Remember talk of a utopian (or dystopian) future of robot teachers in the classroom? Pythagoras in 3D. Shakespeare with hologram subtitles. Now, mainly thanks to Covid, we’re talking about technology entering the home to support a new and better future of e-learning.
We doff our caps to all the fantastic teachers and school staff, parents and carers, and the young people themselves for persevering with home schooling despite the many challenges of lockdown across all the communities in which we’re rolling out full-fibre broadband.
Like everyone else, headteachers and staff will reflect on the pandemic and the lockdowns in the fullness of time to see what benefits and silver linings can be salvaged. E-learning, or digital learning or online learning, will no doubt emerge as one of them. It was a lifeline during lockdown, creating a seamless and flexible virtual learning experience for teachers and pupils. Videos, slideshows, documents and other dynamic online resources were safely harnessed to actively engage youngsters who had swapped the classrooms for living rooms.
So, as a community-minded technology firm, we wanted to dive into this pool of cutting-edge potential to help discover what the e-learning future holds for our local schools and families.
Reach for the Clouds
Cloud-based technologies were instrumental in the success of home learning from a technical standpoint. Many lessons were able to carry on remotely because schools worked hard to leverage the cloud – which simply means the school’s systems and services are hosted and managed online, rather than physically in the building.
The pandemic served as an awareness raising exercise of the huge number of existing online tools and apps that have been available for years. From setting assignments and sharing resources, to marking work and communicating with pupils and families, educators survived and even thrived in the new digital landscape.
There are obvious cost-saving benefits for schools, although back office systems and online servers still require management, and any concerns over security have long been superseded by the wealth of support and tried-and-tested systems available in the market.
Baby steps and years of convincing senior management to adopt the server-free solution, or a hybrid model, were swept aside in 2020 out of pure necessity. It is almost without question likely to stay.
As you may have read, we donated brand-new Kindle devices to St Andrew’s Primary School in Weeley during lockdown to help “future-proof” education within the community.
“The devices will have far-reaching benefits,” explained headteacher Diane Fawcett, who said the tablets aren’t just to help students achieve top marks during the pandemic but will also play an important role in promoting and sustaining good mental health.
“The demands of working remotely – both the reliance on technology but also the strain on people’s emotional and mental health – are huge.
“These devices (will support) not just the children’s ability to learn remotely but also their interaction with friends and family members, whilst social restrictions remain in place.
“Not having to negotiate the sharing of devices with working parents will enable less pressure on the relationships in our families’ households and improve wellbeing as much as academic achievement.”
Alongside teachers, children and online platforms, there’s a fourth player in the e-learning classroom: the internet. But worryingly, according to Ofcom, over 800,000 families have relied on expensive mobile internet connections instead of a fixed line broadband service.
We must ensure no child is left behind in the e-learning revolution which means everyone must have access to a reliable broadband connection. Whilst many families have just about coped during lockdown, if e-learning is to succeed long term, we can’t have teachers buffering, apps crashing and children having to wait for documents and resources to download. So, what can we do?
Well, we’re playing our part in the East of England to help futureproof education by building full-fibre networks to replace the outdated ‘Superfast’ copper based broadband infrastructure which has reached its life expectancy. With almost limitless speeds and reliability, full-fibre broadband will be the foundation of e-learning for the years ahead.
Tech start-ups and innovation
While nothing can replace physical learning by professionals in the classroom, including teaching assistants, it would surely be foolhardy for schools to banish everything – or fail to capitalise on anything – that was good about e-learning and home schooling.
But clearly the system, still in its embryonic stages, isn’t perfect and bespoke support is needed. A survey by the National Union of Students found 38% of respondents were unhappy with the quality of their online learning provisions. Around 1 in 4 (27%) experienced inadequate access to academic resources online.
But help is at hand. Online education platforms – the likes of Coursera, 2U, Udacity and FutureLearn – are adapting their business models to link up with colleges and universities and there’s no reason why they can’t help schools of all shapes and sizes.
These are significant investments, including the creation of content and training to deliver it, but if even if just one student reaps the rewards during or post-Covid (or other future global health pandemics), then surely it’ll be worth it.