Level Up your Teaching and Learning

Doing what we do, we talk to a lot of Schools. The (unsurprisingly) common theme that comes up throughout these conversations is that every single School cares – really cares – about Teaching and Learning. While you may laugh at this and think “well that’s obvious”, it may be… however, what we find is that while caring about Teaching and Learning may be one thing, prioritising all of the various elements that actually enable this is another.

Our general approach is to focus on the outcomes; what you want to achieve in the classroom, the curriculum that surrounds this, the way you want pupils to be able to learn and how you want to teachers to be able to deliver this. The SLT buy-in for this is naturally fantastic, but the bit that is usually not seen as just as important is the how or the why. By that, we don’t mean what devices are going to be used or how the curriculum content is going to be delivered physically, but more all of the seemingly peripheral elements that enable this to take place. Herein lies our challenge as a partner and advisor, so we thought we would present a thought piece to you to consider the next time you’re discussing your Teaching and Learning objectives in your school.

The New Abnormal

Many technology-focused decisions are having to be made much more quickly due to the current climate. This might be a plan that was going to be taking place already or at worst the decision has been made because of COVID. Depending on the level of education, the conversations we have been having over the last few months have varied. Choices and measurements of success vary from each institution and it’s definitely not a one size fits all.

We live in a world of instant gratification and from a consumer level; we can access all the tools and implementation (as and when we need) as individuals much more quickly. However, making broader and scaled decisions from an institution level takes much more careful planning… and there are some key conversations that need to happen:

There are key pillars of consideration which cover strategic vision and planning, teaching, learning and environment (fancy word for infrastructure). Regardless of the technology program and the “why” to your project, getting the support and consultancy to help you make an informed decision is vital.

Consultancy starts with understanding pedagogical or workflow measurement of success for your project, but the technical element to bring that vision to life is also critical. The technical solution needs to be the enabler to the “why” and the delivery of both of those key strands (which covers the 4 pillars) should lead you to that potential pot of gold.

Taking this approach to preparing for the new abnormal, means that we can move away from doing things the way have always done them and then we can move away from always getting the same results.

There’s more to Cloud than “Cloud”

Quite a poignant topic at the time of writing, the move to Cloud has been coming for years but more recently this move has essentially been forced on the basis of climate pressures. While we’ve seen Schools make some amazing progress in an extremely short space of time, the extremely important part of this is to look at what the actual impact is around using systems such as G Suite and Microsoft Teams/Office 365.

For example, you’ve probably moved heaven and earth to get devices in to the hands of pupils and give them access to their learning content remotely utilising support such as the DfE’s Digital Education Platform Scheme, but as this has been a quick endeavour, the following elements may well have been missed:

  • Do you have an actionable, tangible vision and strategy surrounding how this is going to be used… both now and when pupils return to School?
  • Have you thought about the fact that now pupils have access to portable devices, and these will most likely be used in the School going forward that your IT infrastructure (Wireless, Network and Internet) will be up to the task?
  • Do you have a robust plan in place for ongoing Device Management, and a Mobile Device Management solution in place – including this covering updates and refreshes?

Each of these points are extremely important and intrinsically linked – it is crucial that a vision and strategy are in place to ensure that you know what your intentions are, and it is just as crucial that your infrastructure can support this strategy.

For example, now you have your Cloud platform of choice that can be accessed from anywhere, can the rest of your systems? Does your strategy going forward include the provision for this (hint: it really should do!)? Also, on the basis that you’ll probably have more portable devices in your school and using Wireless than before, are you categorically sure that your Wireless can support the amount of these devices compared to previous?

Treat your IT like you treat your T&L

All too often, Schools ask for the cheapest possible infrastructure to be in place, as it’s seen as a cost that needs to be cut as much as it can be. The thought path that’s missing here is just how connected IT is to the delivery of Teaching and Learning, and if you treat your IT with close to the level of importance that you treat your Teaching and Learning, the latter will be much better served. You probably wouldn’t say “Winning Formula 1 is the most important thing to me” and then enter the races with a Smart Car because it’s the cheapest thing you could find… would you?

We’re not saying you need to have the burden of Formula 1 car-level costs here, either – what we’re saying is to be the best in one area means you need to be at least better than the lowest common denominator in intrinsically connected areas.

In addition, there’s a whole host of options to help you both budget and finance IT, to help both spread the cost and ensure that there’s consistency of quality. Funnily enough, we also have a whole host of experience in this area.

Putting the “fun” in Funding and Financing

Funding is not a nice conversation, especially as it is becoming harder to make our resources stretch.

1.1million computers in primary and secondary schools in the UK are classed as ineffective – that equates to 1/3 of all computers. Bluntly, if 1/3 of our technology doesn’t work at home, we would probably want to do something about that. The question is: how can we tackle that in education?

There are various options of course – we can tell you to use your capital funds (which probably won’t stretch far), we could tell you to consider a leasing option (bearing in mind that this is not like leasing photocopiers) or we could suggest parental contribution models.

Again, everyone will have their opinion on these options, and it is definitely not a one-size fits all, however, we would ask you this – what if we at least considered options we haven’t before? What if we didn’t just dismiss the conversation?

Capital spend is hard to maintain (budget constraints) and not sustainable (certainly not in the state sector), but there are ways of using voluntary contribution from parents to support the funding model. We would suggest that marketing your “why” or “just cause” is critical to the success especially when asking parents to be involved.

Leasing is like Marmite: people love it, or people hate it. This is often based on historic photocopier syndrome experiences… however, as consumers, we subscribe to many “leases” – mobile phone contracts, car hire, Amazon Prime and Netflix (you can even subscribe to haircuts or toothbrushes now!) as examples, yet we shy away from it in Education. But what if you could make sustainable budget plans by knowing exactly what both your IT (and remember that it is nearly as important as T&L) hardware and service will cost ongoing? You could make some real savings at the same time as providing a fantastic IT provision for your staff and students.

Parent contribution is also a great way to provide access to IT, and this can be done through a direct to parent funding model (Academia has connectED schemes). We have seen a huge uplift in this model – however, marketing is key (as above) and the device strategy needs to fit tightly into your teaching and learning vision and plan.

Reducing Teacher Workload through “good” IT

Reducing Teacher Workload is a hugely important topic – this is not only pivotal to maintaining staff welfare, but also has a direct impact on the Learning experience of pupils. While most thoughts are around mechanisms to offset tasks that take up teachers’ time, less thought is put into the mechanism by which they accomplish those tasks.

For example, improving the application and system responsiveness of a Teacher working 195 days per year by just 5 minutes per day grants that Teacher 16.5 hours of extra time per year. Across a school with just 20 staff, that’s 330 hours per year – over 41 extra working days of time across the board that can be gained simply by making some relatively straightforward improvements to IT.

So, in theory the above statement would be great, but the reality is that it’s not ever that easy and actually when we talk about reducing teacher workload it is not always just about time efficiencies. We consider, of course: staff welfare, wellbeing, job responsibilities, but we also consider sustainability factors, student feedback and better engagement.

Technology is never going to replace teachers, nor are we stating that the technology is going to solve all problems that are faced, but with “good” IT and sustained professional development and best practice with improved workflow (plus all the above) can certainly make huge beneficial changes.

It is not about shiny new technology. It is about making change (but not for the sake of it) and it is about adding new skillsets for staff and pupils… and ultimately, preparing them for the modern workplace.

Artilce by Tom Able-Green, UK & Ire Education Solutions Manager & James Dancer, Technical Director

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