Guest blog: innovation in education

One of the outcomes our fund is looking to target is increasing the educational attainment of children and young people, which means we’re constantly on the lookout for, and meeting with, education entrepreneurs.  And what’s unique about us is that we’re lucky enough to have a team of education experts in-house at Nesta, who we work with closely along every step of the investment process, from the screening of deals through to supporting our portfolio with their expertise and networks.

One such expert is Oliver Quinlan, who manages Nesta’s Digital Education programme, and recently wrote about the importance of evidencing the impact of digital technologies in education:

NII_icons_RGB-03In the last five years UK schools have spent more than £1 billion on digital technology. From interactive whiteboards to tablets, there is more digital technology in schools than ever before. But so far there has been little evidence of substantial success in improving educational outcomes.

Technology is often transforming, and at the very least affecting, much of our lives. Yet often we have taken up the latest and ‘greatest’ technologies with little thought as to the impact it might have. At the same time, education communities in the UK are increasingly looking for evidence that developments that are implemented in our schools have an impact. This is happening at a research and policy level with reports such as NFER’s recent ‘Using evidence in the classroom‘, but also at a grassroots level with teachers organising conferences such as ‘ResearchED‘ to explore how they can make use of and carry out research as part of their teaching.

It’s time to ask some searching questions about how technology really affects learning and how the best learning we see in schools can be enabled and enhanced using technology.

It’s time to show those of us who are reluctant that the right technologies can make a difference, what those technologies are and what that difference is. Just as importantly, it’s time to make sure that those of us who are enthusiastic are spending our efforts and our money on technological initiatives that do make such a difference, not just those that generate superficial excitement. 

In my career I’ve moved from working in early years education, to teaching in primary schools, to lecturing in a University. In this time my thinking on learning technology has also moved from pure advocacy to an optimistic criticality. I’ve seen technology make a difference to the learning and opportunities of young people, but what is important is that we invest our efforts in the ways it can make a useful and sustained difference to the educational opportunities of as many as possible. I’m very aware that the phrases ‘useful’, ‘sustained’ and ‘educational opportunities’ mean different things to different people, which is part of the challenging nature of any work in education.hat

I’ve joined Nesta to work on our contribution to this, an area we are calling ‘Innovation in Education’. Specifically, I’m starting off with three research projects looking at the impact three different technology enabled projects make on the learning of young people in schools. More on those soon. Broadly, I’m working with the education team to explore what great teachers, insightful researchers, and creative entrepreneurs and technology developers can tell us about innovation in learning and teaching.

As I wrote in my recent book, ‘The Thinking Teacher‘, I see technology as a mirror, something that can show us things from a different perspective. There has been much discussion in the education community in the last ten years about technology becoming transparent, a tool that enables but doesn’t get in the way of learning. This is a laudable aim, but I’m also interested in what it makes visible. When we use technology for many tasks we often have to think about the way we perform them. This starts new thoughts and new conversations about whether the current way is the best way, and how other ways might be better or worse.

Bring this process to the task of learning and we have the basis for exploring the impact of ‘Ed Tech’.

What technology makes visible about learning and what we are discovering about using this to make informed decisions about its use in education will no doubt be the subject of many future posts.


By Oliver Quinian - Digital Education Programme Manager, Nesta
This blog was originally published at Nesta. Read the original blog.