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How do HOW2s fit’ into the conversations around EdTech?

Background — the HOW2 (EdTech) double decker bus

In 2012 The Sutton Trust, in collaboration with Durham University, England, concluded that to be effective, EdTech needs to be an integral part of good teaching. Else its impact was likely to be negligible, zero even. No-one, we suspect, would argue with this. 

Previous to this we had in 2011, following a decade of delivering live training on evidence-informed teaching techniques to educators, launched the HOW2 web app. If you are not already familiar with the app, you’ll find a one-minute and forty-second intro here. We moved the content of our training — our visual guides to evidence-informed teaching techniques— online. The intention of the app was and still is, to offer a convenient and cost-effective way for educational organisations to support faculty, to standardise and scale improvements to learning through better pedagogy. We assumed our customers would be employing subject and workforce experts. We also knew that being an expert in what is being taught is only half of what is required to be a great teacher — they also needed to be an expert on how to teach it. One of our first clients was the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) — they’d already used us to introduce (through live training), more modern’ (their word) pedagogy. 

An MoD trainer typically has at least eight years of experience in the field. Their trainers are truly expert in what they teach. The MoD realised that they could not attribute low student satisfaction ratings, poor pass rates, (and subsequent high retest rates) and poor transfer of learning into the field to a lack of content expertise. There was a mismatch between the subject expertise and teaching expertise. Two weeks DTTT (Defence Train the Trainer) training is not quite the same as eight years in the field… 

The scale of the task to upskill the quality of delivery at the MoD hugely accelerated our efforts to move our work online. To continue the analogy in the heading, by the time the Sutton Trust report came out in 2012, we had a bit of EdTech containing visual guides to evidence-based teaching techniques. It’s aim? To help educators improve learning through better teaching. A single-decker bus had left the depot.

More recently we have been looking at the option of adding a view-only version of the app to the portfolio. This would allow large membership organisations to , under licence, offer access to the content as-if” they are accessing content on the member’s platform without the risk of duplicating existing collaboration features. 

HOW2s improve learning through better teaching

Sally Dicketts CBE, President of the English Association of Colleges

Sally Dicketts is also CEO of Activate Learning Group of Colleges. Based at Oxford City College the Activate Group is made up of seven colleges spread across England. Activate have been using HOW2s since 2015.

Pause for thought. Part 1. The need for precision.

A teaching strategy is different from a teaching technique. So just as​‘furniture’ is conceptual and​‘table’ and​‘chairs’ are concrete examples of the concept, so (for example)​‘cooperative learning’ is conceptual (a strategy) and​‘jigsaw’ and​‘learners on tour’ are concrete examples (techniques). 

The problem, however of using words alone, even at a concrete level, is that words are open to interpretation. What IS​‘jigsaw’ or​‘learners on tour’? We use still visuals and words to facilitate a shared understanding so that educators can get on with their core task, which is to adopt and adapt the technique to their unique context. 

Working with concrete examples of techniques that are explained through the combined use of still visuals and words makes it easier to improve the quality of teaching and, so the suggestion here goes, consider where, exactly, to integrate the use of EdTech. You can read more about what cognitive science tells us about how visuals support learning here

The fact that the image is paired down and devoid of too much contextual information facilitates teachers to focus on the teaching and learning inherent in the activity and then adapt it to their context to meet the needs of their students


Our view is that until greater attention is paid as to exactly what good teaching looks like it will remain hard, or at least be harder, for individual subject expert educators improve their teaching expertise and alongside this, to imagine themselves integrating the use of EdTech. 

The imagining effect. Visuals help anyone learning a procedure to imagine themselves doing it.

Pause for thought. Part 2. Why knowing how to use a bit of EdTech is not enough

Whenever we buy a bit of technology, we have to learn how to turn it on. And how its different features work. Many educators, perhaps non-digital natives, in particular, can be reluctant to do the former and intransigent about applying themselves to do the latter. But there is a bigger problem. Knowing how to use a bit of kit does not mean you know how to use it well. For example, I might know how to turn on and use all the features of a food mixer. But even if someone gives me the ingredients, I still don’t know how to use it to help me cook a good meal. For this, I need a menu. I need a HOW2

EdTech providers are at pains to provide their buyers with support as to how to use their kit, but far more could be done to show their users how to integrate the tech into the teaching sequence to enhance learning and assessment. Knowing how, for example, to use the note-taking, highlighting and bookmarking functions on an eTextbook platform does not, on the whole, result in greater use of eTextbooks. 

Our response? First, in 2012, we created the EdTech collection and descriptors. And since 2019 we have created a range of visual guides looking specifically at integrating eTextbooks into the teaching sequence. 

The EdTech collection marries different types of EdTech to specific teaching techniques. Helping educators to make the connection between Technical and Pedagogical Know-how. 

The vast majority of techniques have Ed Tech contextual descriptors providing users with ideas as to how to integrate various forms of Ed Tech into the teaching sequence. 

The Skills Exchange — Adding a second deck to the bus

In 2014 we added a traffic light system to the inside of the bus. Educators can now select red, amber or green tags to showcase whether they are considering’, working on’ or have already embedded’ specific teaching techniques. The Skills Exchange makes it a cinch for educators to capture and share their learning and to ask for and offer support from and to each other. 

Teacher standards worldwide require educators to evidence how they are reflecting on and developing their practice and supporting their colleagues and the organisation as a whole. The Skills Exchange, in so far as it relates to demonstrating improvements in pedagogy has transformed something that was perceived by many teachers as a meaningless chore into something useful and collegial.

A big double decker — COVID and online teaching and learning platforms

COVID has required pretty much all educators to get to grips with teaching online. Whether using Canvas, Blackboard, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Google meet, they have had to invest hugely in the hardware to make it happen. And educators have all had to learn how to turn it on and how to use its features. And then teach. 

The reality is many (most?) educators do not yet know how to teach online. This is widening the achievement gap between those learners who can pretty much learn irrespective of the quality of their experience and those learners that need to be taught by teachers who know how to get them over the barriers to access and progress that arise. It gets worse. Postgraduates training to be teachers are being taught how to teach, online, by teacher trainers who do not know how to teach online. Maybe the University where we know this to be the case is not typical. We hope so. 

HOW2 is not THE answer. It’s not a silver bullet. But we’d argue it does provide a pedagogically sound, precise and practical base to develop and share future best practice.

Ian Harris, CEO HOW2s

I think US CCs face a key moment in their history — and yes, pedagogy should be at the centre of that conversation. It isn’t though — for lots of reasons. The transition to remote learning has exposed enormous pedagogical gaps (and of course enormous professional development gaps). How we teach, how we measure outcomes are very much in play again.

US CC President (in private correspondence to Ian Harris September 2020) 

New HOW2s show educators how to engage and ensure meaningful, active, learning when teaching ONLINE

If someone likes the look of the menu or better can imagine what they are cooking, they will work out how to use the mixer.

Any company selling an eTextbook platform will provide training on how to use their platform. But do they show their buyers how to use the eTextbooks as part of good teaching? They might argue that its reasonable to assume that the educators using the textbooks will already know how to do this? But why take a chance?

Here are a couple of questions we’ve answered with eTextbooks in mind (click through to see the answers) 

We’d argue that given the cost of investing in eTextbooks — $.2-.5m — >$2m pa for a small to a large university or community college per annum? And an edTech platform to host the eTextbooks— $200 – 300,000 per annum it might make sense for the Universities and Colleges etc. to invest in ensuring their educators know how to use them. 

If someone likes the look of the menu, they will work out how to use the mixer. 

eTextbooks represent our first piece of extended work showing exactly how to use a piece of tech to improve learning through better teaching

Summary. The HOW2 triple-decker

Deck one 2011 — to date 
Aeroplane Safety Card style graphics make it quick and easy for subject experts to develop their teaching expertise 

Deck two 2014 — to date 
The Skills Exchange is added to facilitate peer-to-peer professional learning. A traffic light system makes it a cinch for educators to ask for or offer support from and to each other. 

Deck three 2019 — to date 
HOW2 Guides on using evidence-informed teaching techniques when teaching online including guides to effective use of eTextbooks when using online learning platforms.