Transformational classroom technology

As education technology continues to develop, John Jackson, CEO at London Grid for Learning, talks to Education Business about current trends, digital innovation, school transformation, and how organisations can future proof their technology purchases

The effective use of education technology is a vital practice in any effective organisation. This means not only knowing which purchases you need to make but how to effectively implement and integrate these new resources into all aspects of school life. In 2018, education technology (edtech) shouldn’t be viewed in isolation as an ‘add-on’ or an extra, but embedded within standard practises in order to aid institution-wide improvement and transformation through digital innovation.

Edtech trends

Two of the biggest trends schools are currently witnessing are the increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) as well as the mass adoption of cloud storing used to access data and programmes over the Internet instead of their own server. These services bring great benefits to schools as they enable them to extend learning outside the classroom, either at home or from public spaces via a mobile network. The rollout of Cloud also provides the opportunity for them to work more collaboratively and to share resources and best practice.

On the flip side we’re also seeing a rise in cyber attacks in the education and public sectors with the Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on the NHS making national headlines last year and more recently hoax bomb phishing emails demanding money from schools.

Tackling threats

At LGfL we’re helping schools to tackle the increased threat of cyber attacks through 24/7 pro-active monitoring as well as double firewalling and the provision of specialist solutions such as Intercept X anti-virus and Malwarebytes anti-malware software. In addition to making sure that they have up to date protection we’ve established a new centre of excellence called #CyberProtect to advise schools on how they can best protect themselves.

Schools themselves should also make sure that they’re prepared for these increasingly sophisticated attacks and attribute responsibility for security to a specific member of staff charged with evaluating their current solutions, keeping it up to date with the latest upgrades and determining if additional protection is required.

Increasing bandwidth

As well as preparing for threats, it’s important to plan for the huge number of positive developments we’re seeing in the edtech world. There are many exciting start-ups and new resources making the most of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality, cloud and game-based learning.

All these technologies present huge opportunities to enhance learning but require investment in terms of training and support to ensure they can be utilised effectively. Staff need to be taught how to use new tools and trained in the way they can be used to augment learning.

New technology can fundamentally change the way we teach and learn but as a sector we need to invest in capacity and support change. There’s no point spending money on kit that isn’t used. Schools need help and support to make these necessary changes.

Additionally many of these new resources require high bandwidth to operate – there is nothing more frustrating than planning a lesson using new technology and then discovering it doesn’t work on account of insufficient internet provision. Providing fibre to education premises is one of our key priorities at LGfL and schools should consider potential issues such as this when planning for the future.

Overcoming edtech challenges

Balancing budgets is one of the key challenges schools face when investing in new technology. When faced with the choice of cutting staff or cutting resources senior leaders will inevitably go for the latter. This puts the emphasis on organisations and suppliers to help schools get more for less through aggregated procurement and richer services at no additional costs. At LGfL we’ve set-up a new service called #LetsGetDigital and have partnered with Google and Microsoft to provide schools with cheaper cloud services.
My advice for institutions looking to invest in edtech is to start with a clear set of priorities informed by an assessment of their current provision, the issues that need to be resolved and plans for future years. This must be underpinned by a change management strategy outlining how this major change will be handled and how they are going to support senior management and teachers.

A comprehensive view of finances is also crucial to identify how much is available and how much is being spent in which areas.

Schools can also benefit from moving away from capital purchases to pay-per-use models where customers are charged only when they use a product, which will reduce upfront costs and ensure money is well spent.

Planning for the future

Considering a school’s future requirements as well the general direction of edtech progression is essential for those who want to continue to capitalise on current investments in technology. To get the best from any purchase investing in staff as well an effective strategy to implement new technology is essential. Schools will often buy new tools not realising that a tool they already have serves the same purpose. Similarly many institutions fail to make the most of additional features and add-ons for technology they already use. Adequate training in all new technology and internal and external CPD is also key to securing staff buy-in.

Additionally it’s important to be clear about priorities. Unlike many businesses, schools have limited budgets and resources and need to ensure they get really good return on investment and also factor in the costs associated with cyclical refreshes.

Transformational technology should always be evaluated in terms of the significant benefit it brings to the whole institution.

Finally, make sure your external IT supplier has the skills and capacity to support you effectively – this will make an immeasurable difference in allowing you to make the most out of your technology purchases.

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