EdTech Solutions – Don’t Forget the Warmware!

Emerging Technologies and Edtech April 18, 2016

When it comes to technology most people are captivated by having the latest, quickest or highest spec model. Unfortunately this pervasive mindset has permeated the EdTech world too! From Governments, to Districts to schools the focus is usually on acquiring the best ‘hardware’ or the newest ‘software’. However very little thought is given to developing the essential ‘warmware’ component.

Warmware are “the people who use or operate (often very unsuccessfully) the software running on the hardware” (Urban Dictionary definition). Look at any EdTech implementation budget and you will have to search, often unsuccessfully, for any reference to warmware development. What do I mean by warmware development?

I most definitely do not mean the obligatory one or two sessions of hardware/software orientation; “switch on here” or “click here, here and here”. Warmware development should encompass ongoing support; firstly coaching teachers or school management to explore the potential of this new tool in their context; then to reflect, plan and review how their current practices and pedagogy can be changed to take advantage of what is now available.

The recent OCED report Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection states that “the successful integration of technology in education is not so much a matter of choosing the right device, the right amount of time to spend with it, the best software or the right digital textbook. The key elements for success are the teachers, school leaders and other decision makers who have the vision, and the ability, to make the connection between students, computers and learning.” If this is the case, why is so little time and money spent on this crucial “missing link” in ICT integration?

One answer could be that changing mindsets and current practice takes time. Support and time are needed when promoting teachers/school managers to reflect on and adapt to the new technology. It takes time to encourage new practices to take shape and be embedded in the classroom or school. Time is needed to try and even fail, then try something different. Sometimes persistence is needed to ‘encourage’ change in the more reluctant participants. None of the steps mentioned are speedy!

Technology is often employed as ‘quick fix’ or in some cases as ‘a sticking plaster’ to cover school or system deficiencies. What is missed with this approach to EdTech is that the impactful use of technology needs as much thought, time, effort and support as any other key education initiative. EdTech can’t be a ‘drop off and click’ answer. Too many potentially beneficial EdTech interventions have been assessed as having little impact because they failed to sufficiently address the critical warmware aspect of ICT implementation.

Despite what it may seem, I am a committed believer in the power of Edtech to transform education with respect to knowledge availability, global collaboration, creative expression, personalized learning and feedback. From my experience with different South African EdTech initiatives with schools across the socio-economic spectrum, I can say that with the proper warmware support EdTech can be sustainably leveraged to improve the quality of teaching and learning in any educational context!

Let me offer a few suggestions:

• Don’t scrimp on the ‘warmware budget’. Budget for training & support for at least a year with any new EdTech rollout (preferably longer). It is money well spent and minimises the risks of creating ‘technological white elephants’

• ‘Little and often’ – professional development for technology works best when it is spread out in bite-sized chunks; with time allowed to explore and adapt to each new technique. This method of training is less intimidating to nervous teachers than having to understand whole all-singing-all-dancing new technology/software in one go

• ‘Power of the peer’ – the best people to persuade ‘reluctant adopters’ are colleagues who can demonstrate how this new approach is working for them, and how they managed to get over any hurdles

• ‘Give it time’ – Using technology in education can lull you into expecting instant impact with teachers and results. Most strategies in education take time (at least 2-3 years) to show measurable impact, technology is no exception!

I’ll finish with this quote from Michael Trucano, Senior ICT & Education Specialist for the World Bank. It is from a 2010 blog post “Worst practices in ICT Education” but the thinking is still as relevant today, if not more so!

“If there is one clear lesson from the introduction of educational technologies in schools around the world, it is that teacher training is critical to the success of such initiatives. Outreach to teachers, through both regular technical and pedagogical support and on-going professional development, should be seen as cornerstones of any large ICT investment in schools.”