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The ABCs of EdTech

EdTech, teacher first technology, digital classrooms

It’s common knowledge that technology has touched every aspect of the modern world, but education seems like an exception to that rule. Not for much longer. The pandemic has proved that lined paper and No. 2 pencils are no longer enough to do the job—even with the most gifted teacher at the front of the room.

But how can cash-strapped schools and school districts bring the education sector into the tech age without breaking the bank—or the patience of overloaded teachers?

Manuel Edghill, Head of Software, Growth and Partnerships at ViewSonic, a global provider of computing, consumer electronics, and communications solutions, and Chris O’Malley, Director of Marketing for the Intel® Internet of Things Group, have some bold ideas about how EdTech can support students, teachers, and district budgets. They’ll tell us how video analytics, university prototypes, and long-term vision can build a better, smarter, more effective classroom.

To hear the full conversation, listen to our podcast EdTech as a Social Good with ViewSonic and Intel®.

What key challenges does the education sector face today? And how can EdTech help?

Manuel Edghill: A lot of educators are having a challenge competing with technology, and with the attention span that is outside the classroom. You have the TikToks, and you have all these really quick bursts of information—how do you translate that to education, where you need a longer attention span? How do you engage your students inside the classroom, and how do you do that when your students are remote?

Chris O’Malley: When I’m presenting to educators, I often say that we live in a world of screens, we live in a world of video. It’s dynamic. It’s interactive. And that’s what children are used to. That’s what they thrive on. That’s what engages them. And then if you walk into a classroom that has paper displays or paper materials without any video, without any interactivity, without any of the dynamic digital content that these kids are used to, they kind of shut down.

“For #technology to be adopted in the classroom, it has to be a #teacher first and technology second mentality.”—Manuel Edghill, Head of Software, Growth and Partnerships, @ViewSonic via @insightdottech

But if we bring it down to the issue we’re facing right now, teachers have been thrust very quickly into balancing in-person learning with virtual learning—and with hybrid learning, where sometimes they’re trying to teach in front of 10 people in class and 10 people who are quarantined at home because of a COVID issue.

I think technology can address all those different issues that teachers are facing right now, in an efficient manner that’s good for the students and good for the teachers.

Manuel Edghill: For example, there are some assistive technologies we are working on that would assist teachers in figuring out the students who are not being engaged—because they’re a little shy, or maybe they have some learning difficulties. A lot of these features that are assistive are available by default. And since everybody has the same technology in that particular classroom, the students will be able to get help without having to draw attention to themselves.

Can you tell us more about how ViewSonic’s technology allows teachers to get real-time feedback on what kind of impact the lesson is having?

Chris O’Malley: We call it video analytics. The technology that ViewSonic has can identify for the teacher that, say, in the second 15 minutes of a class the students’ attention dropped dramatically. It’s either the natural attention span of children, or maybe the course content needs to be improved for the second half of the class. Maybe there’s a need to be interactive at that point.

Manuel Edghill: I want to clarify that this type of technology is teacher first, teacher focused, which means we’re doing our very best to help the teacher better assess their classes and their students. And we make it absolutely anonymous, so as not to pinpoint a particular student or teacher. It’s more to get an overview of the class itself.

Chris O’Malley: One of the things that Intel does to help ViewSonic do that is we build a lot of models of analytics that allow you to determine if a student’s happy or sad. But it’s done entirely at the edge, and any identifying information is entirely deleted. The only thing that would ever go to the cloud is happy student, sad student. There’s no information attributed to it; it’s designed to be 100% private. You have no idea who’s happy or sad, but you can get an idea if the students are engaged or not from that.

How do you see technology supporting teachers better—while allowing them to focus on educating, not on the educational tools?

Manuel Edghill: There’s a huge percentage of time that goes into prep and admin. If technology could assist in these areas, that would be a huge benefit. Teachers like to share a lot of content, so technology makes this very, very easy. We have solutions where teachers can save all their lessons; they can embed videos; they can write quizzes, and then they can share them with their fellow teachers.

Schools also benefit a lot, especially in budgeting or resources, because there’s this huge deficit or inequality in economics or education or access to resources. One cool thing that we have seen is that schools that have tech, they partner up and they collaborate with each other.

Chris O’Malley: There are some applications where a student can, for example, do a math problem online, and they input line by line how they would work through the problem. Now, they may get the problem wrong, but rather than saying, “You got the problem wrong,” the answer might be highlighted to the teacher and say, “This student understands this, but they didn’t quite get the associative property. Maybe you need to give them a little bit more reference on the associative property.”

And then the ease of course preparation, the digitization of materials. You’re seeing that with all the educational publishers—they’re really, really improving their online digital content. That’s going to help the teachers.

A big concern for education is cost. How can this technology help a school’s or district’s budget?

Manuel Edghill: Once we provide a solution and installment, a lot of the overhead applications that teachers were using, they don’t need to have them anymore. A lot of savings happens there.

For example, we have a virtual classroom called myViewBoard Classroom. We did our very best to replicate a true physical classroom in a virtual world. The teacher can manage their groups and discussions and students, and they know who’s doing what. And we also have a video-assisted learning platform called myViewBoard Clips—it’s like YouTube, but a lot better. You have quizzes, you can share lessons, you have videos that are filtered just for education.

When we provided this one solution to a school, the school could get rid of two different applications that they had previously—for a virtual classroom and also for a video database. They saved costs in those two additional fees that they didn’t have to pay.

The second thing is just the time saved. We also have a lot of device management and app management software that saves a lot of time for that IT guy who has to run around, or for that teacher who needs to make sure that everybody is on the same page in a particular topic or app.

Chris O’Malley: The thing I would add is that the cost that a school district faces for having the print editions of books and everything else is quite expensive, and they have to be replaced on a regular basis.

Manuel Edghill: The government, especially in the US and in Europe—they have these huge funds that are directly focused on the EdTech segment. What we’ve done also is we’ve helped out some of our clients and channel partners with assessing the rollout so that it aligns with funding from the government, and it’s been quite successful.

How is ViewSonic enabling the adoption of EdTech?

Manuel Edghill: We have a whole team that does professional development. They’ll walk you through everything to make sure that the teachers, the IT, even the students are well equipped on how to use our technology.

We have also worked with some universities, and we made them these high-end EdTech classrooms. And the whole purpose of these things is to equip the classroom or a particular learning lab with some technology and use it. We then partner with teachers who do both an in-class and a hybrid lesson at the same time. And they use the technology, and then they invite other teachers.

And we fund most of that stuff. We collaborate with Intel in some of these things to sponsor them. And this is not only to train the teachers and show them that the tech is not as scary as they think. For the team that I am in, we use these classrooms to listen and observe, and to see what needs to be improved.

Chris O’Malley: This is an area where I think ViewSonic does a really good job. They produce very sophisticated hardware, and the software to go with it. But it’s not just a bunch of software engineers sitting in a lab creating stuff that then gets handed out to teachers, so that the teachers are like, “Yeah, how do I use this?” They work hand in hand with teachers, with the graphic user interface people, and figure out what the use cases are that teachers need, or what things are important.

How can educators and schools get started on this EdTech journey?

Manuel Edghill: If a school doesn’t have a long-term vision for the rollout of EdTech, and how it’s going to be used and who is going to benefit, it’s going to be very tough to be successful with it. You need senior support and at least a two- to three-, even a five-year vision of what it will be.

And I say this, because a lot of the time schools will buy the ViewBoard because it’s new. “We have the budget. We have the funds. We’ve got to use it somehow.” And then it hangs on the wall and nobody uses it.

Chris O’Malley: The vision is super important. What does the school need? What do the students need? What do the teachers need? What are the use cases that we need technology to help us with? And then even go further and ask: What are the business processes we’re going to put in place to make sure that this technology is utilized properly?

And then go step by step: Is it connectivity that we need first? Is it in-classroom technology that we need second? Is it student technology that we need third? Outline every one of those, and then go figure out what’s needed, and then use technology to solve that problem. But if you just throw in cool technology, most of the time you end up creating more problems.

Is there anything that you’d like to add?

Manuel Edghill: I’d like to give a reminder that, for technology to be adopted in the classroom, it has to be a teacher first and technology second mentality. Technology should be an augmentation and a support, a complement—something that assists in the delivery of an exciting lesson.

Chris O’Malley: If you’re a great teacher, you’re going to be a great teacher. What you can do is take this technology and allow yourself to be a better teacher, or allow yourself to reach more students, or reach students in a different way, or to engage them further.

And I think our children need it. We live in a world of technology. If they don’t understand how to use technology, and experience technology in school, when they come out into the workforce they’re going to be behind. But we have certainly got to always remember that it’s a tool and an aid to a really good teacher and to the whole process of education.

About the Author

Kenton Williston is the Editor-in-Chief of insight.tech and served as the editor of its predecessor publication, the Embedded Innovator magazine. Kenton received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 2000 and has been writing about embedded computing and IoT ever since.

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