Unlocking the digital classroom

The education sector is at a critical point on its journey to embrace innovative technologies, says Alasdair McCormick

Stepping into a classroom in 2016 is a curious experience for me. The focal point of my own education – the blackboard – has been replaced by an interactive whiteboard; the colourful pile of dusty chalk has become a smartpen. Even the teacher’s staple, the OHP, is gone – in its place a data projector connected to a touch panel control system.

While far removed from my own school days, these changes come as little surprise given that £900m was spent on technology in British schools in 2015 (Gartner), and the government has put digital transformation firmly at the top of its agenda. New technologies continue to proliferate at an incredible rate. A recent YouGov poll found that 76% of teachers across the UK use some form of technology in all or most of their lessons, and this figure is likely to reach 100% in the next few years.

Room for improvement

Despite the rapid rate of growth and investment in education technology, doubt still lingers around the digitisation of our classrooms. How far is technology a worthwhile investment in a sector that’s already facing serious funding challenges, and are we really using it to its full potential?

To gain some insight into this issue, 1,000 A-Level students were questioned last year about their attitudes towards technology at school. The results were revelatory, with 73% of the teenagers saying they felt frustrated at the inability of their teachers to use the technologies available to them effectively. The knock-on effects of this are serious; lack of concentration, impaired learning and reduced engagement to name but a few.

A lesson in new technologies

This is a problem we’re all too familiar with at Ricoh UK, a leading IT solutions provider. Every year, we undertake thousands of digital transformation projects with companies from diverse sectors all around the world, and one of the biggest challenges with any kind of change process is digital training. Investing in the technology is one thing, but return on investment can only come when we fully realise the opportunities it presents.

Really, that’s the crux of the matter here: IT professionals in schools need to act as champions for digital change, clearly communicating how technology can serve to enrich education practices and empower teachers to deliver more impactful lessons. Effective training of teaching staff – from the rationale to invest in new technology in the first instance, right down to how it works – is the key to unlock the full potential of the digital classroom.

A-Grade investment

The right technology partner – one that understands how to harness IT to improve education, manage change effectively, and develop the skills of those using the technology – will help schools feel the benefits of these new ways of teaching.

And, those benefits are potentially huge. Technology lends a flexibility to pedagogy that traditional methods simply cannot compete with. A child who is physically impaired or unable to make it to the classroom for other reasons, is able to work just as well remotely with access to a full suite of course materials anytime, anywhere. This is something that Hopwood Hall College near Manchester knows all too well, having seeing a rise in independent learning among its student body as a result of its new virtual desktop environment.

What’s more, technology offers a personalised learning experience, where each student has their own plan, and teachers (and even parents) can track progress and performance over time. If a child is particularly advanced or behind compared to the rest of the class, they can view homework plans tailored to their level with a click of a button.

Bringing technology firmly into the classroom could also have a positive impact beyond those four walls. An early understanding of how the internet works, and how information can be accessed digitally to aid studies, sets youngsters up with the skills and knowledge they’ll need for later life. Online working, client management and training has boomed in the corporate world, and there’s pressure for schools and universities to prepare their students by following suit.

The education sector is at a critical point on its journey to embrace innovative technologies. As classrooms up and down the UK continue to be transformed by digital, it’s time for schools to recognise the importance of training teachers to use the new resources available to them.

Technology is here to stay. Let’s awaken teaching to the opportunities it presents, and develop an education system that can flourish in this new age.

Alasdair McCormick is National Sales Director at Ricoh UK
W: www.ricoh.co.uk 

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