Back to the classroom - under the hood of tech-powered teaching and learning

(Image credit: Image Credit: Sync)

There has never been a tougher time to work in education. In the face of dwindling budgets, increasing populations, an unknown employment market and heightened competition, it’s no surprise that teachers across the world are looking for new pedagogical approaches to meet increasingly complex needs.

Simply put, the need to teach more skills to more people requires a new delivery method - and this moves education technology from being a “nice to have” luxury, to an all-important necessity. From online learning systems which help deliver a flexible, progressive and student-centred learning approach, to classroom gadgets like iPads and whiteboards which better engage with digitally savvy students, technology in schools is big business.

However, it is not as simple as plugging in new products and immediately reaping the benefits. On one hand, properly integrated, well adopted technology can power better, more effective and more engaging teaching and learning. On the other hand, increased technology use will put strain on a school's underlying infrastructure - meaning that power, storage and capacity challenges are brought to the fore, even for educational institutions.

It is vital to look under the hood of an establishment. Whilst front-end products and services are shaping a new approach to the education, it’s the back end, the infrastructure, which powers it. This means that just like in the commercial world, schools’ focus needs to be firmly on the data centre.

So how do educators get the balance right - and match innovative classroom technology with robust, reliable and future-proof back-end systems?

The potential of smart technology

Technology is moving quickly in all aspects of our daily lives, and for many it’s a race to keep up with what’s available. Where interactive whiteboards were recently the hot technology in learning, we’ve already moved on to interactive flat panels (IFPs) which have become the main focal point at the front of the class, instantly drawing students’ attention and curiosity. Instead of desktops, it’s tablets, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) systems which are now the most crucial part of any classroom reboot.

Harnessing data is one of the most exciting parts of the education technology revolution. Teachers can now use apps to record their lessons, using iPads or smartphones to capture a session, 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.

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.  An immediate reduction in staff resource is promised. Infrastructure 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.

Indeed, the innovations which are transforming education - cloud computing, social media, mobile apps, the “big data” explosion and on-demand services - mean that it’s 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.

Change is around the corner

It is definitely no exaggeration to say that data centres will be at the heart of the technology powered education model as digital transformation becomes increasingly important. As the school system changes and develops to cope with the demands of society today, so must the infrastructure it relies on.

Indeed, the schools and multi school groups (MSGs) that get it right will be able to provide a better, more engaging, and more measurable education provision than those that do not.

Kelly Scott, account director, education, VIRTUS Data Centres
Image Credit: Sync