Nesta is launching an ‘EdTech Innovation Testbed’, in partnership with the Department for Education, to help colleges and schools to try out technology products and support EdTech tools to generate more robust evidence in real settings.
Trying out new technology in colleges and schools is hard. Of course, there are many hundreds of logistical and resourcing constraints.
But there is often a deeper uncertainty in the minds of education leaders: Will this actually work in my college or school?
Attitudes towards evidence in education have shifted significantly in recent years. We expect and demand a higher standard of evidence for innovation in the education sector.
Whether through organisations like the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) funding large-scale evaluations, or teacher-led movements like Research-Ed aiming to ‘make teachers research-literate and pseudo-science proof’ - the education sector is becoming more evidence-savvy.
This is a welcome trend.
Expectations vs reality: Bridging the gap
We know that technology can have really important positive outcomes. Its potential to improve learning, help educators and increase access to quality education is genuinely inspiring.
However, there is often a gap between our expectations of education technology (EdTech) and how it works in practice in colleges and schools.
Across the EdTech sector, evidence is typically less well-developed or only manages to capture part of the story of when, how and why technology generates impact.
More accessible and rigorous evaluation, asking a wider range of questions, is a part of the solution.
A common misconception about evidence and evaluation is that its only purpose is to ‘prove’ things. In fact, it’s often much more useful to help ‘improve’.
Used appropriately, evaluation can answer a really wide range of questions which are relevant to both the creators of EdTech and its users in colleges and schools:
- What are the best conditions for implementation?
- How long do tools need to be used in order to see benefits?
- What types of training are required to ensure impactful use?
For this reason, it’s helpful to think of evidence and evaluation as a journey, not a single event to be carried out after a piece of technology has been developed (Nesta’s ‘Standards of Evidence’ is an example of a framework which can provide guidance about this journey).
No matter what stage of development an EdTech tool is at - from a conceptual idea to a product being delivered in hundreds of colleges and schools - evidence (rather than intuition or hunches) can help to improve its design and usage.
Structured programme of support
To help colleges, schools and EdTech organisations to continue their ‘evidence journey’ we are launching an ‘EdTech Innovation Testbed’ in partnership with the Department for Education.
The Testbed will mobilise groups of colleges and schools to try out and test EdTech products, while supporting EdTech organisations to generate more robust evidence in real settings.
Through a structured programme of support, the Testbed will help colleges and schools to try out EdTech tools that are suited to their specific needs.
Colleges and schools will be supported to understand more about technology use and implementation in their specific context, as well as understand if tools are having the impact they expect.
At the same time, we will support EdTech organisations to participate in more robust evaluations as they seek to progress on their evidence journey and understand more about what works and barriers to impactful implementation.
We hope that this Testbed model can help increase access to more robust forms of evaluation than are typical in the sector in ways that are cheaper, quicker and more flexible.
Closer collaboration between our education institutions and technology companies
By connecting colleges and schools with EdTech organisations in this way, the Testbed will facilitate closer collaboration between our education institutions and technology companies (adding to the great efforts of organisations such as EDUCATE, EdtechImpact or LendEd).
For colleges and schools, this should lead to tools which are better suited to their needs and more information with which to make better decisions about the right technology for them.
For EdTech organisations, this should give them more opportunities to grow their reach and information to inform the improvement of their products.
By improving our understanding of what works and the barriers to implementing technology - crucially, with the involvement of colleges, schools and EdTech organisations - we can ensure that colleges and schools are realising the potential impact that we know technology can bring.
Toby Baker, Programme Manager on the education team at Nesta