Looking beyond front-end technology

Kelly Scott, account director for education at Virtus Data Centres, talks about powering a new approach to teaching and learning for the 21st century
It’s well understood that working in education can be as tough as it is rewarding. Faced with dwindling budgets, increasing class sizes and heightened competition, teachers around the world are looking for new pedagogical approaches to meet increasingly complex needs. However, it’s not as simple as plugging in new products and immediately reaping the benefits. On one hand, properly integrated, well-adopted technology can power better, more effective and more engaging teaching and learning. On the other, increased technology use will strain a school’s underlying infrastructure – meaning that power, storage and capacity challenges will arise.

Keeping pace with smart technology

During his tenure as secretary of state for education, Damian Hinds challenged the technology industry to propel a digital revolution for schools, colleges and universities; buoyed by evidence that, in some schools, state-of-the-art technology is revolutionising teaching and learning.  And he shouldn’t be disappointed with progress. Where interactive whiteboards were recently the hot technology in learning, interactive flat panels (IFPs) have now become the main focal point at the front of the class, instantly drawing students’ attention and curiosity. Instead of desktops, tablets, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) systems are enabling children to take virtual trips to the base of a live volcano, talk to their peers all over the world and even build and control robots.  Beyond the gadgets, harnessing data is one of the most exciting parts of the education technology revolution. Teachers can now use apps to record their lessons, using iPads or smartphones to capture a session, helping them review their performance and improve aspects of their teaching accordingly.  Used in the correct way, this sophisticated adoption of performance analytics can help educators understand students’ learning behaviours and where they’re excelling, struggling or coasting, allowing teachers to personalise learning journeys. Staff can examine their own effectiveness, what’s working and what could be improved – empowering them to develop a teaching style which they know will meet the requirements of their students. Because of this, we see some educators fundamentally re-evaluating the way that they measure progress. Instead of standardised tests which measure the ability to absorb and regurgitate rote materials, ongoing assessment has the ability to appraise in a much more nuanced way. Teachers can now review research skills, applied knowledge, measure learning  gained and prioritise practical ability. Harnessing data allows teachers to personalise learning journeys and demonstrate added value.
Teachers can now review research skills, applied knowledge, measure learning gained and prioritise ability 

The power behind the gadgets and data

Being able to store data effectively, and being able to access and interpret it as meaningful actionable information, is vitally important to educators across the board and will give huge advantage to the institutions that do it well. However, if the infrastructure is unreliable, the implications could be significant. For example, failures in the network could result in school systems being shut down, and huge disruption to students and teachers alike.  This means that it’s absolutely vital that schools have the right infrastructure in place to support the demands of technology-powered education. Lots of connectivity, storage and computing power is required – and all of this is facilitated by the data centre.  The innovations which are transforming education – cloud computing, social media, mobile apps, the ‘big data’ explosion and on-demand services – means that it’s no longer viable for schools or multi school groups to build and run their own data centres. Outsourcing to a third party provides the best protection against increasing data centre complexity, cost and risk. 
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