Sir Ken Robinson is a radical thinker and speaker who is passionate about - what he terms - the Learning Revolution in education. In a recent TED talk he advocates moving from the traditional one size fits all model of teaching and learning to personalised learning – helping each individual student reach their maximum potential.
When you look at the demands placed on our educators of today, you can be forgiven for thinking that there would be a mass exodus from the teaching profession if we started asking educators to create a unique syllabus for each student. However, with the latest technology developments for learning management, available for free with Office 365 Education, and the opportunity to track an individual student’s progress through tools like Microsoft Power BI, teachers can start to tailor their approach to each student, without having to completely rewrite the rulebook.
Whilst technology is undoubtedly playing an increasingly major role in the classroom and has the potential to drive personalisation in learning, starting the process of transformation using technology can be hampered by human factors. An article in The Conversation1 reported that teachers can struggle with technology in several areas including:
- Lack of standardisation in the type of technology used across a school
- A lack of adequate skills to set up and support the technology
- Perceived lack of time to get up to speed with the latest developments
Perhaps most challenging of all is the latter – convincing teachers to embrace technology when they aren’t familiar with it. “Students can become better and more adept at using this technology than staff in a shorter amount of time,” Edunet Managing Director, Matthew Gordon said. “Suddenly, staff can feel out of their depth.”
This is one area where channel partners are crucial to the success of technology adoption. By developing service offerings that include customisation and set up of the technology, as well as teacher training they can remove the burden from schools. In addition, by working closely with vendors, channel partners can give schools the variety of services they may need to be successful. The benefit to the channel partner is that with these services they can build a long- term relationship with those customers thereby increasing lifetime value to their business.
“We work closely with Microsoft to make sure there's an adequate level of training for the staff at the school if they need it,” Gordon said. “For years, Microsoft has done a lot of work with central education bodies in the various states to ensure the right software and solutions are available to both teachers and students, but that is only part of the picture. Channel partners like Edunet are the crucial link to make the technology deliver on its promise”
“Office 365 Education certainly seems like a step in the right direction for schools,” Gordon said. “Take OneNote and Teams, for example, we now have schools that are using OneNote and Teams as a core school learning platform. Their flexibility of the software means that there is plenty of scope for a school to create their own unique configuration, reflecting closely how the school delivers the curriculum and drives learning outcomes.”
A key initiative by Microsoft is to encourage schools to leverage Cloud technology, rather than attempt to manage all of their IT infrastructure internally. Using Cloud services reduces the burden of in-house IT Management for schools and also enhances security for both student and school data giving schools peace of mind.
As well as leveraging Cloud services, Microsoft advocates standardising as much as possible on a single affordable technology platform. Windows 10 devices, for instance are offered at all price points, but even the lower cost devices do not sacrifice capability and can support the delivery of curriculum related to Coding, and inspirational lesson plans via Mixed Reality as standard. Channel partners can further develop their business into these areas with add on products and services. For example, because the Sphero Edu App is available for free within the Windows Store for Education, partners can choose to offer schools STEM kits like Sphero sets with Windows 10 devices helping schools develop their student’s coding skills, even in younger years.
The channel has a major role to play in enabling technology to transform education. It’s never going to be a simple product sell, and most schools are going to be at very different points in the technology adoption curve. At every point in the chain, there is a potential for channel players to add value and support schools as they transform.
Another key part of digital transformation for schools relates to the use of digital pens with tablet devices in the classroom. Schools are starting to recognise that when students handwrite, they retain more information than if theyas evidenced by recent research by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Using a digital pen with Microsoft Ink allows students to write, annotate and draw directly onto documents through their device. This has been wholeheartedly embraced by some schools. But it is also something that needs to be ‘explained’ to them before they do so, according to Gordon.
“Microsoft is light years ahead in this area. We have a number of schools that are enthusiastic about this technology, but to get them to that point, you have to change their perception that a laptop is just a laptop,” Gordon said.
“We need to have that conversation with them that ‘no, it's not just a laptop, it’s also a slate. It can be inked on. It has handwriting recognition.’ Once we’ve explained that, they love it. We've got a school using digital pens in all of its maths classes.
“And because we’ve got those use cases, we are now starting to see other schools catch on. Once you have an early adopter in the education space, then you start to get a lot of followers – it's the good old-fashioned bell curve. Right now, touch and pen input is still huge, which is, for us as a reseller, interesting; we've been able to sell these technologies for about five years and only now are they hitting their stride.”
The other part of the discussion resellers need to have with education clients is around the topic of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). The report in The Conversation, noted that BYOD introduces a host of challenges for schools around the capabilities of the technology. If half the students in a maths class don’t even have a device with touch capabilities, then how can maths class be delivered using Microsoft Ink and digital pen?
Microsoft’s focus on the affordability of Windows 10 devices is helping educators standardise on a single platform and adopt common secure management practises, Gordon said: “We don’t see so much competition from Apple these days, and Microsoft has realigned itself to ensure it provides the most value it can to schools in this area.”
Delivering on the Learning Revolution
If schools can overcome the challenges associated with implementing technology in the classroom, there are substantial gains to be made in student productivity, efficiency, and learning outcomes. Collaborating closely with schools helps channel partners understand their unique pain points and develop the most appropriate services and ensure technology deployments achieve their full potential. Those that will be successful will be channel partners that leverage what is already available to schools through software and services offerings like Microsoft 365 Education to create value added services which deliver recurring revenue streams and profitable long term relationships with school customers.
For more information on the full suite of Microsoft education solutions, and the opportunities it provides the channel,.