaborative tool. and free. Many primaries spending thousands on VLEs and not using #ukedchat

@GeorgeEBlack: #ukedchat one thing I do know, a well administered set of free blogs does the job of a VLE any day.

@mattbritland: #ukedchat The use of google docs or other cloud applications stops the need to constantly updating office software.

My Google based vision

I’d like to aim for:

  • A set of chromebooks which students can use their school based Google account to login to. The login process on a chromebook take seconds.
  • A class blog page which students contribute to on a rotating timetable each lesson, sharing the task/topic/progress and any pictures or videos as necessary. This would provide a log of all our lessons and would solve any problems for students that have any time out of class for support or illness.
  • A faculty Google site where staff can share ideas and resources with each other. It also contains links to all our shared Google documents. This would include schemes of work, assessment tasks, project tasks etc. The site can also have a varity of Google forms embedded which allow teachers to log positives and concerns for students, and many other proceedural issues that can be managed more easily in this way.
  • Students can use their Google Calender to enter exam dates, deadlines and would be very effectvie for organising group collaboration outside of the classroom by scheduling time to be online to work on a Google document together, inviting participants.

Hardware and software made specifically for education offers no value for money. Having a developer of the size of Google involved in education can keep schools closer to technology that represents developments in the real world rather than relying on a few innovative teachers to provide ad hoc opportunities which involve excessive time to prepare in order to avoid any technical or appropriate use of technology issues.

I have not yet found an effective way of using Google+ in education.

Back to the flipped classroom

The flipped classroom would be more effective if it could be integrated in such a way that schemes of work are available to students and parents as well as teachers. Cloud based storage allows documents to be updated regularly but avoid everyone having out-of-date copies littering their hardrives. Feedback and communication can be improved by allowing parents access to markbooks, something a colleague of mine has achieved by transferring his markbooks to Google Docs.

Am I being paid by Google

No, even though this blog post may be a little bias towards using one companies versions of things that can be achieved in a number of ways. I am a great fan of Wikispaces (I have created many) and blog via WordPress so I do not promote using one supplier but in the classroom setting where I have been asking my students to create logins for a variety of tasks I think they would value a coordinated structure to the variety of technology that can be used to enhance their education.

If any other provider wishes to show me how I can integrate this vision in another way… I am all ears.