Home / Supplier Focus / Getting the right blend: the ongoing role of collaboration and communication platforms in education
Getting the right blend: the ongoing role of collaboration and communication platforms in education
Supplier Focus: Information Technology
Highlighted as one of the biggest challenges for the education sector in 2021, the digital revolution gripped the sector in 2020 as edtech enabled online teaching and learning to continue through the pandemic. As one Vice Chancellor told a recent ucisa study, "our IT team delivered four years’ worth of digital strategy in six weeks, enabling our whole operation to continue."* But, what happens now that the pandemic appears to be easing and the education sector is returning to face-to-face teaching?
Having invested the time, energy, and budget into edtech during 2020, and used it "in anger", institutions are unlikely to revert to purely in-person teaching. In fact, a survey by Ipsos for the World Economic Forum† showed that the majority of adults asked how education will be delivered in 2025 believe the split between online and in-person learning that came about during the COVID-19 pandemic will remain in place.
It appears blended learning is here to stay, but, having quickly put digital solutions into place to handle the immediate need of March 2020, institutions now have the time to evaluate how robust those solutions were, how they work when co-existing with face-to-face teaching, and what changes there may need (or want) to be in order to make the most of solutions going forwards.
The social needs of children mean the primary and secondary education sector will likely be focused on a return to the classroom. However, there are opportunities to continue utilising remote teaching tools for flipped learning: pre-learning and extensions. It may also be appropriate to tailor teaching to the needs of individual children, some of whom may be better suited to learning from a home environment.
There has also been discussion around the benefits of virtual education, preparing pupils for modern careers that now involve time spent interacting via online meetings – a trend that was only accelerated by the pandemic. Traditional white collar careers were the first to offer employees the option to work-from-anywhere. With advances in communications and robotics, it is quite possible that careers that traditionally required specialist facilities could also allow working from anywhere: telehealth and logistics being prime examples.
In cases where all pupils are in the classroom, collaboration platforms also provide the opportunity for remote guests to enhance the learning experience without guests leaving their home or workplace. Imagine, for instance, teaching a lesson about the planets and being able to introduce an astronaut or member of the European Space Agency, without the expense and hassle of a school trip but with the interactive experience that playing a pre-recorded video clip cannot bring.
Teaching staff themselves have also experienced flexible and home working, probably for the first time; and, for some, it may have been a positive experience. Schools that are particularly progressive with technology or culture might go as far as trialling this on a longer term basis; increasing staff engagement and welfare.
It is not only teaching that pivoted towards being run online during 2020. Staff meetings and CPD sessions were conducted via online video conferencing platforms, such as GoToMeeting by LogMeIn. For these activities, reducing the pressure to be physically present beyond their time teaching pupils, and removing travel time, may free up time for lesson preparation and marking or may simply give some time back to staff. Being connected digitally also enables greater collaboration among staff to varying degrees. School leaders can share their documents with peers, governors’ meetings do not have to happen in person, and all staff can offer a sympathetic ear across sites. Parents of pupils, who are juggling busy work and personal lives, might also benefit from virtual parents’ evenings or other meetings with staff.
As the world continues to try to put the pandemic behind it, there is still the opportunity to learn and grow from the experience. With the return of old ways, it is easy to fall back into old habits; but, one thing COVID-19 has taught us is that we have to be prepared to change and the rapid adoption in technology and digital skills that helped the education sector to get through much of 2020 and early 2021 can be forgotten or they can be embraced. Improved digital communication and collaboration may enhance the pupil, staff, or parent experience, and the only barriers are will and imagination.
In Ipsos MORI’s latest KnowledgePanel poll, the most preferred options for catching up on lost learning from parents are to receive increased wellbeing support (56%) and additional tutoring sessions outside of school hours (55%).