Pitching edtech to the mainstream media

We asked Helena Pozniak, a UK-based freelance journalist who’s interested in education, child development, technology and science careers, for her thoughts on pitching edtech to the mainstream media. Helena writes regularly for UK newspapers including The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph and has also written for The Times, The Independent, Wired and Reuters. She also writes for universities and schools. Here, then, are Helena’s thoughts:

Until this year, edtech has never really been a story for mainstream media – unless it was scaremongering around robot teachers or whizzy technology such as holograms in the classroom.
The pandemic has revealed some interesting misunderstandings amongst consumers of education – or at least their parents – that online teaching isn’t somehow “proper” teaching and that in order to be any good, online education must be delivered live.

Very little has been published (in mainstream media at least) to correct these misapprehensions – possibly because there is so much going on in our schools, universities and colleges this year that there’s no room for more granular detail about research underpinning education. Edtech, I believe, is largely misunderstood.

If I’ve written about edtech in the past – it’s been either in the context of private schools and how they can afford it, how disadvantaged children are being left behind, or as sponsored pieces showcasing institutions transformed by collaborations with technology companies or what makes good practice.
If I were to pitch a story on the advantages of remote learning or the potential of an app, I’m sure editors’ eyes would glaze over. So here are my (not comprehensive) thoughts on what does and doesn’t work – for me at least.

What doesn’t work
New app helps teachers teach
Tech firm wins contract to supply schools
Well paid woman in edtech encourages other women
Tech helps girls learn STEM skills
New initiative to teach kids to code

Subjects that might work (with fresh angles and quotes from edtech experts)
The digital divide and social mobility
Mental health
Bullying
The student experience
Fears around children’s screen time (but only with specific new research or tips to combat that etc)
Online vulnerability of children
Cheating and online assessments
AI within education
Is the lecture dead?
And – as an extension of the above (and a story I would dearly have liked to write): “Beloved online lecturer had been dead for years”

Recently I’ve seen many webinars asking what is the future of education? While I find this interesting, it’s too massive a subject for me to pitch to editors – but if I have time I try to listen in to find out who would be a good interviewee and what ideas are current.

I recently managed to place a piece around how angry university lecturers feel – they’re working 60 hour weeks and they feel the media is whipping up calls for a fee rebate. This was a chance to demonstrate the potential of communication tech and the level of differentiation it allows within teaching – and that in fact, some lecturers and students prefer it.

For tech-driven publications, edtech is an easier sell. There’s strong interest in what you can achieve with VR and AR – and I’ve written about its use in teaching empathy, about practical learning, tackling biases and educating people about dementia. I’m planning to pitch a university’s experiments with VR and haptics to teach medical students – innovations such as these are a more natural fit.

Many believe the edtech boom is long overdue and schools, colleges and unis might be thinking harder about what physical space is for (though mostly they are just trying not to sink under the pressures). There’s obviously a huge focus on the value of social interaction and in person learning.

As the tech sector scrabbles to consolidate its move into mainstream education, I’d want to know what the risks are in terms of privacy, the attainment gap, and how private and state sectors compare. What does the upheaval mean for teachers, and how much will it all cost? Who’s doing it well? There’s enduring interest in what artificial intelligence means in the classroom – though it often gets conflated with robots. Sadly there’s not much interest in pieces around personalisation.

And happily I’ve at last managed to place a piece on holograms. Next up, the robots are coming….