Tech it or leave it: Morten Illum

Third in a series of seven: Is teaching keeping up with edtech? With Morten Illum, EMEA Vice President, Aruba (a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company)

Broadly, is the education sector managing to stay on top of the current rapid advances of technology?

Schools and universities want to enable staff to make decisions faster and to engage students whose learning styles vary. But before you can focus on that, foundational layers need to be put in place. That starts with basics like connectivity. Given mobile’s ubiquity, there is little tolerance from staff and students alike for downtime or poor experiences. Providing a truly mobile learning environment relies on a resilient network and pervasive coverage. 

Do schools, colleges and universities need to work hard to stay abreast of all these advances – or is it more a question of knowing where to focus their energies?

Keeping up with the pace of change is heavy lifting. Foremost, you need an IT champion with the vision and appetite to try new things. Next, you need flexibility and buy-in from management. Of course, budgets and stakeholder engagement vary, which means in many cases you will also need a trusted advisor to help identify what is achievable for you and how IT deployments will be controlled, managed and secured effectively.

For school, college and university students, mobility is essential. Students carry mobile devices and expect to be connected, and catering to that means having a mobile-first strategy in place.

And how can schools, colleges and universities best future-proof themselves against all the changes to come?

Future-proofing means offering the level of experience users desire, without leaving them open to risk of data loss or breach. When considering impending regulation and compliance requirements, this is critically important.

You can’t ask educational institutions to rip up and replace IT equipment in order to keep up with new demands. There are so many devices connecting to networks today, with so many different standards, that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. By using open platforms that allow integration with other solutions, the education sector can remain flexible in its IT approach, while meeting the scale, control and monitoring needed to ensure all users operate safely and securely.

“We need to provide students with the technology experience that is equivalent to their everyday lives.”

Can you point to any UK (or overseas) institutions or sectors where advancing technology is being harnessed to great effect?

Bryanston School is a great example of how independent schools are using technology advances to gain a competitive edge over their rivals. It has created a team of Digital Pioneers that review how technology is being used within the school in a bid to ‘push the boundaries’ and share best practice that will foster innovation.

Conducting this work has helped Bryanston to focus on user needs. It recognises that pupils need the capacity to work at their own speed, in their own time, but with the ability to collaborate. The school knew that a strong, scalable wireless network was critical to underpin the ubiquitous access required for this aim to be reached.

Are developments such as gamification, bring your own device (BYOD) and virtual learning environments (VLE) being harnessed effectively?

Again, Bryanston School has created a host of applications – including eChart, which enables staff to mark student work, leave visual and audio annotations and share this with parents. The IT department also enables the use of eLockers – drop folders where teachers and pupils can upload resources (including video clips or PowerPoints) and pupils can upload assignments and take group feedback. It plans to extend its use of eLockers by implementing beacons – pinning teaching resources to a physical location so pupils can activate them and embrace self-paced learning. 

Generally, are we equipping our students sufficiently for life in the technology-rich wider world?

We need to provide students with the technology experience that is equivalent to their everyday lives, and this is making a big impact on the way the education sector operates. In the future we’ll start to see the rise of intelligent learning spaces that can communicate with personal devices to provide push notifications and inform user actions. We’ll also start using the IoT to build a picture of individual students, their needs and preferences. 

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