The immediate future of school education is definitely uncertain. But what is certain is that schools and trusts have had to rapidly respond to new challenges in order to continue delivering teaching and learning. For many, this has involved deploying technologies, processes and procedures at an accelerated rate to facilitate as consistent a home learning experience as possible for all students. Ostensibly, fuelled by government-funded support to deploy free tools like Microsoft 365 for Education and G Suite for Education made available as part of the COVID-19 response, this includes digital learning platforms, or virtual learning environments (VLEs).
Selecting and deploying a new piece of software to power teaching and learning in your organisation is one thing, ensuring that you have the correct processes in place to deliver them is quite another.
There can be additional complexities for multi-academy trusts and their member schools, who may be at varying stages on their centralisation or standardisation journey, which can add obstacles to deployment.
With that in mind, here are 4 things that educational establishments and particularly MATs should consider when deploying and maximising the effectiveness of a digital learning platform.
Having a digital learning platform up and running and powering learning is unfortunately not as simple as picking a platform and flipping a switch. Your institution may have years and years of learning resources, and even if they are electronic, they may not necessarily translate directly or be suitable for your chosen platform. Curating the correct resources to be distributed and ensuring they are stored in the correct place and can be found easily takes a lot of time and effort. Someone needs to take ownership of this exercise on an ongoing basis, to ensure that the consistency of quality of the learning materials on the platform is there.
Procedure and process
Related to the curation of consistent, quality resources is establishing effective processes for running your digital learning platform. If a teacher or teaching assistant is uploading their own resources to a platform, is someone sense checking this for them? In order to ensure consistency and quality, there should be a process in place where resources can be easily uploaded by educators from home, but can be sense checked to ensure there are no errors and that they are usable. It’s easy to imagine that a teacher might set a piece of work only to discover days later that a question was wrong or the student wasn’t able to access it. Not only do resources need to be collated and checked, but the platform needs to be continuously monitored and measured to ensure that you are getting the most out of it. Again, it should be part of someone’s role to take ownership of the ongoing maintenance and facilitation of the platform, ensuring that it is being used effectively and efficiently by the entire user base.
It’s important to consider the experience that staff and students have with digital learning platforms. Your staff may have never used one before or have been trained on a different one to your chosen platform. Students, having to adapt to learning from home, will have to adapt too. Another consideration is parents – many parents are having to take ownership and guide their child or children’s learning from home. To ensure a high level of user adoption, you should ensure that appropriate support is given to everyone using the platform so they can get the most out of it. Where face-to-face training sessions aren’t possible, you might consider how best to use online resources to guide staff, students and parents on how to navigate and use the platform. The usage and overall success of the platform should be closely monitored, and measures put in place to increase or improve usage where necessary.
Centralising and standardising
Different MATs may afford their member schools varying levels of autonomy. To this end, some schools might already have been using a digital learning platform for a considerable period of time. It’s important to consider the potential opportunities for standardising across the trust. If a member school can be the platform champion and lead by example, there is an opportunity to federate in other schools to use the same platform to deliver learning to their students. If schools are yet to deploy the platforms, again it’s vital to consider the benefits of centralising the approach and investing in a trust-wide deployment. This ensures that you’ll be able to deliver a consistent experience in all schools, which is useful for setting and enforcing processes, as well as ensuring that students have a seamless journey if they move around the trust – such as the transition from primary to secondary.