Schools and IT professionals have talked for years about technology “moving into the classroom”.
What nobody saw coming was technology replacing the classroom, albeit temporarily.
The COVID-19 crisis has had a huge impact on the relationship between education and IT. The rate of adoption has increased and technologies that were previously being tentatively rolled out in certain schools are now essential.
But what are the key trends in education and technology right now? And how can schools make the most of them?
The changing role of IT
Schools, universities and colleges are all undergoing the same ‘digital transformation’ process that the corporate world experienced a few years ago.
Digital transformation requires IT teams to behave differently from the way they did in the past. Rather than responding to technical issues, IT has to become an agent of change. The focus shifts from keeping things working to enhancing the learning experience (while also keeping things working).
“We’ve got to move away from IT support being isolated from the rest of the teachers and students,” says Matt Setchell, from Lourdes IT, a company that provides specialist IT services to schools.
“The best thing that any network manager or IT manager can do is go to the staff room, talk to the teachers and learn about their needs. Or talk to leadership and get involved in the school improvement plan or other planning processes.”
Giving students and teachers more flexibility
Teachers and students have more choice about how, where and when they work than ever before.
Classes can be streamed live so that students who can’t be there in person can follow from home. They can also be recorded so that students who can’t be there at the time can watch on-demand.
Perhaps most importantly, students who need additional support can find the way of learning that suits them best. For instance, students who struggle with reading can use tools like Immersive Reader. Students who struggle with writing can use voice recognition applications.
These tools can be used whenever the students like, which means they don’t have to ask the teacher for help as often, which makes them feel more confident and in control of their education.
New ways to manage relationships with students
Communicating online is second nature to most students. Teachers are increasingly using online platforms to keep in touch with students and manage the relationship. It’s much easier and faster for a teacher to drop a student a message over Teams than it is to wait until they next see them in class or in the playground.
“One of the advantages of Teams is that you have a live view of whether someone is online and whether they’re free to have a quick chat,” says Neil McQueen, Head of Technical Services at Fareham College.
“So, you don’t have to hunt someone down inside the college who’s off on their lunch break. You can drop them a quick message to see if they’re OK.”
This also makes it easier for teachers to monitor students’ welfare. “If we haven’t heard from a student for a couple of days, we can do a quick and easy welfare check. There have been some really positive attitude changes from that.”
Schools embracing technology as a competitive advantage
Technology is now a core life skill. Knowing how to use applications such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel is crucial if you want to get an entry-level job. As a result, schools are keen to be seen as forward-looking in their IT approach.
“As a parent, if you’re looking at different schools and one engages more with technology than others, then that will be a competitive advantage,” says Matt Setchell. “So, engaging with technology is likely to become more of a priority.”
Schools that lagged behind the IT adoption curve will have struggled a lot more than those that were proactive. Going forward, teachers and school leaders will be more aware of the benefits of IT and less likely to resist innovation simply because it’s not what they’re used to.
More schools working with specialist partners
Managing the devices and infrastructure for an entire school, college or university is a complex and time-consuming task. Doing this while keeping up to date with the latest industry best practice and finding new ways to enhance the learning experience is almost impossible – especially if you only have a small team.
As schools become more sophisticated in their IT approach, it’s becoming more important for IT teams to work with specialist partners.
“If schools have just one person handling their IT then the tendency is for that person to just do things the way they always have,” explains Matt Setchell. “But if that person isn’t up to date with the latest thinking, then the school is missing out.
“Working with a partner can help fill vital skills gaps that would be extremely hard to fill through recruiting full-time staff. It also helps create an environment where IT staff can grow in a focussed environment so they’re not all alone in the school and the schools aren’t stuck with just one IT person.”
In many ways, there’s never been a more interesting time to work in IT in a school, college or university. The role definitely has a serious stake in the organisation’s future, and therefore the work is arguably more complex and multifaceted than even before.