Technology has impacted schools and colleges massively, but there is more that can be done. We often see schools and colleges replacing their legacy communications systems with a new one, but they often just go for ‘like for like’ approach. The real innovation is understanding how a Unified Communications solution can both help staff not only run the school or college services more efficiently but also improve how they work, making them feel more positive about their roles.
What needs to be done is to look at how the school or college operates and make changes to improve. Whether this is by doing things better or faster is up to the institution, but they must differentiate themselves from other establishments in the area. This will help when competing for the best students and will assist them in meeting objectives set by Ofsted.
A school’s struggle
We hear a lot about overworked and stressed teachers, schools struggling to keep staff and workers overrun with paperwork. Technology can help solve this. By streamlining processes and providing easy to understand systems, schools and colleges can overhaul their entire operations for the better.
Still, educators need help. They need support and guidance, something the government should be providing. With solutions such as OpenScape Business, a school can implement a full voice and UC solution with a one number service allowing all staff to work more effectively and put in place simple things such as basic help desk (using the inbuilt contact center) to help manage parent calls and enquiries.
Also, schools are using social media to communicate to staff, students and partners — with better integration of social media, schools can better meet their mandate to communicate and engage with their surrounding community. Again, many do this already, but it can often be ad-hoc and down to one person who will have normal teaching responsibilities on top.
Another way that technology can assist running a school is how it can grab pupils’ attention. Many schools now have students using tablets or PCs to do their coursework and access information, but more could be done to teach in new ways. Whether this is using things such as web collaboration to make teaching more interactive and interesting, being able to teach from remote locations and run tutorials from wherever they are, or using it to bring resources to a school which they might not have.
In short, we think schools and colleges can get more from technology such as Unified Communications, as there are massive advantages and benefits for students, staff and parents. Many lack a joined-up approach, with budgets and pressure are holding them back. We should look to good examples in the UK or in other countries to see how technology in education is being used effectively, otherwise we risk the next generation being left behind.
Help is at hand
Suppliers and vendors can help, but educators, the government and other experts need to help. We need a clear programme of driving technology into schools where it can impact day-to-day life and enhance the learning experience. It cannot be simply a replacement for the notepad and whiteboard. Instead, it must revolutionise the learning process, the way in which teacher work and how the school operates.
This is wider than training, but understanding the effective use of technology is key. Before this schools need a clear plan for how the technology can help them and how they want it work. It needs to be piloted in real situations and the learnings taken onboard. Then a wider rollout should occur, including the vendor’s support in development of training, but, in the end, training delivered by the organisation using it is often best.
One of the challenges is there are so many questions for schools and colleges: Which solution is best? How should they provide access to it? Will it be used and will they get an return on their investment?
Watch and learn
Looking for good examples or case studies is key. Observe how others are doing it and learn from their learning. Choose some solutions which will provide exactly what you need and engage the teachers in this process, as it is best they have something they actually want to use.
Education is changing and technology is at the forefront of this. There is much more which can be done and the best schools are exploiting the latest products on the market. Often schools can’t see the wood for the trees with the cost and choice of available platforms, but vendors can help them by providing case studies and experiences they have had with other organisations.
It’s time the anywhere teacher becomes a reality and the key to supply this is to provide the right solution. A vendor can help in this process, but the initiative has to come from the school and its teachers. Remember, revolution starts in the classroom.
Rob Keenan is Head of Portfolio Management at Unify UK&I