School and education technology: new ways to innovate while being pragmatic

Woman looking at laptop to join in with webinar

Join us for a new webinar series – full agenda here.

Over the past year, schools have seen technology shift from having a behind-the-scenes, supportive role, to being front and centre of teaching and learning.

I’m talking, of course, about the Google and Microsoft remote learning platforms – and more generally, the move to online teaching. At this stage, very few schools haven’t in some way held lessons over the internet.

But there have been many other, significant, technology challenges and shifts too – such as increasing bandwidth, helping staff get to grips with new software, and rerouting telephony.

While we continue to support schools in all of these areas – for example, we’ve helped 1,428 schools set up remote learning platforms to date – we’re also now in the position to offer some insights based on our experiences of working with schools through the pandemic. And those insights follow decades of AdEPT Education’s work with the education sector.

First – and there’s no easy way to say this – the pressures have been immense. In November last year, one headteacher told us that the period of March to July was the most challenging time in his entire career.

Second – as a reassuring response to the first – the tales of triumph over adversity have been also been immense. For example, the same headteacher told us: “Six months on, and with our problem-solving heads on, we’re still rising to the challenges and have seen so many positive stories emerge.”

Here’s our take on this: being all about learning and growing, the education sector has a long history of responding to challenges with a unique learning mindset. And it’s an outlook we hope to emulate here at AdEPT Education.

Consequently, we’re inviting schools to join our exclusive forthcoming webinar series that shares some of our own ‘school lessons’ of the pandemic, and showcases some ways technology and partners can help schools at this time…

Innovation, inspiration and ingenuity

Naturally, across all industries, the pandemic has seen an understandable clamour to keep things working as normally as possible. After all, as I write this in January 2021, I think the one thing we all crave more than anything is normality. I’m sure we’ve all had moments of wishful thinking about time machines and travelling back to 2019.

And so, the focus for technology – and those who manage and use it – has largely been on maintaining business as usual. In many senses our work with schools has been about this. Because quite rightly, the most pressing demand is to keep teachers teaching and pupils learning.

That doesn’t mean to say that the more innovative side of technology – the side that gives us ideas and inspiration – has taken a back seat, as many schools have found creative uses of their tech to support remote learning. But for many, the initial importance has been trying to maintain the status quo during these unfamiliar times.

So are these webinars about promoting fancy or expensive new technology to schools for the sake of it – at a time when pipe dreams seem even more unrealistic? Absolutely not. Our sessions will offer pragmatic ways to innovate, with inspiration that’s firmly rooted in the real world. Here are a few examples of this in action…

Smarter networks

For schools, technology networks have become, more than ever, the backbone of IT. Without a reliable network, remote teaching platforms will be harder to run; it can be more difficult for staff to communicate or access materials; and pupils and parents will find it harder to learn and engage with the school.

To illustrate this, consider London Grid for Learning’s (LGfL) Freedom2Roam service, which we built and maintain. Essentially, this service allows school staff to access their school networks remotely, reliably and securely. And in April last year, working with LGfL, we’d switched more than 3,000 schools onto the service – demonstrating how important network access is to staff.

At the same time, our support calls doubled. One of the less obvious reasons for this concerns on-site support staff. With the move to home working, those IT staff weren’t in offices next door to classrooms, where teaching staff could visit for help. And so, in came the calls to our helpdesk.

But while there will always be a need for responsive IT support, we very much believe in being proactive. So built into our network services are ways we can identify problems before they happen. For example, we can see if network traffic is increasing before it reaches full capacity, and we can take steps to fix the issue before it’s reported.

It’s rather like going to the doctor with an ailment. The doctor can prescribe you something to treat the symptoms, or can instead investigate the cause to address the root of the problem. At AdEPT Education, our IT support takes treating the cause to the next level: we anticipate the problem before you’ve stepped foot in the surgery – and it addresses the cause, rather than the symptom.

Granted, this isn’t the kind of ‘sexy’ technology innovation that gets headlines – it’s certainly never going to be a talking point at the CES convention – but it is the type of ingenuity that makes a real difference to schools. And, behind the scenes, it’s been doing exactly that throughout the pandemic.

Humans first, technology second

Another lesson from our work with schools over the pandemic is about the traditional versus the modern. Take, for example, our long-running client London South East Colleges (LSEC).

As many of us instinctively know, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings. And we say this as a technology company that has helped many organisations roll out virtual conferencing technology throughout the pandemic.

But for schools and education organisations, being able to communicate face to face is about much more than the meetings we have in the private sector. For staff and students, the experience of being in a classroom or lecture theatre is as much a part of education as the academic subject itself.

With this in mind, LSEC looked to us to help them bring more normality to their remote teaching arrangements.

And after looking at all the ways we could do this, we took our lead from the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures – those shows where a lecturer stands with a board (or interactive display) to give a talk that is broadcast on television over the festive period.

(Or to go further back, a lot like the Open University’s ‘televarsity’ of the 1970s, complete with flares and questionable hairstyles…)

So for LSEC, we replaced an existing ceiling projector setup with a high-end webcam and microphone, allowing the lecturer to stand in the hall and talk in front of a digital display. This means, at least on one side, teaching was much closer to the traditional format – and much more akin to the lecturer’s training. And hopefully, for LSEC, this was a lesson in ingenuity. Because rather than forcing a typical pandemic setup, or a technology agenda for our sake, we made the technology work around the people.

Thinking ahead

One aspect of school technology that hasn’t attracted much attention through the pandemic is what has happened to those long-running, pre-pandemic, technology plans that have now been put on the backburner?

Some of the schools that we’ve worked with have a clear answer for this: those plans shouldn’t be forgotten. Consequently, our installation teams spent a good part of the summer heatwave, in schools, fitting new audio-visual equipment in classrooms, as part of those schools’ long-term plans for upgrades.

Granted, this might seem counterintuitive when pupils are learning from home. But there is a sound rationale: first, keeping to normal plans helps instil a sense of normality in an otherwise abnormal world; second, students will eventually return to classrooms – we have to believe that – and when they do, they may be even more attuned to learning with technology than ever before; and third, in some respects, it is easier to complete these installations when classrooms are empty.

Of course, when we have installed new audio-visual technology in schools, we have done so while respecting social distancing rules. But even though the circumstances are different, the results have been up to our usual high standards. For instance, London’s Skinners’ Academy told us ‘the engineers have worked with us with the utmost professionalism to complete their installs for our ongoing projects, even in this unsettling time of lockdown.’

What I should say of these projects is that the technology itself in all cases has the wow factor, bringing new, innovative features to the classroom – and we hope the new displays impress the returning students as much as they do us.

These are just a few of the many ways we’ve helped schools and education organisations use technology in ingenuitive ways to respond to the pandemic. We’ve got lots more examples, along those from our partners, as well as training and guidance to help you understand everything from the copper telephony switch-off to keeping your finances in order with technology…

The agenda

We’ve designed this series of webinars to ensure there’s something for every education professional – whether you’re a teacher or business manager, or IT staff. Remember, if you can’t attend on the day, register anyway – we can send you the recording of the event.

Monday 18 January, 12pm: The BT Phone Network Switch Off and What It Means for Schools.
• The UK’s old copper telephone lines will be switched off in 2025, affecting homes and businesses alike. Here’s a blog we wrote on this very topic.
• With Pragma Business Development Director, Helen Ranaghan.
Click here to register your place.

Monday 18 January, 4pm: ICT Support for the Digital School
• We’ll touch on the ways ICT support can be proactive as well as reactive, with lessons we’ve learned from helping schools through the pandemic – as described above.
• With me – AdEPT Education Sales Director, Nick Shea.
Click here to register your place.

Tuesday 19 January, 12pm: InVentry’s Asset Management Software, Audit & Compliance – (Overview and Demo)
• With Inventry Sales Specialist Tom Broadhead.
Click here to register your place.

Wednesday 20 January, 12pm: Discover Arbor MIS for Schools (Demo with Q&A)
• With Arbor Senior Partnership Manager Tim Ward.
Click here to register your place.

Wednesday 20 January, 4pm: Manage Your Finances Easily
• With Sage For Education Product Consultant Daniel McDonald.
Click here to register your place.

Thursday 21 January, 12pm: Digital Learning Platforms – Google G Suite for Education
• Building on our popular blog all about the digital education platforms, we’ll go through the principles of Google G Suite for Education and answer all your questions.
• With our very own Google specialist Tom Forsey.
Click here to register your place.

Thursday 21 January, 4pm: Digital Learning Platforms – Microsoft 365 for Education
• Also drawing on our popular blog all about the digital education platforms, we’ll go through the principles of Microsoft 365 for Education and answer all your questions.
• With our very own Microsoft specialist Peter Cooper.
Click here to register your place.

Friday 22 January, 12pm: Blended Learning
• With Promethean’s Head of Marketing Development and Strategic Relationships Ben Brown and Strategic Relationship Manager Lee Holt.
Click here to register your place.

What you’ll get out of it

We hope as a school professional, you’ll find something that piques your interest in our webinar series and we guarantee to bring you:

• New ideas and inspiration about how technology can help you do your job
• Real examples of where technology can better support your students and the wider school community
• Practical advice about the software that’s part and parcel of your work
• Insights from your peers, with the opportunity to share and learn from common experiences
• Something to smile about – the most valuable point of all.

Any questions?

As you can see from the below, I’m Nick Shea – a Sales Director at AdEPT Education – and I’ll be joined on the webinars by my colleagues and partners mentioned above. But if you have any questions ahead of the sessions – or if there’s any specific areas you would like addressed, then do get in touch with Sami Malik, who is organising the series. You can reach him on sami.malik@adept.co.uk.

Nick Shea

Written by Nick Shea

Sales Director - AdEPT Education