Teachers around the world have stated looking for new pedagogical approaches to bring into the classroom.
There has never been a tougher time to work in education. In the face of dwindling budgets, increasing populations, an unknown employment market and heightened competition, it is no surprise that teachers across the world are looking for new pedagogical approaches to meet increasingly complex needs.
Technology certainly has the power to fundamentally change education for the better in the same way as it has done in other aspects of our lives. Last year, to encourage the speed of progress, UK Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, challenged the technology industry to propel a digital revolution for schools, colleges and universities – buoyed by evidence that, in some schools, state-of-the-art technology is revolutionising teaching and learning.
It is clear that the need to teach more skills to more people requires a new delivery method, and technology in education is a big business. This, then, moves education technology from being a ‘nice to have’ luxury, to an all-important necessity, from online learning systems which help deliver a flexible, progressive and student-centred learning approach, to classroom gadgets like iPads and whiteboards which better engage with digitally savvy students.
Taking advantage of opportunities
However, to date, only a minority of schools and colleges are currently taking full advantage of the opportunities that technology promises. In addition to this, experts agree that educators are lagging behind commercial organisations in terms of their digital capabilities.
Perhaps it is because it is not as simple as plugging in new products and immediately reaping the benefits. On one hand, properly integrated, well adopted technology can power better, more effective and more engaging teaching and learning. On the other, increased technology use will put a strain on a school’s underlying infrastructure, meaning that power, storage and capacity challenges are brought to the fore, even for educational institutions.
To make the infrastructure work well, it is vital to look under the hood of an establishment. While front-end products and services are shaping a new approach to education, it is the back end that powers it. This means that, just like in the commercial world, schools’ focus needs to be firmly on the data centre. This therefore creates the question of ‘how do educators get the balance right and match innovative classroom technology with robust, reliable and future-proof back-end systems?’
The potential of smart technology
As ever, technology is moving quickly and, for many, it is a race to keep up with what is available. Where interactive whiteboards were recently the hot technology in learning, we have already moved on to interactive flat panels (IFPs) which have become the main focal point at the front of the classroom, instantly drawing students’ attention and curiosity. Instead of desktops, it is tablets, Virtual Reality (VR) systems, and Augmented Reality (AR) systems which are now the most crucial part of any classroom re-boot. Using these new technologies, children can now take virtual trips to the bottom of the ocean, talk to their peers all over the world, and even build and control robots. At the same time, automated systems have the potential to reduce the time teachers are spending on burdensome administrative tasks, freeing up their capacity for more rewarding tasks.
Beyond the gadgets, harnessing data is one of the most exciting parts of the education technology revolution. Teachers can now use apps to record their lessons, using iPads or smartphones to capture a session, helping them to review their performance and improve aspects of their teaching accordingly. This type of app feeds into the data centre, where data is processed and sent back as useful information to be analysed. Teachers can see how often they are talking, and for how long, review the engagement rate of their class; even see how many questions are asked or answered in a single session. This enables staff to look closely at their effectiveness, what is working, and what could be improved, empowering them to develop a teaching style which they know will meet the requirements of their students.
And it doesn’t stop there. Mirroring the use of data in the commercial world, we now see more sophisticated adoption of performance analytics in education. Used in the correct way, data can help educators understand students’ learning behaviours and where they are excelling, struggling, or coasting. Harnessing data allows teachers to personalise learning journeys and demonstrate added value.
Because of this, we see some educators fundamentally re-evaluating the way that they measure progress. Instead of standardised tests which measure the ability to absorb and regurgitate rote materials, ongoing assessment, which is powered by digital technology, has the ability to appraise in a much more nuanced way. Teachers can now review research skills, applied knowledge, measure learning gain and prioritise and practical ability, all of which are vital in paving the way for employment and beyond.
The data centre at the heart of the smart classroom
Being able to store data effectively and being able to access and interpret it as meaningful actionable information, is vitally important to educators across the board and will give huge advantage to the institutions that do it well. On the flip side, the implications of not getting it right are significant. Failures in the network could result in school systems being shut down, and huge disruption to students and teachers alike.
This means that it is absolutely crucial that schools have the right infrastructure in place to support the demands of technology-powered education. Lots of connectivity, storage and computing power is required and all of this is facilitated by the data centre.
The quest to get technology right doesn’t begin with purchasing iPads, VR headsets, or even institution-wide software products. Instead, schools must evaluate what equipment they want, and therefore what connectivity they need.
Changes to the UK’s school system sees this issue becoming more important than ever. More and more schools are becoming multi academy trusts (MATs) and are seeking to capitalise on one of the well-publicised benefits of this move: economies of scale in their IT infrastructure. An immediate reduction in staff resource is promised. Infrastructure can be standardised and used across a number of schools, with centrally managed security policies. Even if individual schools have different requirements, virtualised servers can provide the platform across which these separate needs are met, reducing the amount of equipment required and the support time needed, ultimately reducing costs.
Indeed, the move to becoming part of a MAT is an ideal time for schools to consider how they operate and what equipment and connectivity they need. For many, it might also be the right time to bring data centre outsourcing and colocation into the mix.
The innovations that are transforming education, such as cloud computing, social media, mobile apps, the ‘Big Data’ explosion and on-demand services, mean that it is no longer viable for schools or multi-school groups to build and run their own data centres. Outsourcing to a third party provides the best protection against increasing data centre complexity, cost, and risk.
Perhaps most crucially, this model addresses reliability concerns and security (vital in this industry where data is ultra-sensitive and needs to be completely protected). With an expert team working around the clock, data is processed with great efficiency, better security, and ultra-reliable performance. If disaster does strike, it is these companies’ business to get you up and running again as quickly as possible.
It is definitely no exaggeration to say that data centres will be at the heart of the technology powered education model as digital transformation becomes increasingly important. As the school system changes and develops to cope with the demands of society today, so must the infrastructure it relies on.
Indeed, the schools and MSGs that get it right will be able to provide a better, more engaging, and more measurable education provision than those that do not.
Account Director, Education
VIRTUS Data Centres