Hannie Kirkham is Research and Business Development Manager at Oriel Square. She speaks to Imaan Munir about her journey in the EdTech sector and the challenges of digital transformation that lie ahead.
What is EdTech?
Education technology (EdTech) is any digital technology that is used in education. So, that includes things like school information management systems to collect and report student data, apps that provide teaching and learning content, and eBooks.
What interests you about the sector?
In educational publishing, we tend to think of EdTech as technology that enhances the learning experience and supports teachers in doing what they do best. Without sounding too corny, I see digital tech as a natural development from printed tech (I love a good printing press), and so I tend to think of EdTech as a fundamental part of educational publishing.
How did you begin your journey into the world of EdTech?
My first job in the wider education industry was working in the creative team for a training supplier, editing a series of eLearning courses and training manuals. From there, I moved into educational publishing. My first project was a KS3 Maths series including printed Student Books and Teacher Guides, as well as digital homework quizzes and games for classroom use. It was where I was first introduced to words like ‘SCORM’ and the process of converting from Flash to HTML.
What do you see as the key challenges in EdTech at the moment?
For EdTech users, accessibility is still a key issue. The pandemic really highlighted the disparity between learners that had access to hardware and the internet and those who didn’t. I think individual schools’ remote learning policies are probably here to stay, and providing access to all students is a huge challenge for schools.
Competition is another challenge, for both users and providers. The UK has an awesome EdTech market, with access to a lot of funding and support opportunities for start-ups. But the sheer number of players makes it difficult for products and services to stand out for customers, and for customers to choose what’s best for them.
There is also an expectation for free digital content, and so the transition from unpaid to paid-for models is a challenge that many providers have faced recently, especially as many offered their services for free during the lockdowns. Retaining that user base once payment is required can be very tricky.
What are your top tips for getting into EdTech?
Although some digital knowledge is helpful, it is not necessarily vital. I came to EdTech through wanting to work in publishing; a lot of providers are teachers who want to create solutions to problems they have in classrooms.
Most people use technology in their daily lives and are familiar with a variety of different systems that all work slightly differently, so I’d say the best thing is to appreciate what you do know and be open to learning about new tech products.
If you are interested in digital development or design as well, then great! I also think it helps to get some understanding of how teachers use tech in their classrooms. My advice would be to talk to any of the teachers or learners you know and find out what programmes they’re using, and what they do or don’t like about them.
How do you get some distance from all this tech?
Playing in the mountains is my absolute favourite thing to do! Hiking on a clear day, maybe with a scramble to the summit, and ideally followed by a hot bath with a good book – paperback so it can dry off in case it gets a dunking!