In October 2020, the Centre for Mental Health predicted that up to 10 million people in England will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic; 1.5 million of those will be children and young people under 18. What cannot be disputed is that now is not the time, if there were ever one, to add to the load that colleagues and students are expected to bear.
Adapting to remote working
Much of the education sector has had to rapidly adapt to the changes 2020 has imposed on most other industrial sectors, –the most marked of which probably being remote working. In addition, many institutions have had to adopt distance learning or some form of hybrid learning that combines remote and face-to-face within the student experience. It has been a learning curve for all involved, from management through to ICT and teaching staff to students. In some case, that curve has been steeper because technological solutions have been introduced that were taken to market quickly in order to capitalise on the current conditions.
With the advent of remote working and distance learning, the importance of communication and collaboration cannot be underestimated. Dr Gareth Healey, senior lecturer at Swansea University Medical School, which is one of six Welsh and Irish universities who partnered with businesses to innovate, grow and develop new life-changing health products, says:
“We realised that effective communication was the key to the success of our network [CALIN]. We needed to properly understand what businesses required so that we could match them to the right specialists to develop their products. A major challenge was working out how to communicate clearly and easily across two countries, with multiple research institutions and many businesses”
Even as far back as 2013, in a British Council debate, then executive headteacher, Pamela Wright, OBE, called for caution around technology in teaching, saying: “Teachers want the best for their young people and use new technologies in their lessons. But the delivery of this new technology and learning models is just as important – if not more important than the technology itself. I know it is.”
In essence, technology should not become a hurdle or distraction from the teaching that’s being delivered.
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Making tech less visible
Checking that solutions are as accessible as possible, with options such as high-contrast mode, meeting transcripts and captions, make for an easier experience for students who require these options. Today’s students also own a mixture of devices, so it’s important that meetings and webinars are free for attendees to join from desktop and mobile devices; and, with different levels bandwidth, the availability of iOS and Android applications that adapt to varying LTE and network conditions in order to maintain call quality is something to be considered.
Security and safeguarding
With data protection and safeguarding being core legal requirements for all institutions, there are specific concerns that may arise from the growth of distance learning and students adopting a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) approach to connecting to what was, traditionally, a more controlled network environment. As with all security measures, whilst they should be visible, they too should not hamper those with legitimate access to meetings, webinars, and content stored in shared cloud storage. Technologies such as TLS and 256-bit AES encryption at rest, coupled with features such as meeting locks, password protection plus the ability to monitor, mute and remove attendees, all contribute to providing this duty of care.
Communication and collaboration technology may bring other benefits, too. For example, the ability to record meetings and webinars, and store them in the cloud, means that students can learn and re-learn, at their own pace; and, for educators, selected lessons and lectures need only be prepared and delivered once, stored and recorded, and are then available for re-delivery on-demand, on an ongoing basis.
Industry leaders in the field of unified collaboration and communication, GoTo by LogMeIn, have built an avid customer base through a combination of innovative technology, an elegant and intuitive user experience, a simple, scalable delivery model, and competitive pricing. As customers such as Dr Healey and his colleagues have found, implementing GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar has enabled academics, businesses and specialists to communicate often complex ideas effectively and easily among multiple parties in different locations. The resulting cost and time savings are considerable, while the quality and frequency of communication and knowledge-sharing across CALIN has been greatly enhanced.
Find out more about how tools such as the GoTo Suite can improve the connections between teams and the quality of distance learning at all education levels: