Whilst the process of shifting online this past year has been a huge learning curve, numerous benefits of using modern technology have been realised and many schools are looking to incorporate these platforms into classroom-based learning moving forward.
At LEO Academy Trust, we spent the last few years successfully transforming our education technology and digital strategy for the 3,500 pupils in our seven Sutton primary schools – even before the pandemic made it a necessity.
After spending a year examining a broad range of options and consulting with key stakeholders, and another year training staff and preparing them for the transition to a digital way of working, we eventually introduced G-Suite for Education – a cloud computing, productivity and collaboration software developed by Google – in 2019 as part of our plan to improve efficiency, increase collaboration and reduce costs. We also provided personal Google Chromebooks to each Year 4 child across five of our schools with support from the London Grid for Learning (LGfL). This year group was initially chosen as they had very experienced and confident teachers who could lead the piloting of the technology, test its effectiveness for boosting creativity and collaboration and identify any teething issues.
As the pandemic descended, we extended our provision to ensure no pupil missed out on online learning. We offered 1,000 additional devices to Key Stage 1 and Early Years Foundation Stage pupils who did not have access to a computer or tablet at home and provided dongle devices for families without internet access to help close the digital divide.
We now deliver eight hours of content a day through a mix of live and pre-recorded lessons via See-Saw and Google Classroom. This content includes opportunities for teachers to listen to individual readers, pupil voice groups and virtual after school clubs which allow us to ensure broad opportunities are available for pupils outside of the standard school hours and curriculum. We also support other schools to set up online remote learning as part of the Department for Education’s (DfE) Edtech Demonstrator School & Colleges Programme, and our impressive range of lessons are receiving more than 25,000 visits per day on our distance learning site, LEO Distance Learning. We have also launched our new Hybrid Learning system so we can continue to teach children both in the classroom and at home as pupils begin returning to school this week.
“We offered 1,000 additional devices to Key Stage 1 and Early Years Foundation Stage pupils who did not have access to a computer or tablet at home and provided dongle devices for families without internet access to help close the digital divide”
Transferring to G-Suite saves the Trust £48,000 a year which we invest back into our children’s learning. We have realised many other benefits, including trust-wide resilience due to the infrastructure already being in place allowing us to swiftly shift to remote teaching and pastoral support activities with minimal disruption.
Whilst there are many benefits to using the latest education technology, the number of options can make it feel overwhelming when trying to figure out where to start. Here are my six key steps for implementing a new education technology and some tips we learned along the way:
1. Identify the purpose
Before you dive into different packages, identify the purpose of investing in new education technology. Is it about essential cost savings or are you looking for cutting-edge collaboration tools, or something else entirely? This will give you a framework for your research and key messaging for your communications around implementation.
“Is it about essential cost savings or are you looking for cutting-edge collaboration tools, or something else entirely?”
It’s important to bring stakeholders on board as soon as possible. The key to our success was creating Digital Working Parties early on, made up of representatives from different Trust departments. The groups proved to be an effective way to gather feedback, mitigate issues and ensure everyone understood what we were doing and why.
2. It’s all in the research
Once you have identified what you are looking for, it’s essential to conduct in-depth research. I highly recommend visiting other schools that have implemented education technologies to find out about their experiences.
We visited several schools both in the UK and in China, asking questions such as ‘what do you like about the technology?’ and ‘what would you change?’. This provided us with some of the most insightful information about how we could learn from their experiences and ensure our pupils would continue to meet milestones, including learning to produce joined up, legible handwriting by the end of key stage two. The visits also demonstrated how technology could be used to effectively increase pupil engagement in every part of a lesson as well as reduce workload for teachers, confirming that we were on the right path to achieve our ambitions.
3. Create your strategy and plan ahead
Once you have selected your education technology, it is time to strategise!
Your strategy will need to consider:
- A timescale for rollout – including for a pilot group
- Guidelines for use e.g., GDPR compliance, safeguarding, access for SEND students
- Training for staff (see step 4 below)
- Communications to staff, pupils and parents about the upcoming changes and what it will mean for them. We used a cascade approach with our updates and on reflection, we would suggest a more centralised method, so all staff receive the same information at the same time
- Review checkpoints to adapt to feedback
4. Get training
The success of implementing your new technology will depend on upskilling staff. We spent about a year training all our staff so that when we launched G-Suite, everyone knew how it worked and understood its benefits.
We keep our training under review to ensure our teachers continue to develop their skills and confidence. We have invested in two highly skilled trainers to support this and they have been busy creating resources for our staff and others – including 25 webinars a week.
5. Appoint digital leaders and champions
As you rollout your education technology, appointing digital champions can be an effective way to encourage both staff and pupils.
Having several members of staff appointed as digital leaders can help generate buy-in from other staff and provides a point of contact to support with IT. Similarly, having a digital champion pupil in each class, for example, can help other pupils who have IT questions, boost creative thinking and support wider skills such as leadership and communication.
6. Celebrate your successes and share with your community
Once live, share your successes with your community and demonstrate its value. It’s a good idea to have some quick-win projects that you can launch at the start to promptly showcase the benefits of implementing the new technology.
At LEO Academy Trust, we believe it’s important to give back and share your experiences. One of our schools has been appointed as a Google for Education Reference School and regularly hosts visitors from around the world to examine the impact technology is having on pupil experiences and outcomes in our school.
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