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Digital Transformation in Education: A Window of Opportunity Post-Covid

Returning to normal?

During the last 12 months, teachers and students in our region have rapidly developed their digital skills, especially with cloud technology work-based platforms.

Before the pandemic, it was a challenge to make teachers and schools aware of these innovative technologies. As schools and colleges return to ‘normal,’ the challenge now is for the technologies to be embedded and developed so that their true potential is realised. We have a window of opportunity to capitalise on the upskilling of leaders, teachers and students.

It is likely that many educational settings will regress to ‘the way it was’ before lockdown. Some digital technologies will be used to substitute for inefficient practices e.g. cloud storage for files and virtual parent evenings. However it seems that the true transformative powers of digital technology have not been fully realised by the education system.

A missed opportunity?

“Technology has been absorbed into a great deal of industries, but education has been much slower to change.” Emiliana Vegas, chief of the Education Division, Inter-American Development Bank, The Future of Learning Report 2021.
The SAMR Model

The SAMR model is a useful guide to technology adoption within an educational setting. The model is not necessarily a linear process moving from one stage to another; different practices within an organisation can be at different stages. Although the substitution stage may be sufficient for some practices, there are opportunities for others to be transformed when they reach the modification and redefinition stages.

While the adoption of new technologies has been an impressive effort by most schools, colleges and universities over the last year, it seems that many adoptions were firmly in the substitution stage, with some augmentation as teachers got comfortable with the technology.

As our schools, colleges and universities return to ‘normal’ it is likely that many will stay in the enhancement half of the model and even reduce their digital use. It may be the case that many educational leaders do not know the potential of technology and so are unaware of the power it has to redefine practice. Returning to ‘normal’ will be a missed opportunity for our education systems and ultimately our region if digital skills are left to stagnate.

Why digital transformation?

“If you gave teachers opportunities to build lessons, some online, some physically, some through VR, some through augmented reality, and found a way to let them infuse those technologies with that genius and desire to help young minds grow, you would explode people’s learning journeys.” -- Mark Adams, VICE

Building on the foundations of technology adoption last year could yield huge benefits for school and college productivity, budgets and workload. Most importantly, a proactive approach to digital transformation will benefit our learners, their futures and the future of our regions. As the digital sector in the UK continues to grow, the requirement of digital skills will be needed in all sectors.

The progress of our country depends on an education system that forms confident digital citizens, who not only consume technology but utilise and create it. Allowing technology to transform education meaningfully, in a similar way that it has industry, could ensure that our learners are ready to ‘hit the ground running’ once they enter the workforce.

How can education settings enable digital transformation?

The recent Future of the Classroom report from Google for Education proposed eight ways digital technologies could be embedded into the learner experience:

  • Digital responsibility

  • Life skills and workforce preparation

  • Computational thinking (problem-solving)

  • Student-led learning

  • Collaborative classrooms

  • Connecting guardians and schools

  • Innovating pedagogy

  • Emerging technology

In a similar way to careers education, digital transformation will only occur when it permeates the full curriculum and systems of a school. The eight ways above are an example of how this could be done.

A window of opportunity

Right now schools and colleges are mainly focused on meeting new assessment requirements put in place for level 1-3 courses. When assessments are out of the way, many of our educational institutions will be returning to how they were operating previously, come September. This is when a window of opportunity opens to review technological use during lockdown. It is a concern that many will not do this.

Based on models from innovative schools in the UK and beyond, a new vision for digital education could be created. Some innovative schools and colleges have created a new role of digital education lead who can build on the successes of online education during lockdown. This role could be similar to the model of careers’ lead. This would be a great starting point for many schools and colleges.

In order to push forward, a set of digital benchmarks with supporting resources, training and coaching could benefit many schools and provide a vision for digital transformation in their setting. These benchmarks could be modelled on the Future of the Classroom report referenced above.

I believe this is an opportunity that cannot be missed. It is an opportunity that connects with many of the efforts already being carried out in organisations such as LEPs all around the country. A coordinated approach with education, industry and technology providers is needed now. If not now, then the window of opportunity will be missed.

Dan Fitzpatrick, headshot

Dan Fitzpatrick is a secondary school senior leader for digital transformation and careers education. He also has various experience in education and industry as a consultant, trainer and coach. Dan is a director at Edufuturists, the hosts of the popular podcast and annual awards by the same name.


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