Name: Michael Oakes
Job title: Change Strategy Manager at RM Education
The last few months have brought unprecedented changes for society as a whole, and the UK school system in particular. Many students have been learning from home for much of this period and being taught remotely has become the new normal.
Even when classrooms do re-open to all, it’s likely that we’ll see many of the new processes and technologies become accepted practice and stick around for the long term.
Yet, with weeks of remote teaching still stretching ahead of us – there’s still no indication from the UK government that lockdown measures will be lifted anytime soon– senior leaders and headteachers still have a significant challenge ahead of them to keep their schools running smoothly online.
Unlocking the potential of technology
For minimum disruption to schools – whether it be pupils, teachers or parents – it is now more important than ever that schools unlock the potential of technology to allow effective remote learning.
And it’s great to see support from the government and technology companies, with the likes of free laptops being provided to disadvantaged children across England and the likes of Microsoft offering free software to schools during the coronavirus lockdown.
Prior to COVID-19, many schools were advised by the UK government to make better use of cloud services to help address technical and educational issues cost effectively
The current scenario with Covid-19 is something that no school could have predicted. But as senior leaders and teachers continue their daily battle to ensure pupils are learning effectively, modern technology is providing the foundations for today’s home classroom.
Cloud services and applications
Cloud services and applications enable better collaboration between students and teachers, improved accessibility for all, and greater flexibility, so that teachers and students can work remotely for as long as is needed under the new lockdown measures. And with school budgets tight, the use of cloud technology can also help to reduce infrastructure and IT costs.
Prior to COVID-19, many schools were advised by the UK government to make better use of cloud services to help address technical and educational issues cost effectively.
Now, the need for this technology has become abundantly clear in a much shorter space of time than could ever have been anticipated – leaving schools with virtually no time to prepare for the change.
While many schools have done a fantastic job migrating to a new way of teaching, for some it has been challenging – a report by C3 Education suggested that barely one in five teachers have adapted well, and almost half of pupils have found it challenging.
One hopes that one of the legacies of this period is for all schools to migrate systems and documents to the cloud sooner rather than later so that pupils and teachers have full access to the necessary learning resources – wherever they are based. After all, it’s only through the power of the cloud that pupils can engage, learn and work in the way that they are used to in the classroom.
Flexible and collaborative
Many of the new educational platforms designed by the likes of Apple, Google and Microsoft are free for schools to use and, when used in collaboration with the right partner, can support teachers and pupils with day-to-day study in an engaging way and in real-time. It goes without saying that schools need pupils and teachers to be able to access resources, host lessons and set work as and when is needed, and the flexibility that cloud provides enables just that.
One of the biggest benefits the cloud offers to teachers is the ability to share learning resources and information. Using systems such as G Suite for Education or Office 365 means those resources can easily be shared and edited between pupils and teachers. This allows a much more collaborative environment where pupils can feel more engaged and teachers can provide feedback as they would in the classroom.
Saving money and time
With the right cloud solution, teachers and schools can save on time as well as money. Although training may be required at the start, when cloud tools are used effectively they can reduce the time taken for more laborious aspects of teaching – such as reducing the time it takes to access data and applications. In turn, this offers teachers with more time to research, analyse and use new curriculum resources, and ultimately more time spent with pupils.
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Another benefit of the cloud is that schools no longer need to purchase hardware to host exchange servers – something that historically takes much more time to maintain than the cloud. Combine this with the fact that many leading cloud platforms are free for schools, such as Office 365 and G Suite, cost savings of tens of thousands of pounds can be found.
That said, it’s understandable that many schools are still cautious when it comes to using the cloud. After all, just like with every technology, there will always be risks. But it’s important to remember that as long as the initial migration is carried out with specialist software, ideally from a specialist engineer, the security of a schools data will remain safe and can only be accessed by the authorised users.
Just recently, the Department for Education said in its strategy paper that “cloud-based systems are usually more secure” than hardware systems, because risks of hosting data on the cloud are a lot less than hosting everything on one school server.
Only through collaboration and designing and executing a well thought-out digital transformation strategy, will schools truly benefit from the cloud
To fully embed any new technology, training is always essential and the value of training for new technologies such as the cloud cannot be underestimated. Effective training and a ‘change management’ strategy will ensure that teachers and staff are confident using the technology that – under current circumstances – is vital to enabling them to do their job day to day.
Many schools that make the move to cloud services do so without fully considering which changes need to be made, and how the culture of the school will need to evolve alongside those changes.
Only through collaboration and designing and executing a well thought-out digital transformation strategy, will schools truly benefit from the cloud – both now and long after lockdown measures have been lifted.
With the help of a robust change management plan backed by a proper training regime, which can all be handled remotely, schools can ensure the cloud enhances the learning outcomes already in place – instead of making them more challenging. This process does not have to be daunting or frustrating and with the right IT partner, who take you every step of the way, it can be executed for Covid-19 and beyond.