Brian Taylor talks to Emily Colyer
After three years, global edtech events series Bett is returning to Asia, with Bett Asia 2022 taking place on 11th and 12th October for the first time in Bangkok. In preparation for the event, the Bett Asia team travelled out to Bangkok in April to meet the education leaders, practitioners and decision-makers who are driving education on the ground.
As part of this trip, Bett Asia visited Bangkok Patana School, a British international school for students from 2 to 18 years and a member of the Federation of British International Schools in Asia (FOBISIA), to gain first-hand experience of the school’s use of edtech in action. Sitting down with Assistant Principal Brian Taylor, we explored more about how Bangkok Patana is honing its long-term digital strategy.
Emily: What are you prioritising and embedding as part of Patana’s long-term digital strategy?
Brian: Technology that amplifies human-centred traits, regardless of how advanced the technology is. To quote Professor Andy Lane from The Open University: “Technology is about taking action to meet a human need.” It’s therefore important to remember that a book, a pen and a mini whiteboard are all forms of technology to support thinking. Learning is a messy and organic process, so it’s all about choosing the right tool and the right piece of technology to support the learning at that point in time. Technology should be like oxygen, ubiquitous; you don’t know it’s there – it just works.
Whilst there are plenty of tools out there for communication, the real sweet spot for us at Patana has been identifying and implementing tools and approaches that successfully enable collaboration, including Microsoft Teams, pen-enabled devices and VR & AR. We’ve also realised that the teachers’ mobility and their need to wirelessly present from where the learning is happening (be it in a hybrid, remote or blended learning environment) is integral in ensuring successful collaboration.
Emily: How has your digital strategy changed from before the pandemic?
Brian: We’ve adopted much more of a KISS [keep it simple and straightforward] approach, ensuring single sign-on and honing to a core set of apps to support learning. That was vital during a time when there was a wide range of ‘free during pandemic’ tools and technologies available. For example, choosing one tool for formative assessment, pay the site licence for the pro tools, allowing you to focus CPD and staff training on all that tool has to offer. A single unified digital learning ecosystem is the nirvana.
Emily: After over two years of shifting between hybrid, remote and blended learning, what does teaching and learning now look like for international students?
Brian: We noticed that the novelty and engagement of fully remote online learning gradually wore off, leading us to ask ourselves: what were the students and staff missing? This brought to light the controversial viewpoint that learning for most is a by-product of students physically attending school in person. The rich social interactions with their peers, a favourite subject, teacher or extracurricular activity are perhaps the real reasons students come to school. As a result, we decided to list all the elements and activities of school life that sit outside of academia and consider how best we could deliver these in a remote environment, to engage students who weren’t able to physically attend school.
Emily: What approaches have you found most helpful when planning your long-term digital strategy?
Brian: Decisions related to your digital strategy should be grounded in your learning and teaching (L&T) policy, mission, vision and values. What is your school’s definition of high-quality learning? What is your definition of high-quality teaching? Base your digital strategy – in fact, any school strategy – on your L&T policy. We are in the business of learning, so all of your decisions should have your L&T policy at their core.
Emily: What are the most important measures of impact and success for your long-term digital strategy?
Brian: In my opinion, you should not need to have metrics that specifically measure the impact of your long-term digital strategy. You can get bogged down in the time taken to measure all of these things and not leave enough time to be discussing and making strategic decisions. Your school mission, vision and values should be your yardstick. Every aspect of a school should be traceable back to those guiding statements. Your development plans, strategic master plan – all should be mapped to your school values. It’s the DNA of all implementation strategies across the school.
When evidencing the impact and success of your long-term digital strategy, you should be able to unpick how the technology either supported thinking and learning, or was a barrier to it. It’s also useful to adopt the same philosophy NGOs have when measuring the macro impact on a community or country; marginal gains in the micro-projects will collectively yield a net gain.
Emily: What solutions or approaches to edtech are you most excited to follow the development of?
Brian: Anything that makes us uniquely human first. In particular, I’ve been following the work of Tristan Harris, president and co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, an organisation that has produced useful toolkits and guides for students, teachers and parents on how to take back control of social media. The work of writer and youth advocate Anne Collier on how Digital Literacy needs to evolve is fascinating. Let’s think about shifting into a learner-centred design of technology – an approach that needs to be implemented when considering screen time. The debate needs to focus on screen quality, not screen time.
Emily: What advice or top tips would you give to international school leaders wanting to develop their long-term digital strategy?
Brian: There are too many sources to choose from! Keep things simple. If I were to start from the beginning, I would look at Microsoft’s Education Transformation Framework, Dr Scott McLeod’s 4 Shifts Protocol, and Apple’s Everyone Can Create series as a source of inspiration and guidance. Like the real estate agents’ mantra ‘location, location, location’, the mantra for developing a long-term digital strategy should be ‘pilot, pilot, pilot’. In addition to having a future tech budget plan, try putting one-off pieces of technology into your learning environments for teachers and students to play and experiment with, to be curious with. Don’t be afraid to approach companies for demo units and give them brutally honest feedback – they’re happy to receive it, in my experience.
Emily: Who is spearheading change in your international school?
Brian: It should be every member of the school community. We should all be asking questions and challenging the status quo; we are all mini activists. Shift all stakeholders in learning from bystanders to active participants. If you’re in education and you’re not comfortable with change, you’re probably in the wrong business – I reckon it’s one of the most organic institutions in the world!
Taking place on 11th and 12th October for the first time in Bangkok, Thailand, Bett Asia 2022 will gather K12 and Higher Education leaders, policymakers and educators from the region for two full days of content, solution discovery and networking opportunities. Register now