Overcoming barriers to digital transformation in the classroom

Originally published in Education Technology

Chris Labrey, MD of Econocom UK & Ireland, explains how as-a-service models can help alleviate issues on the path to digital transformation.

Digital transformation is about using technology across organisations and institutions to streamline processes, make staff more productive and improve the user experience.

In the education sector, it’s about the teachers and the students. It could mean a move to the cloud, or updating school tablets, as well as implementing software and services which aid the day-to-day running of the school.

But, in all cases, it should be about enhancing the learning experience for all students.

Therefore, it’s really encouraging that the government launched a policy paper earlier this year outlining a technology strategy for education. It aims to embed technology within the education system and cut workloads, foster efficiencies and improve educational outcomes for all.

While these are bold ambitions, for digital transformation to be effective for all educational establishments, several factors will need to be taken into consideration.

Addressing the barriers

For example, many educational establishments have slow internet connections and outdated internal networking and devices. In addition, teachers and school leaders often lack the skills and capabilities to take full advantage of the technology and tools available. Also, understanding the privacy, safety and data security issues to ensure students are protected, is a big undertaking.

Businesses will need to ensure that all education providers have access to high-speed internet connectivity, so they can take full advantage of the cloud and the latest technology infrastructure.

The government has committed to support the edtech business sector to supply the technology and essential skills to the education sector in order to achieve these outcomes. But first, businesses will need to ensure that all education providers have access to high-speed internet connectivity, so they can take full advantage of the cloud and the latest technology infrastructure. And teachers will also need training to give them the confidence to use the available technology within their lessons.

That’s not to say that some of this isn’t already taking place. Many teachers already use technology to bring foreign countries alive, visualise the inside of the human body and to make learning more interesting for students. In fact, a report from Smoothwall in 2017 revealed that 96% of teachers think technology has a positive impact on education.

In addition, many organisations are investing significant resources in providing tools and resources to transform the classroom. Googling ‘Microsoft teaching and learning’ reveals a whole host of resources, such as using Minecraft to learn about molecules and Azure dev tools to improve students’ coding skills.

However, many establishments don’t possess the devices to implement such lessons or the funding to purchase them. In fact, in the 2017–2018 period, the Education Policy Institute found that 64% of maintained secondary schools are spending more than they are receiving.

The benefits of the technology are clear, but how can educational establishments make the most of the opportunity without compromising their budget?

Overcoming the barriers

This is where subscription and as-a-service models can prove their worth. This approach not only eases the burden of an upfront investment, but it also allows educational establishments to implement the required technology while smoothing payments to protect their capex budgets. This strategy has many advantages as it relieves the need for up-front investments.

Working within the schools leasing framework ensures that any financing agreement is a fully compliant operating lease which complies with the Department for Education (DfE) guidance.

Also, existing contracts, training requirements, total cost of ownership and security services can be integrated within the payments, easing the complexity of both purchasing and managing the digital technology in an often resource-deprived IT department. For example, Coleg Sir Gar, which provides higher and further education to 11,000 students in South Wales, uses an as-a service model to finance and maintain its large IT estate.

Education technology partners are ideally placed to help schools, colleges and universities with their digital transformation projects. Exposed to the latest technologies from a wide variety of manufacturers, they can assess the needs of each establishment and advise on the best solution to meet their requirements. And working within the schools leasing framework ensures that any financing agreement is a fully compliant operating lease which complies with Department for Education (DfE) guidance.

Moving forward

Technology is a vital component of students’ learning today. Most of them are digital natives, so it makes sense to give them the same technological experiences in the classroom as they have out of it. In addition, their future workplace expects them to be technologically savvy.

There are many examples where establishments have successfully made the digital transformation jump, with students and teachers singing its praises. However, there is also no denying that educational budgets are being squeezed. A subscription or as-a-service model allows establishments to achieve their technological transformation goals to meet the needs of the students, staff and the balance sheet.