IT in Schools: Challenges Beyond Funding
Technology is expensive and schools are underfunded. In England, there has been a flatlining of real per-pupil spending since 2010. IT spend, however, across UK schools is set to rise in real terms for the first time in three years. But, there are challenges that schools and administrators must face that go far beyond funding if they are to make effective use of technology in the classroom.
Deteriorating Effect of IT Oversaturation
The moderate use of computers in schools has been shown to correlate with improved learning outcomes. Very frequent use of computers, however, has been shown to negatively impact outcomes. It is an absolute necessity to make the right choices when it comes to technology.
Successful digital application requires planning. That applies to the purchase and installation of the technology. It also applies to training and the manner in which IT is used in the classroom. Technology has to be selectively applied for a purpose and integrated into a wider teaching strategy.
To do this, schools should turn to theories of digital pedagogy. Dr Ruben Puentedura developed the popularised SAMR model that demarcates different ways technology can be integrated into the classroom. SAMR stands for:
Substitution: the use of technology as a direct substitute for an analogue equivalent.
- Example: Handwritten vs. typed reports.
Augmentation: the use of technology to substitute an analogue equivalent and achieve functional improvements.
- Example: Submitting digital assignments that teachers can comment on electronically.
Modification: the use of technology to significantly redesign a task.
- Example: digital reports are shared and commented on by other students, in addition to the teacher.
Redefinition: the use of technology to develop new tasks that were previously inconceivable.
- Examples: students produce online and multimedia assignments rather than written reports. Google Earth is used rather than a presentation to explore a geographic area. A lecture is assigned as homework in video format, and class time is used to do collaborative coursework.
This is just one conceptual framework schools can use to align technology with teaching strategies. ‘Flipped Classrooms’ are another captivating opportunity schools should consider. What is important is that these outcome orientated priorities are the focus from the beginning. IT can be flexibly applied and purposely avoided to curate the best learning environment for a particular teaching strategy.
A report funded by Intel, Fujitsu and Birmingham University found that 53% of surveyed UK teachers and administrators wanted to invest in technology, but didn’t know how. 32% believe they lack the in-house experience to cope with IT complexity, and 27% feel that they need more training and support. A minority of teachers report having good or excellent levels of digital literacy. That breaks down as:
- 63% of primary school teachers
- 41% of secondary school teachers
- 37% of teachers in higher education
For many, digital learning is more of an aspiration than a reality. A 2015 OECD study indicates that many teachers are struggling to make effective use of the technology they already have. There are anecdotal instances of teachers pinning posters to smart boards because they never received training on how to use them. More, simply use them as glorified projectors — failing to take advantage of their full range of capabilities.
60% of teachers have made technology training a key aim for 2018. For schools, the main priority has been reaching a balance between ‘access’ and ‘security’ while improving staff digital skills.
It is more important than ever to make smart investments and be able to demonstrate the value of technology. IT departments pressured for funds are looking more closely at ROI (return-on-investment) and business cases for investments. Only 1 in 3 Bursars see the value of investment in education technology (EdTech).
Getting IT Installation and Maintenance Right
The difficulties of appropriately provisioning technology and the safe storage and manipulation of data should not be underestimated. Simple things like under-provisioned network infrastructure, WiFi access and bandwidth can all thoroughly hamper an in-class or administrative digital rollout.
Procurement, installation, migration and maintenance of IT networks routinely befuddle technologically robust organisations. The basics of IT cannot get lost in the scramble around EdTech. This equally applies to the use of technology outside of the classroom.
Schools need to develop and maintain solid infrastructure before they move on to gadgetry. That can be achieved in-house or by partnering with outside firms for procurement and installation, and even maintenance and operations.
Schools must ensure that students safely handle technology and use their access to the internet or other internal networks appropriately. Cyberbullying, sexting and the viewing/sharing of inappropriate material while at school are all real problems for which schools must develop countermeasures.
Schools are subject to specific regulatory guidance when it comes to the use of technology, particularly the use of technology by students. These were updated on 3rd September 2018 and are covered in a broader document ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education: Statutory guidance for schools and colleges’ 2018.
This update includes increased scrutiny on technology, including the introduction of ‘Contextual Safeguards’. This means looking at abuse within a child’s entire social sphere, not just at school. For technology, this is particularly focused on cyberbullying. The main unique challenge faced by schools using digital technology (the improper use of IT by students) has become their problem regardless. These new regulations expand the concerns of administrators and teachers to their students’ use of the internet whether or not it is used in school at all.
The 2018 guidelines explicitly acknowledge that children regularly access 3G and 4G networks while in school and recommends that administrators put policies in place to monitor and filter access within their digital infrastructure.
There are also new and expanded guidelines around peer-to-peer abuse, sexual violence and sexual harassment. In summary, schools must detail how incidents will be recorded, investigations will be undertaken, and abuse minimised. This means policies that are clearly communicated to students, and the cultivating of a culture that does not tolerate such abuse. From a technical perspective, schools are under some obligation to implement tracking software within your network to gain visibility of how students are using the WiFi access you provide them while on-premise.
This can be a technically challenging task and is, again, an area where partnership with specialists is advisable. However, what is important is that you think about this and deliver a comprehensive outcome that protects students from themselves, each other and the wider material available online. You do not want to be in a position where you enabled student harassment through your attempts to digitise the classroom.
Schools have to put the safety of their students first. Access to digital technology provides positive learning benefits to pupils but also exposes them to danger. Mitigating this harm has to remain central to any digital strategy.
Cybersecurity and Data Protection
Cybercrime is a large and growing threat. During 2017, global ransomware attacks brought giants such as FedEx, Nissan, Merk and the NHS temporarily to their knees. But, the problem is much more widespread than just a few high profile attacks. UK government statistics indicated that more than half of British businesses, and 70% of large companies were breached or attacked in 2016/17. 20% of UK schools have already been hit by cybercrime. This number is predicted to grow as cybercriminals continue to seek out soft targets for ransomware attacks and data theft.
Cybersecurity is a standard concern for any digital project. However, the fact that your school stores sensitive personal data of children places extra scrutiny on your ability to digitally protect that information. This means robust and top-notch anti-virus, anti-malware, firewalls, access authentication and internal system visibility. You should then conduct regular IT audits and vulnerability testing to make sure that your system remains sufficient to defend your school from external and internal cyber-threats.
These are all risks that you need to address concerning your existing IT system. Investing in an IT upgrade is simply an opportunity to make sure that you have achieved sufficient security standards. It is likely that in order to reach a safe standard, you will need outside help. Make sure that your new IT roll-out does not leave you exposed to malicious penetration, data loss or lack of regulatory compliance. Even if not considering an IT upgrade, it is important to go back and make sure that your existing policies and capabilities are up to standard.
Update Documentation and Policies
To meet cybersecurity and student behaviour obligations, schools need to start by making sure that their documentation and school policies are up to date. The importance of this is particularly relevant in the wake of GDPR and the update of Keeping Children Safe in Education: Statutory guidance for schools and colleges from the 2016 version. Schools now need updated policies that focus on students with Special Education Needs and take into account contextual safeguards.
GDPR has placed obligations on all organisations that hold sensitive data to obtain permission for storage. Schools need to make sure that any online resources (such as Virtual Learning Environments or class websites) ask students for cookie permissions and that you communicate to students and parents your data protection responsibilities and their rights. It is also important that these policies are accessible. That means providing them to pupils in the appropriate language and making sure that they actually cover all of the relevant material.
GDPR requires all organisations that collect data to be able to demonstrate compliance with data protection regulations. This means updating your policies so that you are not only compliant with data protection standards, but have the relevant documentation to demonstrate to the regulator how you have improved data protection and are working to prevent a breach. It is likely that the GDPR has also required your school to appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO). In the event of a breach, you are legally required to inform the regulator. In the UK, this is the ICO (Information Commissioner's Office).
Meeting these requirements can, again, be more easily achieved using outside partners.
Summary: Schools Must Plan for Safety and Positive In-Class Applications Prior to IT Investments
Before investing in technology for use in administration or in the classroom, schools need to face some hard questions about how that technology will be safely and productively used. On a basic level, schools need to make sure that they have the infrastructure needed to support end-user devices, and security protocols in place to protect data and ensure students don’t inappropriately use their access to technology.
For in-class IT deployments, schools have to think about the outcomes they are seeking to achieve. No cohort of children deserves to be the guinea pigs for a poorly thought out change to the classroom. However, changes to curriculum and teaching methodologies are not new, nor are they limited to technology. Teachers and administrators should approach IT with this in mind. What is important is to plan and hold technology to a high standard of success.