Last year, schools across the country were scrambling desperately for computers, and struggling to implement remote learning infrastructure in mere weeks, rather than the months or even years they needed.
Schools are returning to some semblance of normality, but the appetite for digital solutions is still strong. In fact, the pandemic has forced schools to move years ahead with their IT strategy. So what's next?
We spoke to Mark Beetlestone, technology-enhanced learning and resource manager at Fareham College. Before COVID, Mark's role was to ensure teachers had the right digital skills and capabilities. He now finds that teachers have been forced to upskill, and know what digital solutions to ask for.
This has had a huge impact on Fareham's digital strategy and his plans to future-proof the college.
Fareham had a strong digital strategy in place before COVID, but now find themselves five years ahead of original plans.
"Before COVID, people didn't know what Teams or OneDrive were versus the local drive for the college," Mark explains. "But people have been forced to adapt to a cloud-first way of working."
In response, Fareham adapted their digital strategy - a strategy that is accessible to everyone, regardless of skill level.
Working quickly to give teachers what they needed during COVID revealed the fundamental importance of a bottom-up approach, because everyone was quickly learning what was working for them and what wasn't.
"From a strategic and operational point of view, it's all about making sure that people have got what they need to be able to do their jobs," Mark says. "In education, being led by your teachers is proven to increase student experience and student achievement."
This means leadership asking the teachers what they need from a hardware and software perspective and being confident that they actually know what they're talking about, which is something that wouldn't have been possible two years ago. The fact is that the needs of staff have changed just as much as the needs of students.
By and large, people are happy to be back face-to-face after months of speaking over Zoom. As a technical college, face-to-face teaching is particularly important for Fareham.
"There are some aspects of some courses that work well in an online capacity but that's not the case for every course," Mark says. "There is such thing as authority in the flesh."
Mark uses bricklaying as an example, which is 90% technical hand skills that you can't really impart over a virtual platform. However, that might not be the case for a profession that's less physical. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and not all students are going to respond to online learning.
"The argument here is to not digitise everything for the sake of it," says Mark. "You need to ask yourself how student needs can be best met in each case. If a student has taken a course to learn to cut hair, they can't do that remotely and it becomes really difficult to bridge that gap.
"We could use VR and augmented reality but being there in person with a group of other people doing the same thing or working through a problem together is very difficult to replicate online."
To Mark, future-proofing means that everything has to be accessible to everyone and the pandemic highlighted a divide between those that had the relevant technology at home and those that didn't.
"For me, there is a big emphasis on personalising learning and making learning more accessible through digital means. We know what's worked and what hasn't worked and we know what our students engage with. So let's do more of that. Let's invest in those things."
For example, Fareham uses a product called "Century," which uses AI to analyse a student's skill in Maths and English, and automatically assigns them appropriate work. This won't ever replace the teacher in the classroom - it's simply a supplemental tool that takes a little of the legwork out of the equation and ensures maximum accessibility for the students.
Over the next few months, Mark and the team at Fareham will be adapting their curriculums to suit a post-COVID world.
"It's not just how we work in a college that's changed, it's the world that has changed and it's our responsibility to match the needs of the world."
So what features on this new project? Sustainability is a big part of it and, of course, digitalisation too. There are also going to be great efforts made to ensure that students and teachers harness everything they've learnt over the past 18 months.
"My number one piece of advice to future-proofing would be: if you're going to invest in something, think about how it's going to look in five years. You can't just buy 100 iPads and say that you're future-proofed anymore.
"It's all about the strategy of how you actually use the technology in the classroom and what you think you might need in a year or five. So, how can we strategise a rollout of a product that's going to support us rather than just throwing money at it?"
Find out how Novatech can help you future-proof your school. Get in touch now, or fill out the form below to start planning your post-covid digital strategy.
Posted in Education
Published on 16 Nov 2021
Last updated on 16 Nov 2021
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