Amanda Defreitas, Head of IT at SIPS Education, examines the changing role of software in schools and what lessons IT and education professionals have learned from the last 12 months
There’s no denying the growth of virtual learning that has been sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The use of technology and software in schools is the most obvious example of pandemic-accelerated change; while tech has always been there in education, for most schools it had previously played more of a supplementary role. Post pandemic, it’s become a more integral part of day-to-day learning.
So what lessons have we learned – both good and bad?
While it’s fantastic to mobilise a whole new way of learning almost overnight, there are lessons to be learned; one of the biggest challenges was getting equipment parachuted into pupils’ homes (as well as teachers and our own staff) – in the last lockdown at the start of 2021, we configured almost 2,000 laptops and tablets to equip pupils for home schooling.1
Online teaching is widening the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students, because having access to a laptop is essential for this mode of learning.
In addition, there’s the negative impact on pupils’ well-being and ability to socialise to take into consideration; while it suits some children’s method of study to be away from the classroom, for many it can simply exacerbate their feelings of being socially isolated.
It’s far too easy to assume that every teacher automatically embraced online learning when it was thrust upon them last Spring.
We’ve worked closely with our schools to offer more cloud solutions for a smoother and less stressful experience for everyone concerned, and we’ve been able to remotely fix many problems by virtually jumping onto a teacher’s laptop and sorting the issue there and then.
Another key pain point for schools and colleges – and a lesson many need to learn – is around their data. With the acceleration in the use of virtual learning comes the increasing use of online documents – be that coursework, musical scores etc.
With more cyber-attacks on systems and still the doomsday scenario of a flood, fire or asbestos leak closing a school, it’s vital that headteachers have security and policies in place to protect their IT infrastructure and data. Looking more to cloud solutions to back-up data – or risk losing it overnight if it’s only held on site.
SIPS IT offers support for schools to identify any vulnerabilities and to help them put in place working practices, systems and policies to mitigate as much as possible cyber threats. We have also introduced a full Admin & Curriculum back-up service to the cloud.
One of the SIPS services most impacted by the pandemic has been Music & Arts; delivering music tuition presented its own challenges and risks, and the need for adaptation; close proximity is desirable, and wind instruments can create ‘aerosol’ emissions. Although the preference is for face-to-face lessons, virtual learning became the new normal, with software playing a key role to deliver it remotely.
OneDrive has been our best friend, with Microsoft Forms a huge help when it comes to permission forms and the like – both for pupils and teachers, it’s removed the need to carry around reams of paperwork, or lose vital pieces of information stuffed into the pockets of instrument cases. We’ll never look back!
Software and resources such as our online music hub have also removed barriers such as peripatetic music teachers struggling to get onto a school’s Wi-Fi.
Another fantastic innovation that’s been precipitated by the pandemic is in terms of our music transition events for pupils moving from Year 6 to 7.
We’ve previously tried hosting these in one location, but numbers or scheduling has always been a problem – getting all the heads of music into one room is never easy. Now, by holding them online, we have over 85% signed up to attend.
While there are dozens of positives and pandemic lessons we’ve learned at SIPS over the last 12 months, perhaps the most important one is this; when it comes to IT, software and virtual learning, there will always be the need for the human, face to face element. However good our systems, there’s no (current) replacement for it… and long may that remain.