Last month we explored the edtech start-up companies that are changing the world of education. We caught up with Rob Eastment, Head of Learning at Firefly Learning, to understand the impact his company has made and the greater potential of edtech.
For teachers that don’t know Firefly, can you explain what it is?
Firefly is an online tool that empowers teachers, students and parents to learn more together. Schools can set homework, track progress, create rich resources and engage parents. The result is teachers have more time to focus on what matters most - teaching - and students can learn in ways that work best for them.
What prompted you to get involved with Firefly?
I was a Deputy Head at a school that had been using Firefly for two years when I applied to join the company. My experience of working with Firefly had always been a positive one and I found that it had a significant impact on both me as a teacher, but also on the learning outcomes and enjoyment of my students. The opportunity to be part of a team that could have that impact on schools was irresistible for me.
What was your experience of education growing up?
I was educated at a grammar school and I followed a common path of students in the 1980s - school to university. However, once at university I ended up being slightly more unconventional with a stint in the Royal Air Force, work as a mountain guide and then finally moving into teaching.
Who was your favourite teacher, and why?
My favourite teacher was my maths teacher when I sat my O Levels. Mrs Allen always believed in our ability to be successful at whatever level - I was bottom set - and I went on to achieve an A grade in maths. She embodied a growth mindset long before it became a mainstream concept.
How would your teachers react to your success?
Relief I think! As a teacher you want to believe that you have had a positive impact on your students and this often best demonstrated by their success in life. I know when I was teaching that I wanted to help my students achieve their potential and feel that they had got something worthwhile out of their time working with me.
What impact has Firefly already had, and what further impact can it have on education in the UK?
Firefly has had a significant impact on the schools that are using it, in that teachers can spend less time on the administration of teaching and more time focusing on the business for learning. I believe that Firefly can continue to open opportunities for teachers concentrate on what they love doing - teaching, as well as enriching the relationship between teachers, students and parents.
School budgets in the UK are strained, why should schools use limited budgets to invest in Firefly?
With schools struggling with budgets and teachers experiencing time pressures and larger classes, Firefly allows teachers to use their time more effectively. This should be a key goal for all aspects of edtech - help teachers to work smarter, not harder. In turn, schools often have multiple disparate apps or single purpose tools which may also be under-used. Firefly's ease of use means that schools have impressive adoption rates, meaning teachers, students and parents can all reap the benefits without being tech experts!
Aside from Firefly, which technologies excite you most in the edtech space?
Our ethos is to play nicely with others, rather than trying to do everything ourselves. We work with some great partners, from MIS providers like iSAMS and Double First, through to content providers like ClickView and Planet eStream. Schools have different needs and aspirations, and so we work to make sure that we support a range of great learning tools within Firefly. It's also exciting to see how VR and AR are moving into the education space, but I believe it'll be up to the schools to really direct how this and other emerging technology must evolve for it to provide maximum educational impact.
How can edtech help to solve skills shortages in the UK?
Today's students are set to enter an uncertain world, with many jobs yet to be conceived and the proliferation of technology will continually de-skill and require re-skilling of the workforce. Edtech isn't the solution to this, but it's clear that schools should embrace technology in an world where the digital revolution has well and truly taken hold. Students that can adapt to new ways of working and have a growth mindset will be well suited to the ever-changing future workplace.
Teachers play a key role in society — with advances in AI, VR and AR, potentially, do you think there will be job losses?
At a fundamental level, teaching and learning is a human interaction between teacher, student and parent and I don’t believe that technology in any format will be able to replace that at the moment. However, innovations like AI for example can allow data such as assessment results, homework marks, SEN information and so forth to better support the learning conversation by providing teachers with analysis in a way that requires less of the teachers valuable time to collate.
What will the classroom of the future look like?
The classroom of the future has the potential to be significantly different from the one that we experienced as students. Advances in communications, data analysis and cloud-based technologies, along with a deeper understanding of the nature of learning will lead to a much more flexible classroom environment that facilitates a broad range of teaching styles better tailored to suit the needs of the moment.
Thanks for your time and your insights Rob. The future of education looks bright!
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