Why teachers ‘don't need to understand technology’

Teacher with learners in classroom

Teachers do not need to understand classroom technology in order to help pupils make the best use of it, according to the CEO of an EdTech start-up.

Instead, educators should come up with strategies for how schoolchildren can apply technology inside and outside the classroom, said Mark McCusker, CEO of Texthelp, a provider of software for pupils with dyslexia.

The rapid evolution of technology within the education space means that many teachers can feel out of touch or unfamiliar with the software and devices used in their schools, with a Virgin Media Business survey last year finding that just 15 per cent of UK teachers believed they were 'computer-savvy'.

But McCusker said it may be unrealistic to expect staff to have a better understanding of new technology than their students.

“Like every other piece of tech, [EdTech is] evolving at what seems to be an increasingly alarming pace,” he told IT Pro.

“One of the things I think about EdTech is that, every now and again someone produces a report saying they should be doing better, [saying] 'we’ve invested all of this money in technology and not getting the benefit from it'. In actual fact I think that’s generally not true.”

His company's product Read&Write, a tool that enables students and workers with difficulties such as dyslexia better understand reading materials though ABBYY Cloud optical character recognition (OCR) software, with a feature called Snapverter offering high quality text-to-speech translation.

McCusker continued: “One of the things I think needs to happen is they need to stop thinking about a teacher having to know about every aspect of a piece of technology, they should be thinking about teaching strategies.

“Think about students, who consume data 24/7 virtually, and not just in the classroom. Teachers teach, they’re not there to teach people how to use technology.”

Read&Write has become increasingly cloud-based over the last five years, having begun as software that had to be rolled out on a school-by-school basis. Now, McCusker said, Texthelp’s tools can be easily deployed across entire school districts in the US, or groups of schools in the UK.

Speaking about the evolution of technology in the education sector, McCusker added that many more consumer devices have made their way into the classroom now.

He said: “If you think about the trend in education and the trend digitally, you’ll see that there are many more ways of consuming data nowadays than just a PC. You’ve got every sort of phone you can think of, you’ve got iPad tablets, Android tablets, [the] Mac. Windows is still the dominant component in the education market, but the landscape is changing.”

Despite having virtually no two years ago, since introducing a cloud based browser extension, Read&Write for Google Chrome has around 2.5 million education users employing the tool’s capabilities inside and outside schools.

“One of the differences between the corporate and education markets is that in the corporate market people don’t tend to self-certify,” McCusker said. “Within education, for someone who has dyslexia, that tends to be picked up fairly early on and there’s a whole strategy put together.

“That tends not to happen in the workplace because people will not self-certify. They don’t want to hold their hand up and say – ‘listen, I have an issue here’ – it just doesn’t happen. So this technology is actually very effective because it doesn’t draw attention to itself. It’s a different kind of use case but effectively the same technology.”

In general, moving to the cloud has become a major trend in the EdTech space, with learning going far beyond the school building or workplace.

McCusker continued: “There’s a reason that cloud technology, apart from the simple functionality of it, is popular. If you come along with this kind of technology and say you’re using a cloud-based service, [a customer] can actually deploy that across the whole district in about 15 minutes where it would have taken a summer before.

“It’s one of the reasons why districts really like this technology. What we’ve found is that, since we’ve started to do this kind of work, we’re actually doing far more district-wide work, whereas previously we would have done it school by school.”

Caroline Preece

Caroline has been writing about technology for more than a decade, switching between consumer smart home news and reviews and in-depth B2B industry coverage. In addition to her work for IT Pro and Cloud Pro, she has contributed to a number of titles including Expert Reviews, TechRadar, The Week and many more. She is currently the smart home editor across Future Publishing's homes titles.

You can get in touch with Caroline via email at caroline.preece@futurenet.com.