25 Sep “Deploying technology is easy” – Said no-one ever
It’s 2020, and Project Future School are 1:1 with devices for their students; in fact, they have been for 2 years now and through a mixture of unlimited funding from the school budget, operating leases and parental contributions, there is already clear visible sustainability for the future. All the legacy technology from the school has gone through an IT Asset disposal process (crediting almost 30% of the original value back at around £42,000 and it has given the budgets a much-needed boost). The printers have been almost reduced by two thirds, resulting in savings of £25,000 in printing costs and the workflow is in the “cloud”. The ability to collaborate between teachers means the workload for staff has been greatly reduced (not to mention time saving), and, in turn students are engaged in a much more personalised learning journey and there is no – “the dog ate my homework” scenarios. The classrooms have been revamped – out with the desks, in with the soft seating, mobile desk with charging points, alongside break out areas and those “amazing” interactive white boards which were such a necessity (back in the day) have been now been replaced with technology that is far more successful and where teachers don’t need to stand at the front of the class and can interact with the class. Essentially, the classrooms are no longer just rooms, but they have been transformed into open learning spaces where everyone can be a facilitator.
Oh, and results are through the roof, the school has disposable income (imagine), the teachers are so relaxed, that they don’t take their work home, they get a summer holiday, and everything is perfect.
In a perfect world, this is where we would love to be but the reality is a little different and…
“Deploying technology is easy”. Said no-one ever.
Let’s remind ourselves:
- Schools don’t have unlimited budgets – In 2017, 6 out of 10 top multi-academy trusts have already stated the concerns around financial sustainability.
- Schools don’t have unlimited time to make things happen – Yearly results, Ofsted, parent and student expectations
- School teachers and staff retention – 30% of new teachers have stated they will leave the profession in the next 5 years (due to work and mental health issues) and in 2017, 8/10 headteachers failed to recruit successfully.
- Every School is “Outstanding” – Sadly, that isn’t the case, but every school is important. Every school has strengths.
What isn’t mentioned in the opening scenario is the planning and strong vision that was undertaken to initiate the project and see it through to completion, all the tough decisions that had to be made to “steer the ship” in the right direction. To weather the natural downward spike (change management, staff, initial budgetary commitments, infrastructure and environment changes, even results) that came before the rewards and benefits made their impact because the reality is this – “running a school takes a broad set of shoulders” and with so many considerations needing attention and guidance it has become harder to make the right decisions in today’s ever demanding world that expects instant gratification. We live in a world whereby, when you are cold, you go and put on a jumper, you’re hungry, you raid the fridge, you’re tired, you hide under the duvet, and we also want / expect instant success in our project yet we go to work and work the whole month and wait to get paid – yet we do this without complaint (well, we grumble).
Historically, technology has always come and gone and there is always going to be a “new, next best thing”. Schools can fall into a mindset that they need to bring this into the classroom because of the “WHAT” when instead, we should be making a decision on the “WHY”.
When, I was at school, chalkboards on a roller system were common place (weirdly not that long ago), but then came the dry-wipe boards and “acetate sheet” overhead projectors – also known as substitution replacements. It meant teachers did not have to change their teaching format much – their teaching style could stay the same and then the early 90’s (yes, I’ve given my age away now) saw the introduction of “interactive white boards” and there was a sudden demand from schools to introduce them into the classrooms – because “this technology” was going to change everything (note: at the time of writing this article, there has been some new breaking announcements from the government around the poor impact these have had in education).
Jumping to 2006 – one manufacturer stated that 250,000 classrooms in the UK had interactive boards installed. This was a massive 67% increase from 2005 with proof of the “WHAT bandwagon” and no real proof of how this would benefit the learning landscape, but many schools and education establishments made the change. Why? It was an easy decision, everyone was doing it.
In 2008 / 2009 – we saw the rise of the Netbook. Like previous, we saw another “like for like” replacement for the large desktop to a now lighter, more mobile device – yet whilst we saw an immediate impact with engagement, we saw the same historic issues and actually one of the most important considerations was often bypassed; the network infrastructure. Schools, colleges and universities needed WIFI and better internet (and all the associated) but long-term we have seen the same outcomes, and this has evolved from poor rushed decision making. You might be asking yourself, why or how I have the authority to be saying this but even up to today (and tomorrow), we see customers and end users struggling to make best use of the technology because of this very issue.
I am very fortunate that my role allows me to travel and visit many schools, but I spend considerable time supporting leadership teams in “fixing or adjusting” the infrastructure elements before any devices get deployed because strategies have historically been developed from the device upwards and not from the desired goal backwards. I guess, you could argue, this has led to where we are currently. I am also a product of my own education, an ex-parent governor and have two children in education (the last does not qualify me at all by the way).
So why is having an appropriate vision and plan so important?
Ultimately, why do educators undertake these projects? Measurement of success is hugely important, it’s what sets schools apart from each other – no matter what anyone says, there is always a little local competitiveness. Having success allows schools to market themselves, it allows their teachers to develop professionally and most importantly, give students the best education. With the current students in education today likely to do a job that does not yet exist because of technology, I get a sense that we are not just educating our youth but preparing them for a more digital and real life.
So, picture the scene:
In the room we have: a headteacher, deputy headteacher and curriculum leaders who will be looking at the pedagogical outcomes, but we also have the bursar / finance manager who are looking at the pennies. The bursar/finance manager are focusing on the cost saving options, where they can create the best financial model for sustainability yet at the same time, give the teaching and learning potentials to support the “WHY”. We also have IT Managers who want to make sure any incoming technology will be safe, manageable and that importantly can be embedded into the current infrastructure (and of course GDPR compliant – how could we not mention that again). So how do we make sure we can keep everyone happy and in turn have the best learning outcomes for our students for which, as leaders, we are making these decisions.
A project should never be the responsibility of just one person – having a designated lead team is key and that must include people from across all areas of the school. The team doesn’t just need to be staff who are technologists. Knowing technology and teaching with technology are very different – it’s finding the right mix and actually some of the most successful users are those who initially have the most fear. We also need to mention “confidence and belief” because as mentioned previously, we often hear talk about the “downward tick” – you will normally always see a dip before you see the positive results.
We also cannot escape the reality that children of today’s education systems are born in an era of touch screens, social media, and live in a fully-fledged digital world, that isn’t going to reverse itself. Technology touches so many aspects of our daily life that the impact has so many variants, we have to be prepared to adapt. More likely than not, students are coming into school on a daily basis and actually they have more technology at home. Of course, we are not expecting the classroom to remove the absolute essential skills we want to equip our students with such as handwriting skills (that pen licence still means everything), maths, analogue problem solving, spellings etc, but like I said, surely, we want to make sure we are also preparing them for the “real world”.
Therefore, having a vision is key, but categorically so is the planning. Regardless of the type of technology you are looking to support your teaching and learning in your education establishment, there are some key areas that will need considerations across strategic areas.
Vision & Strategic Planning
Bringing technology into the classroom or learning space, won’t make you outstanding. The key element is making sure the implementation is with the “why” and practice does make perfect. You are not always going to get all the successes you want to achieve first time round and so you have to adapt and make changes where necessary. Also, having a strong strategic plan in place with a bespoke (to you) deployment timeline in place is absolutely going to help you. This should include everything from making sure you consider elements around:
- Ecosystem – Cloud Solution / Storage
- Network Infrastructure
- Schoolwide Workflow
- Teacher Workload / Time
- Stakeholder Buy-in
- Ongoing long-term CPD / Professional Development
- Desired measurements of success – impact on learning
Do your staff have the capacity to deliver your vision as a school? As a school / education establishment, you are going to want to make sure your staff have the best support to deliver their teaching. Your teaching staff are not there to be technicians or facilitators, but the reality is that some staff are going to be far quicker to adapt.
- CPD / Professional Development
- Digital Leaders
- Lesson Plans
Does your vision allow you to reach the measurements of success for your expected learning outcomes? It is never an overnight process and you might have some short-term goals and in turn longer term outcomes? Ultimately, the success of your project means that you will need to understand your pre-project data ‘v’ post-project data. The considerations of a project often don’t stop at just the technology but also the learning space. Part of the vision will often need to consider the long-term “look” of the classrooms and any refreshes and how the learning spaces might look down the line:
- Immediate impact “v” long term goals
- Learning Community
- Parent Engagement
- Current learning space “v” “where do we see ourselves in 5 years”
- Digital Workspaces
- Interactive White Boards “v” large LED Screens with streaming capability
- Sharing “Best Practice”
Digital Infrastructure & Environment
Probably an area that is most discussed but can often be forgotten and requires a core focus. Many establishments have “WIFI” now, but that infrastructure is often built to just manage (barely) and with the huge changes in the last 5-10 years (this means we are playing catch up). There is a difference between “WIFI” to having robust WIFI that will be able to handle the changes in workflow and storage requirements. Schools more specifically have not been prepared for the future and technology has changed so much over the past few years, that often part of the budget (ok, some of the budget) may need to be spent on the changes in infrastructure so that it grows with your project and you remain future-proof. At this point you will also have potentially talked about “moving to the cloud” and this will have an impact on workflow.
- WIFI Audit
- Deployment Requirements
- OTA (Over the Air) Device Management
- App Considerations
- GDPR Compliancy
- Hardware Refresh and Lifecycle Planning
- Internet Bandwidth
- Classroom Design
Of course, the above is not an exhaustive list, but it should help give guidance and whilst we have touched on devices in part, the majority of decisions that require “debating” are much more pedagogical and based on the longer-term outcomes and measurements of success for all leadership teams and hopefully the development plan.
We are not quite yet in a world where we have the data that can tell us exactly the best device type for each learner in education and why, but we are in a world already where we can absolutely see the successes that using technology can bring (and there are some amazing case studies but note having technology won’t automatically make you outstanding); but please remember, there is access to trusted partners who have the experience, the knowledge and the specialist teams to help support the delivery of a project (no matter the size) into your education establishment.
So, now “those broad shoulders” I mentioned, why not spread the load across a “team”.
“Don’t always be guided by how much it’s going to cost. Be guided by what you can achieve with the opportunity of change”
If we don’t change the way we think and if we always do things the same and, if, in turn we don’t improve our best practices, they could become malpractices.
Contact Tom Able-Green