As technology continues to play a more significant role in our everyday lives, both teachers and pupils increasingly expect to teach and learn in the same way they live. Schools are coming under greater pressure to incorporate the technology their pupils are most familiar with, and when this is embedded seamlessly into a clear pedagogy, technology can undoubtedly have a considerable impact.
But amidst that pressure, schools are in danger of investing too quickly in familiar technology without having a coherent plan for how it will support teaching and learning within their unique learning environment, leading to significant time and cost implications.
“Unfortunately, we come across this a lot,” says Steve Forbes, Head of Network Solutions at RM Education. “When you have a great experience at home using a tablet device, it’s easy to think of ways it could be used in the classroom. But a classroom is a very different environment and careful thought should be given to how they’ll be used and integrated into the school’s current technology.
“We also see parents, pupils and teachers demanding certain technology because other schools in the area have it, and that can lead to very hasty decisions being made. But without a proper strategy, these devices end up not being used or worse – being disruptive in lessons.”
Issues such as these often occur when schools do not have the infrastructure to support the devices they have purchased, or when money isn’t invested in training teachers on how to effectively use this equipment within the classroom. And whilst many schools are realising their pedagogy should be at the heart of the technology they use, for some it still leaves thousands of pounds of investment sitting in store cupboards gathering dust.
“Everything should lead back to what the school are trying to achieve,” explains Steve. “Every school is different and will have different strengths and areas that they want to develop; so by understanding the vision and goals of the school, a strategy can be created to ensure that technology helps to achieve these goals in an integrated way, as opposed to being an afterthought or something that is implemented separately.
“When technology is truly embedded, it helps to expand teaching and learning from being something that just happens within four walls to something that can be done anywhere – on the bus, at home, in the library – pupils can log onto a platform to share their work with other pupils and teachers and get feedback in real time, while teachers can really bring lessons to life.”
For schools who do have a clear pedagogy in place, the improvement in teaching and learning isn’t the only benefit; the time and cost savings are tangible too. Moving to ‘the cloud’, for instance, mitigates the cost of maintaining expensive servers on site that sit idle for more than a third of the year.
Schools can instead host a server in the Microsoft Azure cloud where they only pay for the time they are using it or utilise the some of the free applications that negate the need for traditional servers altogether. In many scenarios it may not be possible to entirely move to the cloud, but a few small steps can help schools save a large amount of money whilst also transforming the way that they use technology.
When technology is truly embedded, it helps to expand teaching and learning from being something that just happens within four walls to something that can be done anywhere – on the bus, at home, in the library – pupils can log onto a platform to share their work with other pupils and teachers and get feedback in real time, while teachers can really bring lessons to life
When this is combined with productivity apps such as those in Office 365 and a management tool such as Microsoft’s Enterprise Mobility Suite, schools can benefit from a powerful cloud-based platform that costs just a fraction of what a school would normally pay for their IT over a five-year period.
To select the right technology, schools should seek expert advice to help them understand the potential of what can be done with different apps and devices, as well as the potential downfalls. Once they have identified the technology best suited to their learning environment, schools must then invest the time and training into embedding that technology and ensuring it works for the whole school.
Free apps like Office 365 and Google Apps for Education, for example, can have a transformative effect on the way a teacher works – enabling them to set and collect homework projects, mark and provide feedback in realtime and capture evidence. When implemented correctly, many of these tools can be used to replace expensive software such as VLEs or additional servers that are doing the same job.
“When we show teachers how easy it is to use these tools and the amount of time it can save them, we get a remarkable reaction,” says Steve. “Google Apps for Education allows pupils to learn in a way that’s similar to the way they live and that’s something that we haven’t really seen in the industry for a long time.”
Conversely, Apple devices and software can enable pupils to produce e-books in minutes using iBook Creator, and Apple have just announced a number of new features that promise to significantly improve shared iPad / iOS device usage and management as well as providing some powerful classroom teacher tools.
“What is definitely quantifiable is the impact technology has on teaching and learning when it doesn’t work. When it gets in the way of a lesson being delivered, you lose vital teaching time with pupils that cannot be recovered,” says Steve.
‘There is definitely more work to be done to quantify the impact of tech on attainment but when you see technology truly embedded in a school, you can see a positive impact on everything in the school community – we’ve seen schools go from Special Measures to Outstanding, and those schools have attributed a large part of the credit to the way they changed their use of technology to help them get there.”
One school that understands this learning curve better than most is Fakenham Academy in Norfolk. In 2013, the school was placed in Special Measures and decided to address the conundrum by beginning a move to the cloud and slashing costs of hardware like printers from £50,000 to £10,000 in two years.
The academy is now rated Good, with outcomes improving fast in all areas. But Mark House, an Education Consultant at RM Education who led the change management process at Fakenham during his time there as an educator, attributes their success not only to making tangible cost reductions but to a change in attitudes about the role of technology in education.
“State schools have been facing a 10% budget cut at the same time as they’re seeing kids arrive at school using technology in a way which is increasingly different to the IT the school provides,” says Mark.
“The problem is that technology is no longer moving at an incremental speed – it’s incredibly fast, and the only way we can keep up is to think 10 times quicker than the current pace of change. To achieve that, many schools with, say, 100 printers, might think they need 110 to keep up, but the answer is actually that they don’t need any at all.”
In his current role, Mark delivers thought leadership on change management to schools throughout the country and helps them understand how they can apply the ‘10X’ mindset to not only ensure technology is working for them, but to future-proof their choices.
“Every school in the UK will ultimately have to move to the cloud, but only around 3% have done so far,” explains Mark. “What we need to instil is a cultural change within schools that moves away from throwing money at devices which aren’t going to support positive change because there isn’t a plan in place to manage that change. To develop a successful technology model, schools need three things; skillset, toolset and mindset. At Fakenham, we started our change management process by doing nine months of preparation, looking at how we could streamline our hardware whilst implementing technology that was going to drive real change. If schools can get their change management right, they’ll increase productivity, raise standards and save huge amounts of money.”
The problem is that technology is no longer moving at an incremental speed – it’s incredibly fast, and the only way we can keep up is to think 10 times quicker than the current pace of change
Fakenham’s process of change management began with closely examining the teaching and learning issues unique to their school, enabling them to align the right technology with these issues to help address them. A particular challenge teachers faced was engaging white working class boys, who tended to be disengaged outside of normal school hours.
Mark looked at technology from all three main providers and selected a Google suite of technology because the platform would help Fakenham to create an open, trusting and collaborative environment that supported their pedagogy. Since Google apps are also device-neutral, pupils could easily work on projects outside of school time using their own devices at home.
The result was that pupils’ engagement grew exponentially because they were using technology they loved, and because of the ease of sharing content, staff emails went down, costs were reduced and there was less need for frequent meetings; making both staff and pupils happier.
“I do find it quite bizarre now when I go into schools and the children say: ‘It’s 11 O’clock so we’re going into IT now’,” says Mark. “No one should go into IT, as if it’s an entirely separate entity from the rest of their education. It’s so far away from a child’s experience with technology in their everyday lives. When it’s applied correctly for a school in the right way, technology should be almost invisible and enable staff and pupils to reach their full potential in a safe and collaborative way; that’s the future of teaching and learning.”