The complexity of schools and the systems they run is a problem when we consider digital learning and Edtech tools.
As more schools implement G Suite for Education or Microsoft Classroom, little thought goes into the future maintenance of the systems and how training needs to be implemented into what, ideally, should be a major project that changes the work of many people within the school.
The following rich picture shows some of the wider picture that a school leader would need to take into account when they are looking at their digital learning system.
Interestingly the school featured in the diagram above did not have G Suite (Google Apps for Education), but it should be something every school either considers or have a strategy to update their digital strategy (Microsoft Classroom is a great alternative to this).
The issue is that schools often have legacy or poorly maintained systems. Previously schools might have implemented quick and easy solutions to enable staff and students to access files and work from home, Home Access Plus (HAP+) is just such a system, and although not common within schools it has been implemented by some schools. Any system that offers great functionality without great amounts of development or implementation time may seem like a great solution for senior staff.
Taking HAP+ as a case in point, it has been created by a handful of people (a coordinator and developer are listed on the people page of the codeplex site above, yet the status of the project (it is hosted on CodePlex, which is being shutdown this year for a start). This might explain why the software struggles with mobile devices, which are exactly the platform that people would want to use to access their work. In short: software that seems easy to implement might not be the right solution, and may go out of date quickly (with nobody to contact to help support it). Schools making such decisions may keep using inadequate software for many years, providing a sub-optimal experience for staff and students alike.
Software needs teachers to be involved before they are expected to use it. Few companies (although those that pursue this strategy do exist) would implement software like HAP+ that their organisation depends upon. Crucially work does not take place that takes account of the existing digital landscape in schools. The result of this might be a mess of the type shown below:
A strategy should be looked at for schools to implement both hardware and software solutions to prevent this type of system – where there are two pieces of software (Fronter and HAP+) that teachers did not know the difference between, what they were using or why (or even how to ask help for the system they were using).
A strategy guide for schools to take back control from technologists might be to follow the following guidelines;
- Focus on education
- Analyse needs
- Do research
- Don’t save money in the short term at the expense of the long term
- Ask for help
- Customise if you need to
- Make sure you can integrate your new software and hardware
- Get everyone on-board
The focus on education is, obviously at the heart of everything schools do. However, if schools are led by teachers who see technology as a bolt-on they may well approach software as a simple sticking plaster to fix a problem. Schools should be in a position to plan their technology, especially since training time is very limited within the school term (some schools I have worked at only provide training for technology during September meaning any technology rollout during the school year would be restricted to voluntary training session, which are typically only attended by the most able to use the software in any case.
The advantage of planned rollouts is clear, but schools still struggle to take advantage of them due to lack of foresight from SLT who may not have experience from previous rollouts.