Streamlining IT for the next generation of EdTech
Posted on: 26th Apr 2022 by: Gareth Harle
Over the last 10 years, we have seen an explosion of services and platforms available to the education sector. Everything from homework trackers and seating planners to parental engagement platforms. We’ve grown out of our traditional VLE, full of Word Documents and PowerPoint presentations. Now we’re firmly in the realm of video conferencing lessons, online parents’ evenings, and live-streaming school events. Who would have thought it?
Education has always been unique in that, unlike large enterprise or multinational companies, we don’t typically build our own platforms. There’s no custom business software built specifically to our individual institutional requirements. IT and school leaders must choose a solution from the ever-expanding market of products and services. We end up with many systems and platforms that each have a specific purpose. But for each of these systems, our IT Teams must evaluate, procure, implement, test, deploy and maintain these products and do all of this with small teams, a limited budget and increasingly tight deadlines.
The scope of our IT infrastructure has become much more comprehensive. The resources to manage and develop these infrastructures have mainly remained the same. IT support teams have become stretched, and often when staff leave, we have struggled to replace them. Our cyber security has become weaker due to the range of systems, and thus the increased target for potential attackers and, most importantly, the quality of our user experience has often reduced.
We often stereotype that the younger generation is far more tech-savvy than we are. Children today are growing up in a world of technology with a more inherent ability to adapt to multiple platforms, accounts, and complex digital systems.
The truth is that this isn’t always the case. I discovered during the pandemic that students are skilled in Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat, but some/an alarming number struggle to understand the concept of logging into a laptop, using office productivity tools and accessing their online courses.
It feels like we’ve lost sight of the purpose of our technology. We’ve spent the last 10 years putting system after system in place. Confusing our users and making a headache for our support teams.
Maybe now is the time to scale it back.
I’ve just finished a four-year term as IT Manager for a mid-sized FE College in North Lincolnshire. When I look back over my time at the College, I’m reminded that our most significant achievements were the things we removed. I would think about all the things we had implemented in previous roles, such as an online booking room system, online seating plans, a parent portal, a VLE, and an online student reward system.
Over the last four years, we have reduced our online learning platforms from three to one, pushing as much data to this new single platform as possible. We wanted to ensure that teaching staff and students only needed two systems open to get 99% of their work done. Our teachers use the learning platform in one tab and the web-based MIS system in another, and the systems are the same for our students. Our chosen learning platform is set up to record videos of all lessons, enabling students to watch them again out of hours. This helps support any catch-up work. Our data systems are managed through shared spreadsheets unless held directly in our MIS and our user accounts synchronise between systems, so one login allows our users into both systems. Because our two main platforms are both web-based, we can quickly switch to remote working or a hybrid model as the world dictates.
This may come across as overly simplistic. We do, of course, have other applications and platforms that some staff use. Our finance team always needs a finance package. Our computing department has specialist software installed for their courses. The point here is to simplify the core systems that everyone needs. Systems that span the entire width of the organisation and make it run. Systems that allow people to communicate, collaborate and educate.
I must emphasise that the point isn’t to remove things of value. It’s to develop a holistic strategy that enables leaders to ask, “Why do we need this system?” or “Can we do this with tools we already have?”. The same two systems I’ve talked about are used to engage students right from the application stage all the way through to getting their exam results. The focus on these two core platforms has meant we can better secure, update, and develop them. We can choose hardware specifically designed for them to create a more seamless user experience. We can genuinely get technology out of the way and simplify our systems so our teachers can focus on teaching, our support teams can provide quality support, and our learners can learn. We can be free to innovate, and that is the future of EdTech.
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