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Education Technology for All: A Discussion with Gemma Gwilliam


We were delighted to sit down with Gemma Gwilliam, Head of Digital Learning - Education and Innovation and Strategic Lead for Digital at Portsmouth Education Partnership, as she shared her expertise and guidance on education technology. 
Gemma is an esteemed technology teacher and EdTech thought-leader, having worked across all year groups from classroom teacher to leadership roles, in both private and state schools alike, globally. 

Ahead of her upcoming session at The EdTech Summit 2023, Gemma discusses the digital divide & gap, policies and initiatives are crucial in promoting equal access to Education technology and much more.

What are the key challenges in ensuring pupils have equal access to education technology? 

The way that I started to look at this is, when we first begin to think about equal access to education technology, we need to consider what education technology actually is.
I know that in this year's Ofcom report, we found that 97% of children have access to Wi-Fi at home.
So already you're thinking, that's a good level of access, but 69% of that is via mobile phone.

And of course, there's been a lot of work, articles and news about the fact that mobile phones have been banned within schools. So I think one of the first key challenges is that understanding what education technology looks like for your school, but also the place of technology within your school.

Is it going to be for them just to use within the classroom? Or for them to use beyond the classroom?

Is it certain devices? Or is it apps and programmes?

The challenge is first the knowledge of what you want and the why behind it. Then, it's for how to actually implement this. Consider the finances behind it, the IT support and capacity, staff knowledge and understanding, as well as the support from parents and carers.
Going back to the Ofcom statistics, I know that for children in Portsmouth they may have Wi-Fi, but actually that could be a shared SIM card or their mobile phone. So it's understanding that and unpicking all those different areas. 

What can schools and policymakers do to address the digital gap? 

Bringing it back to the knowledge of what your community have, but also sharing best practice.

You could be one multi academy trust or a school. You may have different offerings and the fairness and quality for the whole city or the area is something to also consider. Our children do move from school to school. Knowing what you want to put in the children's hands, why, and what is going to be sustainable.

There are many companies out there who do lease devices. You also have opportunities where you could be using your pupil premium to then reduce the cost of a device for a child and that could be within school or externally. None of this is about 1 to 1 devices. It's more about actually providing access to the right tool for the right activity, for the right outcome, for the children and adults in your school.

In addressing the digital gap as well, there are many businesses who are happy to donate devices, but I always said that comes with a warning because you need to consider the data/GDPR perspective, from meeting the technology standards about what devices you're actually giving children, so that is one that I wouldn't necessarily advise on.

For your main way to address the digital gap, it's definitely about understanding where your school is, the demographics, the cost of living, knowing the purpose, the rationale behind the devices and then finally looking at that longevity of learning.

Primary Goal have supported our city (and many others) with training people to become digital champions, whose role is to over see this, and then within this, there are sometimes opportunities for match funding. That is another way to be able to get devices and to begin to address the digital gap.

Digital gap can also be a digital skills gap when we think about parents and carers. It is not necessarily just a digital device or hardware gap.
Also, for some of our teachers, learning how to use an Interactive Whiteboard still isn't part of a teaching curriculum for training to be a teacher. So, it's about having that clear CPD, induction programme in place when staff join. All of this comes back down to one way to address that your digital gap is within your digital strategy, your organisation behind it and knowing exactly where you're at, where you want to go and how to get there. 

How does the culture of an educational organisation influence the use of edtech? 

A lot of this comes down to having teaching and learning at the heart of everything that the school or organisation is doing.
It's about not just using technology for 'tech sake' and the knowledge of how technology can actually be used to enhance teaching and learning, reduce workload, support, accessibility, inclusion. All of these are very key common strands within most schools, school improvement plans, or educational ethos is something that we're all trying to do.

An organisation may be swayed by another school going 1 to 1 and we know that from a recruitment perspective of staff, they may then want to go to a school that's got all the shiny equipment.
Parents are making choices about devices that the children have access to within that school. I know, particularly with in Portsmouth, we've got a range of 1 to 1 secondary schools and schools that aren't 1 to 1.
What we're trying to promote is that by bringing it back down to those key values, culture and ethos of the school, we can drive forward and communicate the rationale and the reasoning behind the choices that they've made.

If you're embedding the Rosenshine principles and you're thinking about small steps, guided practice and modelling, you may want to switch from having interactivity in the screen towards having interactivity in the hands of the user. A teacher could be stood anywhere within the classroom and is able to embed those teaching and learning principles with a change of headset. This all comes back down, once again, to the underlying theme of digital strategy, knowing what you want to achieve and why and how.

There have been reports published about screen time and what some infant schools may think, and there are going to be children within the school who will benefit from having technology, actually having access to an iPad where they can scan a QR code to take them to a resource is a lot quicker than trying to type it in. Children being able to use a dictate tool to speak their ideas and then listen back to it develops their independence. So culture does play a big part of it, but I think actually if the culture is established, technology will underpin everything.

We don't know what jobs our children are going to have and everyone says this, but technology is going to be part of it and technology can reduce workload. It can provide that scaffolding and independence that our children, but also our staff and our families need. 

When we think about the culture, it is also the place of technology in the school. Computing is the first subject to be dropped because we do not have time, it's too frustrating because the staff subject knowledge. Whereas, for a lot of our children, they thrive in computing because you've got the other barriers of learning taken away.
In a recent STEM meeting I attended, they said the number of students they're taking on in key stage five has grown tremendously, but that's because actually in secondary level, we are offering it more. Now there are only two secondary schools in Portsmouth that do not offer computing, however they want to start doing it and are putting the training in place for their non specialist staff or are recruiting, to be able to deliver it. It's the whole wider culture/community for the use of technology, but particularly around my computing skills and curriculum from reception now and then, the is all the way up to sixth form and then beyond. 


What policies and initiatives are crucial in promoting equal access to Education technology? 

I think it comes back down to more of an understanding about the use of technology. I think the implementation of the digital standards has helped driving that.
It's about having a wider understanding and knowledge of different areas across the country, with the cost of living. There are a lot of opportunities out there with match funding. That can be accessed, but it's about who you go to and knowing that it's reputable and that it is actually going to support you.

I do think that we're doing that better, but that's not the word we're going to use of the computing curriculum and actually having different digital opportunities for children in the future. For example, as adults, we can get our Microsoft and Google Awards, but we have not got a strand of that for our students. A lot of them are fluent in Microsoft and Google by the time they hit secondary school. If they're particularly shifted to the clouds and that's their schools ethos, would it not just be great for them to be able to have those qualifications moving forward, when we're thinking about actually entering industry?

Yes, computer science as a GCSE is great for some industries, but if you think about 21st century skills, why have we not got opportunities for children to become digital citizens, digital leaders at key Stage 4 and key Stage 5? Those are the skills that they're going to need to go into the workplace, particularly around creativity.
I do think training is another policy and initiative that is crucial. From training at senior leader level with developing a digital champion that can really oversee the use of technology, not just in computing within a school, MAT or an organisation. Then they'll be the ones that come back and those first questions can begin to audit and see where the gaps are. They can begin to look at those refresh plans and bring it back down to teaching and learning.

Nearly every single school in Portsmouth has a digital champion, doing this and sharing best practice then improves outcomes. Think about teacher training and make sure you’re training teachers on how to use technology. The crucial parts in promoting equal access is to have the standards, training and expectations that it is a shared responsibility for all of our children to have this equal opportunity and access. 


If you enjoyed this interview and would like to see more discussions with the industries key voices in EdTech, you can check the EdTech Summit Blog for more.

You can also now register to attend the EdTech Summit 2023, held at the NEC, Birmingham on 22nd November 2023.