This is one of our longer blogs – lots to cover. For a quick summary, click here.
When it comes to technology and Covid-19, discussion often focuses on the colossal changes that have been forced, at breakneck speed, on organisations.
You’ll have seen the stream of TV adverts featuring people on video calls, mirroring our own new ways of connecting in a disconnected world. You’ve no doubt encountered the various guides on how to make the best of remote working. And you’ve probably heard businesses talking about the radical steps they’re taking to protect their staff and customers.
In many cases, the dialogue unfolds in a way that suggests change is a new thing. But we all know that this is not the case.
That’s not to say the changes we’re all making aren’t profound. But rather, for many organisations, the pandemic has accelerated shifts that were already on the cards.
The education sector is a powerful example of this. Even though coronavirus is the most unwelcome of catalysts for change – and follows years of digital transformation in this sector – these organisations have responded amazingly.
Throughout the pandemic, our work for many schools – and organisations such as LGfL – has once again shown us that the desire to give every child the best opportunity to learn trumps every technical challenge posed by Covid-19. And despite the fact that those challenges have emerged with no notice and after years of budget restrictions.
This is why it’s worth explaining one of the most notable developments in remote education – the digital education platform (DEP). And why we’re encouraging you – an education professional – to take full advantage of the financial help that’s available for schools to adopt such a platform.
Before we explain how a DEP works, it’s worth noting that although these platforms have obvious benefits to schools during lockdown, they are extremely useful for life beyond the pandemic, when all students and staff return to school. Adopting one now – while Government funding is available to help with the setup – is an investment that will prove valuable for years to come.
What is a digital education platform?
As the name suggests, a digital education platform is an online ‘environment’ comprising applications and tools for the education sector. It’s used by teachers, administrative staff and students – and is designed specifically to accelerate digital teaching and learning for schools and is therefore a brilliant platform that can be used for remote teaching and learning.
A typical DEP contains tried-and-tested productivity software, such as those for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations – as well as email and calendar tools. No doubt you’re already familiar with such software.
For DEPs, however, these standard applications are bolstered with software for education. This includes virtual whiteboards; planning, assignment, marking and collaboration tools; and software to run lessons by live video as well as in-class lessons.
In short, these platforms are a collection of software and tools that all work together for education organisations and professionals – and the communities they serve.
Extra help in the wake of the pandemic
Due to the pandemic and its impact on schools, the Department for Education (DfE) is offering your school financial help to roll out a DEP.
In its announcement, the DfE detailed a number of schemes available to schools, For digital education platforms, the DfE explained the funding is available for setting up one of two free-to-use platforms, with grants of between £1,500 to £2,000 per school.
Notably, we are one of only five accredited suppliers across the country to offer advice and services for both platforms, meaning we can give truly balanced guidance on which of the two platforms is the right choice for your school.
Meet Google’s G Suite for Education and Microsoft’s Office 365 Education
The two platforms that schools can get funding for are those from Google and Microsoft: G Suite for Education and Office 365 Education respectively.
In both cases, the platforms run from the Cloud, meaning you can use them through a standard internet browser – perfect for everything from a quick check of a document on a smartphone, or for a student to join a lesson on a desktop computer. And naturally, being browser-based and suitable for multiple devices, they are ideal for remote teaching and learning.
Here’s one example of how this might translate into the real world: As a teacher, you might plan your lesson and produce materials using the familiar productivity tools, as well as your school’s own curriculum materials stored conveniently in the same platform. Additionally, the Oak National Academy, in conjunction with the DfE, is providing 180 video lessons free each week, across a broad range of subjects, for every year group from Reception through to Year 10.
You would then run the lesson either remotely or in-class, using a presentation format, live video, or a mix of both. Based on the lesson, you could then issue an assignment to students, who would complete it remotely and return it through the platform.
You could issue the assignment in question-and-answer format created with the platform’s questionnaire tools. Or you might ask the student to submit a freeform typed document – or even a handwritten response using a device stylus. For more practical subjects, the student could submit multimedia formats of their work – for instance, a photo of their drawing, or a video of a musical performance.
Once these assignments are completed and submitted, you could mark the work using the marking software. These are tools that go beyond marking up documents with comments – they’re intuitive and interactive, and can be set up so the data flows to a spreadsheet tracking the student’s progress.
Some important features for teaching and IT staff
Notably, both Google and Microsoft platforms can be set up to use existing user accounts. So there’s no need to create masses of new online ‘identities’ for staff or students. This is often music to the ears of the school’s IT team – and those of us who are averse to creating and managing yet another online account.
Another crucial point about the platforms is that they are impeccably secure – and designed from the ground up to address schools’ concerns around safeguarding and student welfare. For example, while students can collaborate on a project under the watchful eye of a teacher, they are restricted from communicating with each other in the ‘open field’. This prevents the platform from mutating into a form of social media, reducing the possibility of distraction or online bullying.
If you like to customise, both platforms offer a huge range of options.
From an administrative point of view, access levels can be adjusted at a granular level – meaning documents or features can be restricted to specific classes, or staff.
Another way you can tailor the platform to your school is through app marketplaces. Both Google and Microsoft platforms can be enhanced with a huge range of vetted add-ons and integrations. For staff, this might mean ways to streamline work, such as automation tools. And for students, this might mean new ways to foster innovation and creativity, such as software coding or video editing tools. With the direction and expertise of teachers, these platforms could bring out the next Steve Jobs or Steven Spielberg in our young people.
A final point worth repeating is that the platforms are free to use. In the case of the DfE programme, funding is available to help with setting up the chosen platform. As technology projects go, this is a typically straightforward process, but there’s a few things of note…
How to choose your digital education platform and what next
There are three key steps to setting up a DEP:
1. You must first decide which platform you will use – Google or Microsoft. As mentioned before, we’re one of only five accredited suppliers of both platforms, so we can objectively talk through your situation and help you make an informed decision.
2. Once you’ve chosen your platform, you must apply through the official channels. In this instance, you can do it here, through The Key. As you work though the form, you’ll be prompted to indicate your partner – we hope you will choose AdEPT Education (part of AdEPT Technology Group plc).
3. Your application will come through to us, and we’ll get in touch promptly to roll out the platform – and we can do it all remotely, without having to step foot in your school.
In terms of payment, the DfE will issue the funds to your organisation once completion of the work has been confirmed, which must in turn be paid to your chosen partner.
A note for multi-academy trusts (MATs)
Digital education platforms are particularly beneficial for multi-academy trusts. Using one can bring together the trust community, pool resources and give students the opportunity to learn from staff that they would not ordinarily encounter. To help you set up a DEP, your chosen partner can receive DfE funding of £1,000 per school, to a maximum of £10,000 per MAT.
One of the best places we’ve seen for guidance on digital education platforms is from LGfL, through its digital cloud transformation programme. The Key is also a good place to – we suggest you do so here, on the main page – and for some inspiring stories of how digital education platforms work in the real world, see the case studies.
How we can help
Having rolled out these platforms with more than 900 schools already, we’re also on-hand for impartial guidance. You can call us on 01689 814700 or email email@example.com. If you email, please use the subject line ‘DfE funding’ as given the circumstances, we are prioritising these enquiries.
- Digital education platforms (DEPs) are a collection of software and tools designed for schools.
- DEPs are extremely useful for online teaching and learning, meaning they can be of great help during the pandemic.
- In the wake of coronavirus, the DfE is offering schools funding to set up one of the two main DEPs: Google’s G Suite for Education, or Microsoft’s Office 365. Both platforms are free to use.
- The platforms offer benefits long beyond the pandemic. We’ve highlighted some of the key features above.
- In order to secure DfE funding for a DEP, you must use an accredited supplier. AdEPT is one of only five companies in the country that is accredited to advise on, and set up both the Google and Microsoft platforms. We can help you make the decision with genuinely balanced guidance.
- There are three main steps to setting up one of the DfE-approved platforms and getting funding. You must start here – but be sure to read this blog fully before you do.
- This blog was written by David Bealing, Managing Director of AdEPT Education, and Clive Bryden, AdEPT Technology Group’s Chief Technology Officer.
- Both David and Clive would love to connect with you on LinkedIn – you can find David here and Clive here.
The DfE have recently announced additional funding to assist schools in moving to a remote learning solution during the Covid-19 lockdown. The benefits to your school of a secure Digital Education Platform will last long after the lockdown, and our advice at AdEPT Education would be to take the opportunity to enhance remote learning and collaboration now and for the future.
How can we help?
AdEPT have successfully completed over 600 schools’ migrations and are designated partners of the DfE scheme so we can help and guide your school’s transition.
What is a Digital Education Platform?
A Digital Education Platform is an ecosystem of tools enabling teachers, students, administrators, and parents to access the relevant resources they need for teaching and learning. By hosting it in the Cloud, your school’s users can access what they need, when they need it wherever they have an Internet connection without having to be on-site. Teachers can share information and set homework, students can access resources to assist in their learning, administrators can access critical data and information securely, and the whole school can communicate and share information better. Entire aspects of a school’s operation can be run digitally.
The benefits include increased efficiency and flexibility as well as a reduction in cost of maintenance of on-site hardware.
Where to get started?
AdEPT Education will be able to support you on every step of the Digital Education Platform journey, including consultancy on what is the best platform for your school (such as Office 365 or G Suite), migration from an existing platform and providing ongoing support and advice.
How it works:
- You need to visit either of the following portals
- Once in the portal, select AdEPT Technology Group Plc as your partner to help you set up your Digital Education Platform
- Schools in England without a developed Microsoft Office 365 or G Suite environment will be eligible for funding to help them implement a Digital Education Platform.
For more information, we’ve prepared a short guide, which you can read here:
Why AdEPT Education?
AdEPT Technology Group / Atomwide have 30 years’ experience in supporting schools across the UK in their IT and digital transformation. We are both a Microsoft Gold and Microsoft Authorised Education Partner and a Google Partner, now delivering over 600 school set ups enabling secure access to appropriate teaching and learning content for students both at school and home.
For schools using USO, AdEPT Education can also sync your existing USO usernames and passwords with Google or Microsoft to access G Suite and Office 365 services.
If you want a no obligation conversation about any of the above, we can walk you through it. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch and take advantage of this DfE scheme.
There is no way to sugarcoat it. The coronavirus pandemic is the most disruptive global crisis in decades. It will change every industry, every business, every employee and most of all, every human being on this planet.
So, what can I, a CEO of a technology company, say in a blog about this?
My natural leaning is, of course, to talk about technology. In many ways, it is glueing the world together right now. It is helping a lot of people continue their work, keeping the wheels of business turning.
But really, it’s about much, much more than that. So, I’d like to talk about the thing that is at the heart of all technology: People.
Helping teachers teach, and students learn
The most significant effect of the pandemic that we’ve seen on the people we serve relates to education. We help some 4,000 schools and education establishments with their technology – and right now, among all the other support that this community needs and deserves, is technology that helps teachers to continue teaching.
It is no small undertaking to meet that most critical of challenges.
After all, our youngsters need their developing brains stimulated and nurtured. They need routine. And even with the best will in the world, their parents and families cannot do this alone.
At the same time, our teachers want desperately to teach. They want to give their students as much as stability and continuity with their education as possible.
I know this, because not only am I a parent myself but because AdEPT has worked with the education community for a long time. And so, I’m proud and honoured to say we’re playing our part. It’s where our own people have come to the fore.
For example, working with organisations such as the London Grid for Learning (LGfL) and Virgin Media Business, we’ve been able to massively strengthen Freedom2Roam. This service allows school staff to remotely connect to school servers from their own devices and locations. From there, staff can access essential files and information – such as lesson planning documents, marking assessments and management reports.
In the wake of the pandemic and school closures, we’ve seen such a huge demand for the Freedom2Roam service that we have made it a top priority, putting the best brains from our back-end infrastructure and our front-end UX and UI teams onto this service.
We’ve expedited our normal, ongoing work; boosted its capacity to meet the 1,047 per cent increase in demand we’ve seen; and introduced a browser-based interface to make the service easier and quicker to use. Because – perhaps more than ever – no teacher or education professional wants to spend time downloading, installing and figuring out new software.
Of course, Freedom2Roam is only one tool to help – and it’s no substitute for face-to-face classroom time – but it is helping teachers get on with their job. One of them recently described it as a ‘godsend’. It is a real privilege to hear such praise.
I should also say a big thank you here to our staff here for working with the experts at LGfL to help develop guidance for schools around safeguarding. Through this work, we’ve contributed to official government guidance available here, under the ‘Children and online safety away from school and college’ heading.
Helping community healthcare communicate
Another area of work we’ve been doing in response to the pandemic pertains to public healthcare. I wish I could say here how we have somehow swapped our engineers’ day jobs for making testing kits, personal protective equipment for our fantastic NHS, or ventilators for those suffering from coronavirus.
I can’t say this. We are not specialists in any of those things. But we do specialise in helping public health organisations use technology to communicate. It is a less obvious and less pivotal aspect of the response to the pandemic, but still an important one.
One example of this is a recent project by our Wakefield team who work with a local GP practice. Like all primary care organisations right now, the practice needed to tackle a seemingly-impossible, threefold, challenge: respond to a surge in calls from concerned patients, maintain everyday community healthcare, but at the same time protect staff from exposure to coronavirus.
Among our considerations was the sense that if primary care organisations like this cannot continue working, then there would be even more pressure on our NHS. So, for this practice, our Wakefield team set up a cloud-hosted soft phone system meaning staff could use their own mobile phones to answer practice calls while working from home.
Through this phone system, patients still dial the same number and get the service they are familiar with – a reassuring kind of continuity that is especially important right now. From the practice’s viewpoint, calls are recorded in the usual way, the setup adheres to NHS technology and data protection rules – and most importantly, staff can protect their own health and in turn keep community healthcare running.
Again, I am immensely proud of our team to have helped this practice, because they have played their part in protecting the welfare of health professionals, and ultimately, the public.
Adapting to increasing and changing demand
Away from public sector organisations, we’ve seen an enormous increase in demand from commercial businesses and some fundamental changes in the nature of those demands. One indicator of this is the 85 per cent increase in calls to our general helpdesk.
One way we’re responding is to use our own remote access and diagnostic technology to resolve queries. But such tools are the tip of the iceberg: in truth, the real difference to our clients is our people. They have genuinely shone – working longer hours and doing things that are over and above their day jobs.
For example, we’ve moved staff who would ordinarily be working in sales – or visiting sites to install equipment – into helpdesk roles. Not only does this reflect our culture of rolling up sleeves and getting stuck in, but it is also a real testament to having a workforce with breadth and depth of technical knowledge.
We’ve seen clients requesting products and services for temporary periods. Under normal circumstances, we’d work to long-term contracts, but this is not the time for red tape. For instance, a customer asked for extra phone lines for a short period and we’ve pulled together to solve this unique challenge.
Another sign of the times is the rise we’ve seen in orders of laptops. And here’s where I must thank our suppliers – it’s because of them that we’ve been able to honour every order. And I must thank our customers too – particularly the one who requested toilet paper, paracetamol and a few G&Ts with his laptop order. We very much value this humility and humour during this difficult time.
There are other, additional steps we are taking in light of the pandemic.
At the risk of being pests, we’re overcommunicating with our clients. In many ways, because we help organisations in technology, we get to see those organisations’ inner workings. We’re seeing the challenges and the repercussions of the pandemic first hand, every day. So, that means when we reassure our clients and say ‘we understand, we’re in your corner’ and ‘we’re available to help’, we’re saying it because we genuinely empathise.
When it comes to our staff, we keep in mind that, as technology specialists, we’re classified by the government as key workers – rather like the fourth utility. So, we’re not going to do anything at all that compromises the health and safety of our workforce.
Of course, we’re doing all of this with the incredible help of our partners. These are businesses and organisations like the LGfL and Virgin Media Business, which are facing and meeting demands on them from left, right and centre. There’s Gamma, whose staff are doing a lot of fancy footwork to increase voice capacity for our clients. And there’s Avaya, which is doing brilliant work to support our clients in remote-access technology.
There is little I can say to mitigate the challenges we’re facing now and will continue to face. Right now, it’s all hands to the deck and we’re busy – and in some ways, working from home is a novelty. But there may be a point where loneliness kicks in. I say that from experience as a regular home worker. So, among my responsibilities is keeping company morale buoyant.
There are a million articles out there about best practices for working from home. So, I’ll only offer a few tips.
Be flexible and adaptable. Be prepared to get involved in activities that are generally not part of your job role. Of course, those tasks should not be an unreasonable diversion from your usual work, but adopting a can-do attitude helps your own self-preservation and the spirit of your colleagues.
Overcommunicate. As mentioned above, we’re already doing this with clients, but it’s equally important to do that with colleagues. Calling or messaging a teammate to share a joke might not feel as spontaneous or natural as banter across office desks, but it matters. It’s ok to laugh among all of this.
Maintain the regular cadence of business. I’m still having my regular Monday review meeting. And my Friday sales meeting. And I’m still meeting investors. Even if all those meetings are virtual and I’m getting tired of seeing my head on the screen.
Thank your teams. You really can’t thank colleagues enough at this time. I hope I’ve highlighted the fantastic work of my colleagues in this blog, but in case it isn’t clear: thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Most of all, take the government instructions seriously and follow them to the letter. At the heart of all of this is our collective responsibility to save people’s lives. There is no other responsibility to take more seriously. After all, it’s people that matter before everything else.
- Phil Race is the CEO of AdEPT Technology Group. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.
LGfL is taking measures to support schools during this difficult period with the full support of its partners Virgin Media Business and AdEPT Education as well as Google, Microsoft and a range of other partners. Our response is set out below and we will be publishing regular updates and changes to schools at https://coronavirus.lgfl.net
Ensuring Sufficient Internet Capacity – LGfL is upgrading all schools free of charge to support increased levels of remote access and access to cloud services. This activity is well advanced with over 1300 schools already upgraded. We are currently scheduling visits in schools and would welcome help and support for these appointments. If you have any questions then please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and information on this initiative is at https://pledge2020.lgfl.net
Remote & Secure Access to the School Network (Freedom2Roam) – LGfL provides a secure service that supports remote access from anywhere to your school network. The licences are unlimited, and the service is provided free of charge. The service is called Freedom2Roam and replaces RAv3. If you need to set-up remote access to enable staff to access information whilst working at home and haven’t used RAv3 (or aren’t sure), then please contact the LGfL Support Desk. For helpful information about Freedom2Roam please visit https://freedom2roam.lgfl.net
Unlimited Access to LGfL Content & Resources – LGfL is opening up its curriculum resources, wherever possible, so they can be accessible from any location. Some resources such as Busythings and J2e will require the child or the teacher to login. Further information about individual products can be found at https://homelearning.lgfl.net
Turning Old Kit into Chromebooks – LGfL have partnered with Google to provide free licences for Neverware CloudReady software, which turns old laptops into fully functioning Chromebooks. This will be particularly helpful when children do not have access to a computer at home or if you have a shortage of devices for children. To find out more visit http://go.neverware.com/lgfl
Claim LGfL’s Free Licences including Adobe Creative Cloud – Please claim your free licences from LGfL for products such as Adobe Creative Cloud, Egress (for secure data transfer which may be needed when sending sensitive information) and many more that may prove useful to your school to function remotely. You can claim your licences by visiting https://savings.lgfl.net and logging in with your USO account
Signposting to Useful Resources – LGfL has curated a list of key links and information that the school may find helpful to support its planning for a possible closure at https://coronavirus.lgfl.net
Web Filtering and Firewalls – A number of schools have asked us to update the web filtering policies to make resources accessible outside of the LGfL network and also in different settings. LGfL is implementing considered changes to enable this to happen. If you need any help and advice regarding the filtering service, then please contact the LGfL Support Desk
Safeguarding Advice – LGfL has pulled together advice and guidance for schools to ensure children work safely at home. This information can be found at https://coronavirus.lgfl.net/safeguarding
Making Use of Google G Suite and Office 365 – Google, Microsoft and LGfL are committed to supporting schools with G Suite and Office 365 and ensuring that cloud resources are accessible. LGfL can co-ordinate with your partners to help you transition to G Suite or Microsoft
LGfL VoIP – LGfL is upgrading the service to ensure that there is enough capacity to support increased use of telephones during this period
LGfL Support Desk – For any technical queries, call
For any questions regarding any other LGfL services, call 020 8408 4455.
As BT accelerates its plans to migrate the UK voice network from copper to fibre, the pressure to change solutions becomes ever more urgent. BT will withdraw the Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) service by 2025. It sounds an age, but it isn’t. Schools need to be thinking about their future communications solutions.
AdEPT Education provide specialist telephony services for schools, so we’ve outlined below a few ways you can prepare. If you want to discuss your options in more detail please don’t hesitate to book a review with one of our experts.
Have a look at one of your recent bills. Do you see any of these items listed?
- Analogue Line
- Business Line
- Alarm Line
- PTSN Line
If you do then you need to start thinking about your long term telephony arrangement. In short, anyone with an on-site PBX, telephone line, fax line, PDQ line or broadband line is affected and will need to make a plan.
BT & Openreach announced some time ago the intention to switch off the ISDN services from the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) by 2025. They have also announced that they intend to switch off the whole PSTN service by 2025, with no new supply after 2023.
Although they’ve been the most reliable solutions to date, PSTN and ISDN are rapidly becoming out of date technology, and expensive to operate and maintain. Openreach plans to invest instead in fibre infrastructure rather than further invest in a new version of the PSTN (which is essentially Victorian technology).
This means that any individual or organisation still using these traditional voice services will need to have moved to newer SIP and IP voice solutions by then or, simply put, they won’t be able to use their phones.
What are our options? SIP and VoIP.
The terms SIP and VoIP refer to telephony based services delivered using IP signalling. Historically, telephony based services have been delivered using technology and signalling which is now over 30 years old, such as ISDN30 and PSTN lines.
SIP services are generally used to connect lines to a telephone system and these are a direct replacement for the ISDN30 technology. VoIP is a general term used to describe routing voice calls over an IP network. The term is closely associated with hosted telephones, where a telephone system installed at a customer’s premises is replaced with a central system shared between many different locations.
What do I do now?
Essentially we all have 3 options.
- Ignore it all and do nothing
It should go without saying, but consider how important your phones are to your school. Though 2025 may seem like a long way off, 6 years can fly by.
Recent studies have concluded that a large proportion of UK organisations are unaware that the change is taking place. Don’t run the risk. Have a plan in place and be ready for the change. VoIP and SIP based solutions will almost certainly offer cost-savings if deployed correctly and they’ll offer more functionality for your school, and be future-proofed for years to come.
- Panic and rip it all out tomorrow
Though it is time to take action, that doesn’t mean now is the time to change – you may not be ready. It may not make economic sense, or you may not have resource available to manage the transition. You could make the wrong decision, and chose a solution that offers little or no additional benefits over your current service, or even worse, spend time and money implementing something that will only help you out for the next few years. Make an informed decision, you still have time and options to explore.
- Engage with an industry professional to better understand my options and make a self-paced evolution to the future.
AdEPT Education have years of experience providing communication solutions to schools, including SIP and VoIP solutions, refining our portfolio to best match their customers’ requirements. We have already developed a number of IP and VoIP services which are available to replace the current PSTN and ISDN services and would be happy to discuss the benefits of these over your current solution.
We’re offering both new and existing customers alike the opportunity for a free telephony audit. This audit will review all of the telephony services currently supplied to your business, providing a report on the services and a recommendation of the actions needed to prepare for the withdrawal of the PSTN and ISDN network in 2025.
If you’d like to discuss you telephony requirements in more detail or to book a free telephony audit please get in touch. To read more about our Voice solutions, please get in touch.
Get in touch
For more information on any of our services or to talk about how we may be able to help you, please get in touch with us using the form opposite or by clicking the link below.
The Bett Awards are a celebration of the inspiring creativity and innovation that can be found throughout technology for education. The awards form an integral part of Bett each year, the world’s leading showcase of education technology solutions.
Produced in association with BESA, being a Bett Award-winner is simply the best way to showcase your organisation with this sign of excellence.
AdEPT Education have been shortlisted for two awards at Bett 2020, for ‘Services and Support’ and ‘Leadership and Management Solutions’ for our WebScreen service.
Bett is the first industry show of the year in the education technology landscape, bringing together over 800 leading companies, 103 exciting new EdTech startups and over 34,000 attendees. People from over 146 countries in the global education community come together to celebrate, find inspiration and discuss the future of education, as well as seeing how technology and innovation enables educators and learners to thrive.
AdEPT Education are exhibiting at Bett 2020 along with our partners at LGfL and Netsweeper.
It is often said that technology is advancing exponentially and in every walk of life. Technology in schools is no different.
When I started my career in this field some 20 years ago, schools were using overhead projectors and whiteboards. Now, they use interactive flat panels. Two decades ago, encyclopedias came on laggy CD-ROMs. Now, through the internet, the world’s information is available in a second.
Throughout this evolution, countless school technology providers have emerged. And many of them have made the all-too-common mistake of focusing on the latest technological crazes. And in doing so, they can often overlook the unique demands placed on our schools from every direction.
My own experience has taught me that helping schools with their technology is best achieved through learning from the challenges they face. Here are some of my discoveries…
Challenge 1: technology that is not designed specifically for schools
Schools have the enormous task of developing our children – the future of our country. They are at the heart of our local communities and must help every student grow as an individual. So it stands to reason that, although facing similar daily challenges, no school is like another. And no school partner or supplier – of technology or otherwise – should shoehorn generic products and services into these unique organisations.
Unfortunately, many schools do not have the time or resources to research and filter the generic technology products and services from those that are specialised for schools. So often, it’s the biggest suppliers – and those that shout the loudest – whose technology products make their way into our schools. And frequently, it’s only then that schools realise their expensive new service doesn’t quite meet their specific requirements – hardly ideal qualities for schools facing ever-growing and ever-changing demands.
Let’s be clear here: this isn’t a blog setting out to criticise the major technology suppliers to the education sector. In fact, as the following example shows, we work closely with those very suppliers…
The solution: products and services that are truly tailored to schools
One example that illustrates the importance and benefits of bespoke solutions for schools is our WebScreen service. It’s specially designed to help schools overcome the dilemma of allowing students and staff to browse the internet safely, without restricting them from useful sites and content.
Building on the industry-leading Netsweeper software and tailoring it for the education environment, our in-house programmers created the service after we listened and learned from our school clients. They had told us that many web filtering services were too black-and-white, complicated, and not focused on their specific needs.
The service actively learns from the information gained in real time from across the 3,000+ community of schools using WebScreen, and shares this knowledge ensuring that each school benefits from the findings. And it does this in the background, with minimal input from school staff.
For instance, one school in the north wanted its students to use a particular educational gaming website, but the site was initially classified as ‘gambling’ – a category banned by the school via their filtering policy setup. So with a few clicks, the school reported this and the website was reclassified, the artificial intelligence that handles on-the-fly website classifications updated, and the newly-adjusted – and more education-setting-specific – knowledge was shared across the entire school community that subscribes to WebScreen.
This whole process is ultimately designed to help schools ensure lessons run safely and smoothly, without interruptions that distract and derail students from their learning – after all, we know this is incredibly important to schools. And as an extra layer of reliability, the service is built to handle huge demand – it analyses more than a billion internet access requests every day for our 3,000+ school clients.
Challenge 2: technology that diverts teachers away from teaching
Whether it’s gadgets in the home or systems in the workplace, technology nowadays is more intuitive and user-friendly than ever. However, this is no excuse for introducing technology into a school before abandoning staff to figure it out for themselves. Teachers must be allowed to do what they do best – teaching – and not be burdened with the responsibility of managing their own IT.
Of course, some schools have their own IT managers and bigger schools might even have their own IT team, but that again does not justify the sometimes common practice of supplying a technology product or service and leaving staff to their own devices – literally!
The solution: proactive support that understands and respects schools
For the reasons explained above, we take a tailored approach to supporting our school clients and reject the break-fix model that’s the basis of too many IT support programmes.
One way we do this is to provide not only onsite support technicians, but also remote support and monitoring – or dedicated IT surgeries at times that suit staff, such as inset days. We’ve done this because we know that, due to their timetables, teachers cannot wait endlessly for answers to their helpdesk responses. They cannot hang on the phone listening to hold music, or repeatedly check their emails to see if their helpdesk enquiry has been addressed.
St Dunstan’s College, for example, is one school where having an on-site technician has proved invaluable. In the words of the one of the school’s employees, we are not just there for if things go wrong, but have been ‘proactively working to ensure the future-proofing, scalability and resilience of’ the school’s IT systems for years to come.
This leads me to another point – about being proactive.
It’s a word that’s often thrown about casually in working life, but for a technology partner to schools, being proactive is vital. For me, it means having a virtual crystal ball into tomorrow’s technology and being able to interpret what’s ahead for our school clients.
This future gazing might, as an example, be knowing about something as seemingly small as a software upgrade that requires all computers to be restarted. Knowing this in advance means we advise our school clients so they can plan for the onerous task of an organisation-wide technology reboot – and choose the right time to do it. This again minimises disruptions to teaching and learning.
Another instance of being proactive could be seeing ahead to extensive industry changes, such as new telephone infrastructure. Again, by advising our school clients in advance, we can help them prepare properly – and not at the last minute, when choices are limited and the risk of being held to ransom over prices becomes very real.
Challenge 3: technology that doesn’t evolve with changing behaviours
It goes without saying that technology has changed the way we work, the way we behave as consumers and the way students learn. And one of the changes in education is the use of video. Not only can it help explain complex subjects in entertaining and stimulating ways, it also responds to the younger generation’s insatiable appetite for video.
The obvious place to feed this appetite is YouTube. And with 400 hours of video uploaded to the site every minute, every imaginable subject in every possible style is covered making it an undeniably powerful resource.
But there’s a darker side. YouTube is awash with content that, sadly, should not be viewed by adults, let alone young people. Despite YouTube’s policing efforts, the site has an ever-increasing catalogue of videos that span from mediocre and poorly made, to downright inflammatory and irresponsible. And to top this off, advertising on the site often has the same traits, appearing unexpectedly and playing all kinds of tricks to hook in impressionable minds.
So for schools, it’s a dilemma: taking advantage of the rich content available on YouTube means navigating the minefield of unsavoury videos.
The solution: technology that recognises and supports changes in education practice
One product that we’ve developed specifically for and with our school clients is myVideos. It’s a powerful tool that helps schools take advantage of YouTube while removing the risk of exposing students to the wrong content.
Through a secure platform, teachers and staff can log in to view YouTube content themselves to judge the suitability of videos for the classroom. Then with staff approval, students can watch the approved videos via the same secure platform without the risk of encountering inappropriate content.
Schools have the option of restricting content to items only approved by the individual school, or, by allowing content deemed appropriate by the entire community of myVideos users nationwide, they can increase the amount of allowed content available to watch, all accruing as a trusted suite of approved videos.
Additionally, through myVideos, adverts and comments are restricted, and the tool can be used in the classroom and at home, meaning students can complete their homework using videos that are endorsed by their school.
myVideos is a great example of helping schools keep up with changing behaviours brought about by technology, while respecting the unique requirements of our schools.
The bottom line
I’ve offered three examples of very real technological challenges faced by our schools and how we’re helping them overcome those challenges. Notably, there’s three qualities that are common throughout – and are traits you should look for in your school technology partner: service and solutions that are personal, passionate and proactive.
I know only too well that the one challenge that supersedes all of these is that of budget cuts and austerity. It’s a topic that deserves at least one blog of its own – so I hope you’ll look out for that in the future.
And there’s one final point, which I hope is apparent in this blog. A technology partner to schools must be willing and able to learn from school clients just as students learn every day. And those partners must share that new knowledge for the benefit of their other school clients, becoming an enabler of new innovations. It’s learning, and sharing knowledge like this that makes working with schools so rewarding and I look forward to more of this in the future.
- If you look after technology for schools, I’d love to talk with you. You can find out more about me through my LinkedIn profile, call me on 01689 814700 or email me on email@example.com.
- My team and I are also joining a number of leading education events in the coming months – so if you’d prefer to meet face to face, and are visiting one of them, please look out for AdEPT Education and say hello: