EdTech Expert: Siobhan Thatcher

EdTech is a hot buzz word around the air right now. Being involved in education and technology we take this very seriously and consulted with an expert on the matter.


Tell us about yourself and your background?

After leaving school in 2002, I studied Journalism and Linguistics at Rhodes University, thinking I’d end up writing and designing media content in the then emerging online world. A change in course saw me do my Post-Graduate Certificate in Education part-time at the University of Johannesburg while I began my career in the classroom in 2007. I had not always wanted to teach, but after working closely with students in academic support courses, I realised that I had a passion for sharing knowledge and enabling learning. I went from being a languages teacher to supporting and teaching ICT integration when I moved to Cape Town and had the incredible opportunity to work at the first school in South Africa to embark on BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). At the time, it was a leading project in our country which gave me incredible scope to learn and experiment as technology entered classrooms in a very new way.

As my passion for integrating technology into teaching and learning grew, I decided that I wanted to be part of developmental environments which served educators and learners from under-resourced schools and disadvantaged communities. I moved into the Non-Profit sector and joined an NGO where I was able to work with technology in education spaces in rural and township schools. Although my primary focus was initially training educators to use technology innovatively in their classrooms, I had wonderful opportunities for growth and developed a new skill set as I grew into a project manager overseeing integration projects, before I began designing programmes at a national level.

My current role at Project Isizwe has transitioned me into the telecommunications space, where I get to work at the forefront of where technology enables internet access for low income communities. The advancement and educational opportunities that being online bring to the lives of young people is, I believe, one of the most important areas to serve in in South Africa. Seeing communities, schools, teachers, learners and young people access the internet and begin to improve their lives and benefit from the resources and opportunities that the online world has to offer, is a privileged space to work in.

Although a little removed from teachers and learners in the classroom, I am now working more closely with young adults, running programmes which help them access online resources that build their skills sets and contribute towards helping them access employment opportunities, enabling their own earning potential as well as ensuring that that can meaningfully contribute to South Africa’s economy.    




Tell us about the EdTech Summit?

In early 2013, I met Karen Page who had been travelling to South Africa from the USA to work with teachers, helping them to begin using technology in their classrooms. Karen had a vision to start a national conference that would serve educators from under-resourced schools, training them on how to integrate technology into their classrooms. Karen and I began planning the first EdTech Summit and in August 2013 co-produced the first of 4 annual conferences. From small beginnings in just Cape Town and Johannesburg in its first year, EdTech Summit Africa has grown to serve educators outside of just South Africa, with summit events in Swaziland and Ghana.

The vision of EdTech Summit Africa is to bring technology and skills for 21st century learning, including modern pedagogies like collaboration, project based learning, the flipped classroom, programming, robotics, etc. into classrooms where professional development of this kind for teachers would otherwise be inaccessible and prohibited by high costs.   


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What is EdTech and why is it important?

EdTech (Education Technology) is the integration of technology into teaching and learning environments. At a starting point, this includes things that often seem simple like digital timetables or typed lessons plans; for many teachers in Africa the technologies that enable typing and being able to edit content on a computer are still very new and not necessarily prevalent in all schools. At the vision end, EdTech is when leaners discover how logic works when they program a robot to move around a room, or when they discover how gears and leavers work using smart lego.

The outcome about EdTech should never be about technology. Yes, tech is fun, and engaging and interactive, but EdTech is about the learning opportunities and benefits, and enhancing the educational outcomes. It’s about enabling an improved learning experience where educators are empowered and where learners are given the chance to learn in the ways best suited to their own learning styles through the personalised learning that technology enables, and in ways that are most relevant to contemporary life and the working world that education is laying the foundations for.


Where can teachers and parents find resources to help them use and incorporate technology in their children/ pupil’s live?

More and more children are accessing technology via mobile technology like smartphones and tablets. Although there are still incredible online resources on webpages, the move now is towards apps. For teachers and parents alike, the best place to look for apps are in the respective stores. It’s imperative that parents and teachers are also part of the learning experience – learning is not just for children; rather we should all be lifelong learners, adopting the new and innovative into our lives. Parents and teachers should use social media like Facebook and Twitter to join groups, follow leaders in the EdTech space and build a network that will help them navigate the space for the next generation.


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What’s your favourite personal app and why?

My favourite personal app is definitely the Garmin sport app. I love the way every aspect of my training is tracked and logged, and then also made easily accessible as data that provides useful feedback for my lifestyle and future training. It also has a way to track to sleep and food; which is really important in my life. It’s incredible how technology integrates into all aspects of our lives and really enables us to make decisions that ensure we are improving and moving forward.


Follow Siobhan on Twitter for some great EdTech content.