Why are so many schools switching to cloud-based tech right now?

blank Maddie Kilminster - 22 October, 2020

Category : Blog

Why are so many schools switching to cloud-based tech right now?

We spoke to Educational Consultant David Hughes about why such a large wave of schools have started moving to cloud-based tech in recent years (approx. 1,700 have switched to a cloud-based MIS since 2017).  David Hughes is the author of “Future-Proof your School” and “Re-examining Success”, as well as the popular blog “Learning Renaissance’” He

We spoke to Educational Consultant David Hughes about why such a large wave of schools have started moving to cloud-based tech in recent years (approx. 1,700 have switched to a cloud-based MIS since 2017). 

David Hughes is the author of “Future-Proof your School” and “Re-examining Success”, as well as the popular blog “Learning Renaissance’” He has over 40 years of experience in schools and Education Technology, with particular expertise in change management, professional development and flexible learning. 

Read below for David’s advice for how schools can make sure large-scale technology changes support learning in a sustainable way.

 

Why are so many schools switching to cloud-based tech right now? 

The challenges of running a school remotely during Covid-19 have accelerated the cloud-based revolution – but this is a trend that was already well established. 

There are two main drivers: 

1. Economies of scale
2. School improvement

 

Schools now recognise that they can save money using cloud-based solutions, which place the technical support burden on the vendor, meaning schools no longer have to maintain costly servers on site. In times of stretched budgets, this is enough to encourage many schools to switch. 

However, there are also deeper educational motivations at play. Although the first generation of EdTech products greatly improved the productivity of collecting, collating and presenting information, schools are rightly now demanding more intuitive and granular information. 

For example, schools recognise that their Management Information System (MIS), not only saves time for office staff, can actually drive iterative school improvement. Where previous systems merely showed the “what”, they can now use their MIS to ask deeper “why” questions. They can use their own data to experiment and collaborate in the search for better learning outcomes for students and more effective professional development for staff across the school. 

 

Why have schools been reluctant until recent years to change their tech? 

I think a lot of this comes down to negative past experiences with technology roll-outs. Schools often didn’t realise that a technology change isn’t just about installing a system and teaching staff what the buttons do – it requires a cultural change and a behavioural adjustment for teachers. 

I’ve seen many companies who are too keen to make a sale and let schools skimp on training or rush through the implementation. This always leaves teachers exasperated that as well as their normal teaching load, they now have to incorporate a confusing new technology. 

Instead, good technology providers take the time to demonstrate how they can drive up standards across the school, either by saving time, enabling better collaboration, improving teaching practice, or shining a light on successful strategies. Ultimately, schools and vendors need to be critical friends and share a vision centred around educational outcomes. 

 

What should companies do to help? 

Companies need to realise that there’s no point in building a great piece of tech unless it’s totally aligned with the needs of your customers. Too often, companies are at risk of letting the “tail wag the dog” – making decisions based on what’s possible, rather than what’s needed. 

One aspect of Arbor’s offering that greatly impressed me was the number of experienced former Teachers and Senior Leaders in the company. Hiring and consulting with Educators means companies understand their users’ context and can be more responsive to development needs in a timely and iterative way. 

 

How can schools ensure new systems have a long-term positive impact? 

Having flexible, cloud-based systems is now a necessary condition for driving school improvement, but it’s far from the only thing you can do. There are a number of other dimensions that need to be addressed if technologies are to support learning in a sustainable way. 

The most critical aspect, which is often least addressed, is to do with the dominant school culture, or “the way we do things in this school”. This will decide where, when, how and why change is initiated or stalled. School culture comes down to more than leadership – it’s a commonwealth of perspectives which drive behaviours in the school. 

School Leaders should engage the whole school in change right from the start – this means involving people in the preliminary discussions, not just when unveiling the final plan. Leaders should also be clear about their  goals, whether short or long-term (e.g. maximising exam performance in a particular year, versus a longer-term transformation). 

Having worked in and with both high-achieving and struggling schools, a common theme that shocks me every time is that senior leadership teams often don’t think to audit what skills and experience staff have at the outset of a project. Change is done to rather than with them. This management-centred perspective limits the scope, success and sustainability of change. 

With simple tools, such as a survey of “can do” statements, School Leaders can generate a complete picture of the skill level across the whole school before starting an initiative. Staff who consistently score highly become the “champions” of the project, developing materials and processes which other staff can then adapt to suit their own needs in the classroom. 

 

What positives can schools take from the Covid-19 crisis and build into their strategies going forwards? 

Covid-19 has (understandably) forced schools to be far more reactive in their approach. There is much talk of the “new normal” which, in my view, is extremely premature. The current situation is not normal, it is transitional. 

There is some truly transformational potential in determining not to go back to the “old normal” and instead exploring how the disruption of the pandemic has changed the way staff and students have shown they can learn. For example, both students and staff have found new ways of working in the disruption, and students have, to an extent, become independent and autonomous learners. 

Here are a few ideas for how we could be more ambitious going forwards:

  • What if school lesson time was devoted to higher level explorations of a particular topic, with some preliminary materials and exercises before the lesson, plus some extension materials after it, for those motivated to develop their understanding in greater depth? 
  • What if there were accredited artistic, linguistic, cultural and STEM activities online so that the curriculum could be more balanced and cater for choice, interest and consolidation? 
  • What if there was some element of choice for students in negotiating curriculum pathways? 
  • What if we used online resources to better inform students about the impact of their choices in their studies on their preferred career destination? 

 

This blog post references materials developed in the books “Future Proof Your School” and “Re-Examining Success”, as well as the Learning Renaissance blog by David Hughes, which schools are welcome to incorporate into their staff CPD library.

 

To find out more about how Arbor MIS could transform the way you work, get in touch on tellmemore@arbor-education.com, arrange a demo or join a free webinar. 

Leave a Reply