Kelly Scott, account director, education, for VIRTUS Data Centres explores how smart technology could be the key to breeding better learners (and teachers) and examines the crucial part the data centre has to play.
Last year, Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, challenged the technology industry to propel a digital revolution for schools, colleges and universities, buoyed by evidence that, in some schools, state-of-the-art technology is revolutionising teaching and learning.
Some are using video capabilities, with Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), children can now take virtual trips to the bottom of the ocean, talk to their peers all over the world and even build and control robots.
At the same time, automated systems have the potential to slash the time teachers are spending on burdensome administrative tasks, freeing up their capacity for more rewarding tasks.
However, only a minority of schools and colleges are currently taking full advantage of the opportunities that technology promises and experts agree that educators are lagging behind commercial organisations in their digital capabilities.
Perhaps this is because it is not as simple as plugging in new products and immediately reaping the benefits.
Properly integrated, well adopted technology can power better, more effective and more engaging teaching and learning.
However, increased technology use will put strain on a school's underlying infrastructure – meaning that power, storage and capacity challenges are brought to the fore.
Whilst front-end products and services are shaping a new approach to the education, it’s the back end that powers it. This means that just like in the commercial world, schools’ focus needs to be firmly on the data centre.
The potential of smart technology
As ever, technology is moving quickly – where interactive whiteboards were recently the hot technology in learning, we’ve already moved onto interactive flat panels (IFPs), which have become the main focal point at the front of the class, instantly drawing students’ attention and curiosity.
Beyond the gadgets, harnessing data is one of the most exciting parts of the education technology revolution.
Teachers can now use apps to record their lessons, helping them to review their performance and improve aspects of their teaching accordingly.
This type of app feeds into the data centre, where data is processed and sent back as useful information to be analysed.
Teachers can see how often they’re talking (and for how long), review the engagement rate of their class – even see how many questions are asked or answered in a single session.
This enables staff to look closely at their effectiveness, what’s working and what could be improved – empowering them to develop a teaching style which they know will meet the requirements of their students.
And it doesn’t stop there. Mirroring the use of data in the commercial world, we now see more sophisticated adoption of performance analytics in education.
Used in the correct way, data can help educators understand students’ learning behaviours and where they’re excelling, struggling or coasting. Harnessing data allows teachers to personalise learning journeys and demonstrate added value.
Consequently, we see some educators fundamentally re-evaluating the way that they measure progress.
Instead of standardised tests which measure the ability to absorb and regurgitate rote materials, ongoing assessment – which is powered by digital technology – has the ability to appraise in a much more nuanced way.
Teachers can now review research skills, applied knowledge, measure learning gained and prioritise practical ability – all of which are vital in paving the way for employment and beyond.
The data centre at the heart of the smart classroom
Being able to store data effectively, and being able to access and interpret it as meaningful actionable information, is vitally important to educators across the board and will give huge advantage to the institutions that do it well.
On the flip side, the implications of not getting it right are significant. Failures in the network could result in school systems being shut down, and huge disruption to students and teachers alike.
This means that it’s absolutely crucial that schools have the right infrastructure in place to support the demands of technology powered education.
Lots of connectivity, storage and computing power is required – and all of this is facilitated by the data centre.
Changes to the UK’s school system sees this issue becoming more important than ever.
More and more schools are becoming multi academy trusts (MATs), and seeking to capitalise on one of the well-publicised benefits of this move: economies of scale in their IT infrastructure where it can be standardised and used across a number of schools, with centrally managed security policies.
Even if individual schools have different requirements, virtualised servers can provide the platform across which these separate needs are met, reducing the amount of equipment required and the support time needed – and ultimately, reducing costs.
Indeed, the move to becoming part of a MAT is an ideal time for schools to consider how they operate and what equipment and connectivity they need. For many, it might also be the right time to bring data centre outsourcing and colocation into the mix.
The innovations that are transforming education – cloud computing, social media, mobile apps, the “big data” explosion and on-demand services – mean that it’s no longer viable for schools or multi school groups to build and run their own data centres.
Outsourcing to a third party provides the best protection against increasing data centre complexity, cost and risk.
Perhaps most crucially, this model addresses reliability concerns and security (vital in this industry where data is ultra-sensitive and needs to be completely protected).
With an expert team working around the clock, data is processed with great efficiency, better security and ultra-reliable performance. If disaster does strike – it’s these companies’ business to get you up and running again as quickly as possible.
Technology certainly has the power to fundamentally change education for the better in the same way it has every other aspect of our lives.
If they aren’t already, in the near future data centres will be at the heart of the technology powered education model – and it is becoming increasingly important as the school system changes and develops.
The education establishments that get it right will be able to provide a better, more engaging, and more measurable education provision than those that do not.