Why “What are we trying to achieve?” rather than “What are we going to use?” should be the starting point for implementing tech in any education setting, with Wolfgang Soeldner

Please introduce yourself and share a bit about your experience in education

I’m Wolfgang Soeldner. I’m originally from Germany and moved to England in the 90s when I was quite young. I started teaching about 17-18 years ago. Originally, I was teaching languages but then started becoming interested in educational technology and how it could help bring in a more authentic learning experience for my students beyond the walls of the classroom. Through that, I found myself being more and more engaged in technology and becoming an EdTech coordinator, moving through the ranks to an EdTech director – and now I’m Head of Global Education for i3-Technologies, an EdTech company. For me, it has always been important to concentrate on the teaching and learning outcomes and how these are benefited by the introduction of technology because, of course, as we all know, technology brings with it a lot of flaws and potential pitfalls.

Question 1: Why did you become a teacher?

Through my travels, especially working at international schools, I have seen a lot of different nationalities teaching and I have summed up teachers into two camps: one is subject experts, curriculum experts and lovers, and the other is those who are more lovers of the pastoral aspect for supporting students’ growth. I’ve always been interested in looking at students and their individual learning pathways, how they evolve and what it takes for a student to flourish. My values are based on what it means to get the best out of each student, regardless of what that means in terms of standardised grading, as I don’t think that tells a good story when it comes to the whole child.

Because academics are the easiest to measure in a school and often the most effective, we ignore or neglect the other parts of learning and growing up which are equally or often more important.

Question 2: As an advocate for using technology in education, can you share ‘what a good one looks like’?

It’s about what is a good fit for the school and its educators. Far too often it’s whether we should be buying a Mac or a PC, or this software solution or that software solution, rather than looking at what we are trying to achieve as a school, what our learning outcomes are and where we are at. I’m a big believer in using technology in the classroom for teaching and learning but we need to take a step back and say, ‘OK, what are we trying to achieve?’ Then, after that, look at what kind of technology solutions are available with a much better idea about how to evaluate them.

Question 3: Can you tell us more about i3-Technologies and your role there?

It’s an interesting journey and it’s a fairly new one, having just come out of education very recently. I wanted to try something different and see what the other side of that table looked like. When I joined i3, it was made very clear that I could continue being that pedagogist and educator and drive the company towards that point of view. It has been a pleasure working for them, where I oversee an education team of consultants and trainers and we look at how we can add value. I think where i3 differentiates itself is that it regards its offerings as a solution rather than as individual products. They realise that it might not be a fit for all schools and certainly, they all won’t want every part of that solution. After listening to the school and educators’ pain points, we can see where we could potentially fit, or not – that must be part of the question as well.

Question 4: What impactful approaches to using tech can you share?

I think a big success for me has been looking beyond a singular subject area, a singular use case of technology. Success is when educational technology is sustainable and has a multitude of offerings and applications within the classroom and beyond. Too often, especially with the advent of the iPad in education, some apps were singular usage and they took a lot of time to explore. Even if they seemed simple, they could end up at points where there were lots of frustrations because the data collected or material used couldn’t be exported or shared properly. Letting educational technology choices be driven by your pedagogical goals and outcomes is an important aspect to remember. The successes mostly result from the implementation of that strategy.

Question 5: What role do you see technology having in the future of education?

First of all, let’s discuss the misconception of the ‘digital native’ children. The pandemic, if nothing else, has proved that concept is fraught with flaws.

I think writing children off as being ‘digital natives’ gives us the excuse to not look at the skills needed for them to succeed in the future.

The pandemic has shown there is a huge gap in knowledge and skills. A lot of schools had to be rushed into teaching with technology – whether online, hybrid or continuing in a class setting. So, we need to take it apart and ask what we should be taking with us for use in the future and what that looks like. Should we, for example, introduce timetables that have consistent hybrid teaching and learning integrated? To say we ‘practise for all kinds of scenarios’ – the pandemic shouldn’t be something to be ‘practised for’ as hybrid learning has huge benefits. I talked before about being driven by individualised learners and that being my mantra in teaching. For some students, online teaching and the individual support they have had throughout has been magnificent and beneficial, whereas, for others, it hasn’t.

We need to look at how we can make that into a skill that we can continue to have in schools and equip our students to be comfortable with those kinds of things and thrive. The ‘data driven’ conversation is now becoming more of a conversation about being ‘data informed.’ Schools have collected a massive amount of data. Not just academic but also on wellbeing and health, so there’s a huge amount of data floating about but little of it has been transformed into usable pieces of information. That’s where EdTech can help, especially for things like wellbeing and mental health, where we are still so far behind in having our finger on the pulse. Add to that the distance we have just been at, and it makes it even more difficult. So there is a huge gap we can explore further.

Question 6: What resources and people in your PLN have helped frame your thinking?

Philippa Wraithmell’s ‘The Digital Ecosystem’ is a book I read recently. It gives some concrete steps and guidance into how schools can set up a solid, functioning ecosystem. Of course, My Secret #EdTech Diary by Al Kingsley is a fantastic book as well; it’s a great resource for people to get hands-on advice. Podcast-wise there is ‘The EdTech Show’ – again, a great resource run by educators with feet on the ground; it’s just real hands-on material you can take away and implement. I also think Monica Burns does a good job with The Easy EdTech Podcast. She’s out there and trying to promote EdTech from a positive angle. I’m proud of the Tech Director Forum (unfortunately, it’s still called that as it was set up many years ago) but it’s a free forum – not just of EdTech Directors but EdTech anyone – to openly share experiences, resources, frustrations. It’s a wonderful community to be part of.

Listen to Wolfgang’s full interview to learn more.

 

Author

  • Katherine Cauchi

    Kat Cauchi is a WeAreTechWomen #TechWomen100 2023 award winner and a 2022 Nexus Education 'Classroom and Curriculum' improvement award winner. She is the community engagement manager at NetSupport, editor of R.I.S.E. Magazine, and the host of two podcasts. Kat is a member of the Global Equality Collective, a Global EdTech author, InnovateHer ambassador and Technocamps Girls in Stem role model.
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