Digital classrooms: Innovate to succeed

Forty-nine per cent of educators believe there will be significant changes to the way they teach in the foreseeable future. TIM MARTIN looks at the influence of newer classroom technologies and assesses which back office innovations hold the key to transforming workload efficiencies for SBMs

For SBMs faced with finding better solutions to financial and administrative decision-making in the back of office, as well as supporting teachers and whole school improvement through classroom procurement – being able to take stock of new technologies is a must. It’s also something of a daunting prospect to attempt to identify those technologies which will make a significant impact on school life – especially when they all seem to promise the earth. Case in point, if you’ve ever attended Bett or any other ICT extravaganza, the feeling of being overwhelmed by gadgets and devices of every shape and size will be a familiar one. There are also the anecdotal stories of schools investing in new software only for teachers to confess that they’re unsure of how to use it.

Classroom creations

Despite this, there’s plenty of reason for optimism – after all, advances in technology are designed to make our lives easier. In the classroom context 3D printing, for example, has long been associated with inspiring creativity and motivating pupils, not to mention refining STEM skills. “The 3D printing process covers a number of subjects from the arts to the sciences – from understanding how the machinery works, to scanning in 3D, designing or personalising 3D printable files and assembling components,” says Simon Shen, CEO of XYZ printing.

Positive changes in the future, Simon suggests, will include barriers to access, such as user confidence and accessibility becoming less and less of an issue. “With the technology becoming increasingly more affordable and manufacturers focusing their efforts on userfriendliness, it won’t be long before 3D printing forms a regular part of the day-to-day school curriculum.” The immersive learning market is also attempting to gain a greater foothold in that day-to-day curriculum, playing a developing role in the classroom, if not yet adopted uniformly by schools.

“Lately we’ve been working on showing schools how both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) can be used in conjunction with the traditional front-of-class display,” says Janice Prandstatter, teaching and learning consultant at Promethean. She also emphasises that the implementation of new technologies must always be of value to pupils and sheds light on how best to achieve this. “To create a modern classroom there needs to be a good balance between technology, pedagogy and the space available. One of the best ways to evaluate the impact of technologies is to seek peer advice. Visit schools which are already using the edtech you are interested in and observe lessons in action.”

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Intelligence – but not as we know it

Stepping back from classroom innovation and casting an eye over the back office landscape, artificial intelligence (AI) has been much talked about in the business world as a concept that could soon improve financial performance, allowing information to not only be produced more quickly but also saving time for those with budgeting responsibilities.

“The last 25 years of tech have been a necessary preamble to the real software revolution. Redefining entire sectors is what’s happening now and, with AI and robotics turning machines into humans, where we go from here is going to get even more interesting for businesses of all sizes,” says Gary Turner, managing director of Xero.

Peter Melville, CFO at South West Essex Community Education Trust, says that some aspects of school business management are already moving in the AI direction. “If you look at budget monitoring, for example, good systems now identify variances for you and highlight areas of your budget that you might wish to prioritise. That said, there might be some tasks that you just don’t want to replace with AI. For example, you need a human on data projections because that person will understand the reasons or variables involved in why the data or calculation has provided a particular result.”

This note of caution suggests that the idea of AI leading to a new era of streamlined back office technology is not without complications – so, are there any signs that new initiatives are beginning to create such an era? Gary says that some cloud accountancy software has already started to make invoicing more efficient than ever. “These offer a ‘pay now’ button on online invoices which means you can send customers invoices online with the option of getting paid instantly. As more businesses move their traditional accounting processes to the cloud, more employees are able to check, sign, approve and facilitate payments from different locations, giving greater freedom to finance managers.”

Peter suggests the future of back office school systems will continue to be influenced by pooling data streams, something he continues to priotise at his trust. “You can get an excellent picture of how your school is performing by using this strategy. So, for example, you might want to look at student outcomes, attendance information and behaviour reports and then have a holistic view of which areas are in need of reform.”

This is an abstract of an article that appeared in the May issue of Education Executive. Read the full article here and explore the digital future of our classrooms.

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