FIVE TECH TRENDS FOR SCHOOLS IN 2017
IT DEVELOPMENT MANAGER AT SIDCOT SCHOOL
From cloud migration to flipped learning, Sidcot School’s IT Development Manager James Russell says now is the time to lay foundations for the adoption of new technologies.
These words, lifted from Bill Gates’ 1996 book ‘The Road Ahead’, are particularly relevant to the education sector today. There are significant and exciting developments ahead. Not all of them – not even most of them – will happen in the next 12 months. But over the coming decade we will see a major shift in the interplay between technology and education.
Schools need to lay the foundations required to support, facilitate and manage this change. 2017 represents a window of opportunity to prepare for a technology-fuelled future, from enhancing cyber safeguarding to exploring emerging technologies. These are the five tech trends that I think will shape the sector over the next 12-to-24 months:
- More intelligent compliance with The Prevent Duty
The Government’s Prevent Duty which focuses on avoiding extremism and radicalisation in schools became mandatory in 2015. Most schools already have the filtering software to tick the compliance box, but many want to go beyond this. During 2017 we’ll see a surge in the uptake of new solutions from vendors such as Sophos, providing next generation monitoring and reporting that is well aligned with Prevent requirements. Bespoke reports highlighting pertinent and relevant information will replace the lengthy, unwieldly documents schools are currently grappling with. This will make it quicker and easier for Safeguarding Leads to hone in on the most relevant insights.
- Peer-led online safety awareness
Educating students about online safety is an ongoing commitment for the sector. But how do you make sure they take it on board? In 2017 I think we’ll see schools embracing innovative ways to address this issue, through techniques such as peer-led training. At Sidcot we’ll be launching a student-to-student e-safety awareness initiative. Ten or so student ambassadors will be trained to deliver sessions in online safety to our 612-student population. They’ll cover issues ranging from the avoidance of malware to online bullying and wider safeguarding issues. Our goal is to get these important messages across to students in a way that really works.
- Cloud’s on the horizon
What to migrate to the cloud and when is a question IT managers and management teams will continue to focus on. Some schools are taking tentative steps towards a hybrid solution where some data is stored on the cloud and some on in-school servers; this is likely to gather pace over the next 12 months. For instance, we are using the cloud for certain ring-fenced activity such as parents evening booking systems etc.
Deciding when to go for a full cloud migration largely comes down to the costs involved, band-width available, the tangible benefits and the willingness of a school’s senior team to take the plunge. I don’t think we’ll see a fundamental shift during 2017, but schools using multiple server rooms will certainly be looking closely at the situation. Come 2018-19 we’re likely to see some landmark developments here, probably led by larger independent schools and the expanding MATs in the maintained sector. And once they make a go of it and share best practice, more will follow suit in the 2020s.
- Leaning towards new ways of learning
Advancements in classroom technologies are unlocking the potential for innovative teaching tailored to students’ individual needs. In the coming year, I expect to see more substantiation of concepts such as ‘flipped learning’. This inverts traditional classroom-based learning by introducing students to a topic before class. They then spend class time deepening their understanding through discussion and problem-solving. It’s also likely that teachers will increasingly use multichannel platforms to deliver lessons and bring concepts to life, with more sophisticated use of technologies such as video streaming.
Vendors are beginning to help schools gain a better understanding of practical ways technologies can be used in class. They’re realising that wherever possible they need to create readymade packages that teachers can simply ‘plug and play’. As vendors and teachers begin to understand each other better, uptake of innovative solutions will accelerate. As more schools and teachers get a handle on the possibilities out there over the next few years, we’ll see some significant developments in this field.
- Better storage and speed
Today’s kids have been brought up on broadband and tablets, and they expect an ‘instant on’ user experience. If students can’t get online to complete a given task quickly and easily via the school system, they will find another route – possibly via the 4G phone in their pocket. To avoid a safeguarding blackhole, schools have a responsibility to do all they can to keep their students on the school broadband.
Broadband issues will be compounded as increasing amounts of data are stored on and accessed via the cloud. Strategic investment is required to ensure technology infrastructures and back office capabilities are fit for purpose.
Bill Gates rounded up his ‘ten years versus two years’ comment by saying: ‘Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction’. The education sector technology revolution is not going to happen overnight and the impact of new solutions must be carefully measured and managed. However, schools would do well to keep one eye on the ten-year horizon when planning investment and training for 2017.