• Accelerating the path to digital in schools

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    By Mark Hodges, Education Sector Lead at Cantium Business Solutions

    When it comes to digital transformation, many schools are at different stages of their journeys. At one end of the spectrum, you’ll have schools that have embraced the benefits of technology. They already have robust connectivity in place, high bandwidth broadband and are looking to replace on-premise servers with cloud alternatives. Then at the other end, there are schools that are starting to investigate how advances in technology can help them do things differently, and the potential benefits it could bring for staff and learners.

    It’s easy to feel daunted by the prospect of digital transformation. However, put simply, it’s about making changes and empowering school leaders and teachers to think creatively about how technology can help them make a positive impact to overall student outcomes. This could be anything from incorporating new digital tools into the classroom, to changing the way we assess and track student progress.

    Strategic direction

    It all starts with strategy and understanding the best direction for the school and why. We’re seeing many schools move to the cloud because of the perceived lower costs and enhanced security. The ability to reduce maintenance obligations around hardware and the flexibility it gives to work remotely, are also factors. Although there are certainly productivity and security gains to be made, moving to the cloud does still have a cost. While removing servers might give you that initial saving, in reality, there will be costs to move the data residing on that current server into the cloud, and cloud-based systems come with regular licensing costs too. Schools need to understand the options that are available and make an informed decision about what’s right for them.

    If the cloud is where you’re headed, then your strategy needs to include a plan for change management, rough timescales and a blueprint of how you will communicate and support staff through the changes. Because digital transformation is as much a culture shift as a physical one, communication is a crucial part of the strategy; building a case for change and generating enthusiasm and buy-in. Let’s look at the key areas of consideration.

    People and technology are essential components

    When it comes to your technology strategy, it shouldn’t be a question of starting from scratch. Instead, school leaders should look at their strategic priorities and the needs and wants of their users to develop an overview of the things that need to be achieved. Once this has been established, it’s time to look at the two key elements of digital transformation.

    On one hand, you have the more technical side which looks at selecting the right hardware and cloud migration from on-premise servers into online environments. Then on the other hand, you have user adoption, which focuses on how to encourage and support staff to use new digital tools and get the most out of them.

    Building digital skills amongst staff and teachers is important and for school leaders it’s key to assess the level of digital competency internally. This means identifying experts and digital champions who can provide support to those who need it. The more skills and confidence you can build, the more successful the digital strategy will be. Good school leaders will have a clear vision of the digital path the school must take, and the ability to inspire employees to work towards it.

    There are many ways that schools can ensure they are making the most of digital transformation. One key element is training staff and teachers on how to use new technologies in effective ways. Teachers must be able to integrate technology into their teaching styles to help students learn in new and innovative ways. While administrators need to create an environment where technology can be used effectively across all areas of the school. This includes ensuring that devices and internet access are available when and where they are needed.

    This brings us nicely onto the technical side of digital transformation, with connectivity being an essential starting point. If the cloud is going to be the centre of your operations, then your school will need secure and reliable internet. The Department for Education (DfE) recommends that broadband should be reliable and resilient to faults and typically, the service should be available for 99.9% of the time. Without the right bandwidth and capacity to cope with demand, digital transformation almost falls at the first hurdle, and teachers and key stakeholders will start to lose faith in the process.

    Getting the most out of technology

    Digital transformation can be complex and any move to the cloud needs to be underpinned with the right processes and strong business continuity. Vital processes such as testing, re-testing and user acceptance ensure that school leaders can provide the right tools and environment for teachers and staff to harness technology, and think about how it can help them do things differently. But it isn’t a road schools have to travel alone. Partnering with an experienced IT provider can ensure that any technology solution continues to evolve in line with strategy priorities. Remember, moving to the cloud is a philosophy, not just a cost saving exercise.


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