Education, a new frontier
The world of education is evolving. Books and chalkboards no longer dominate the teacher’s toolkit, nor do students simply sit in the classroom and just listen to the teacher or professor, as they have been doing for decades. Instead, the 21st Century education model requires a different approach and while this will in turn lead to both challenges and new opportunities on a massive scale, it is safe to say that the sector as a whole will never be the same again.
I believe that a key driver behind this change is the rise of digital technology, with online research, collaboration via social media and flexible use of smart devices all on the up and in turn, changing the way in which we acquire knowledge. This is the essence of the learning process and this new found connectivity to the wider online world has led to a more digitally-savvy and knowledgeable younger generation, which knows few other ways to learn, or even communicate, than via a digital connection.
The younger generation is now more connected than ever before and a large majority live their lives online, as such, substandard digital technology and online resources in schools and colleges just won’t cut it any longer. Students want to have access to the same devices and services that they can access at home, whether this is for the purposes of research or discussing and sharing ideas, all daily activities undertaken by the average modern day student.
Educational and technological landscapes
So, as the educational and technological landscapes continue to evolve in line with each other, it becomes increasingly more important for schools and colleges across the globe to embrace these advancements and make them a key focus for future development. This is not only because it will streamline processes within the institution and offer a new way of learning for everyone, but because by not embracing technology within the classroom, they risk students simply upping and leaving for another school where there is indeed ‘connectivity’. Competition like this is already very present in the USA, with Europe not too far behind.
The old way of learning is being flipped on its head (‘flipped learning’), with most basic work now being conducted at home and classes or lectures instead being used for project work, discussion, review and revision. While budgets are perhaps tight in regions suffering from economic difficulties, the educational demand is exploding at an unprecedented speed and I believe, cannot be ignored.
For example, this new technological demand means that a CIO of a University, who may previously have been responsible for ‘just’ 5,000 staff, must now widen his scope and look at the wants and needs of around 25,000 students, who also demand technological support and innovation with their own devices. As a consequence, colleges and universities need to be able to provide comprehensive, corporate-standard IT services and infrastructures for both teaching staff and the many students they serve.
Given the power that technological advancements hold, the education sector must embrace the digital word in order to drive positive change; IT has, and will continue to have, a big impact on future learning.
Nevertheless, as you can imagine, embracing this need for change has a major impact on the provisioning and management of IT services – it isn’t something that can simply be implemented overnight. Education leaders must spend a lot of time and energy to ensure that they successfully embrace this change and maximise its potential.
However, it’s important for the industry to remember that with the rise of professional hosted services, which can securely and reliably host vast amounts of data in the cloud, the key investment in education IT is shifting from in-house IT departments, to buying IT services from technology suppliers who can efficiently enable the integration of education into the wider digital landscape.
This is because often the integration of old legacy-systems, combined with a significant increase in users (students) and the continuous advances in technology, is too much for educational institutions to handle alone, requiring them to reach out to external partners whose expertise and core business is 21st century technology.
A good example of this is the strong influence that giant brands such as Apple, Google, Facebook, but also Microsoft, have in delivering services to students, schools and universities. From a teacher and a student perspective, this supply of innovative services – often free of charge – is of course very welcome. However, from the perspective of the education CIO, integrating and connecting all this different technology and making it work within their infrastructure, can seem like a nightmare. Not to mention the need to integrate it with their legacy computer-systems, where the core-systems of administration are based (CRM, student-files, grades, salaries, tuition-fees, etc.).
I believe that the time when people had to buy a cow to just drink milk is already long behind us – when it comes to education IT, I would say ‘buy the services and not the servers’. It’s time to embrace change, and empower knowledge to support this changing landscape for education.