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The new digital strategy: is it what we're looking for?

Rachel Matthews, Director, International Communications at Instructure talks about the new digital strategy, and what it means for schools

Posted by Charley Rogers | January 18, 2018 | Technology

Despite a surge of enthusiasm for classroom technology, there is a lack of coherent UK-wide digital strategy for educators in the UK. The Department of Media, Culture and Sports UK Digital Strategy (2017) contains a section on digital skills embedded in education, and the Building Our Industrial Strategy green paper (2017) includes a section that highlights the important role technical education can play in improving UK productivity. However, guidance isn’t unified, and teachers often report a lack of independent information to help them when procuring classroom technology.

Without a focused digital strategy, schools are more likely to face fragmentation, lack of adoption and even negative learning outcomes. So, last summer, Instructure lobbied for Government intervention.

Our extensive consultations with UK schools and industry experts were aimed at identifying ways to ensure that digital tools deliver a better experience for teachers and students, and outline what guidance is required from Government. And policymakers have listened. At Bett next week, we expect the Department for Education to announce that it's now working towards a strategy; although, of course, with a new Secretary of State, even this step forward isn’t guaranteed.

Debating the issue

In preparation for this announcement, we gathered a group of teachers, school leaders and industry commentators to talk about what this strategy may mean to them – and whether it will help them to make the most of technology in their schools.

Industry heavyweights, such as Reform and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Education, as well as primary and secondary education teachers and leaders met today at a Instructure-led roundtable, to take a closer look at what is required from a UK-wide digital strategy for the education industry.

A number of key areas where guidance is urgently needed were identified; the thorny issue of procurement leading the way, where a muddled, inefficient and even frightening process was a significant barrier to tech adoption. The group looked to other territories, like Scotland, where  a more formal procurement framework, APUC, has streamlined the process. Other areas of need included dealing with legacy systems and equipment, a closer look at how to measure the ROI of technology - and the need for adequate training to ensure adoption.

Now is the right time for a strategy. A new Government, a new Secretary of State, and the European Union Withdrawal Bill, one of the largest legislative processes ever undertaken, provide impetus for policy review and revision.

The discussion also asserted that now is the right time for a strategy. A new Government, a new Secretary of State, and the European Union Withdrawal Bill, one of the largest legislative processes ever undertaken, provide impetus for policy review and revision. Funding cuts are widely reported, and together with teacher shortages, this means that many do believe that industry is at 'crisis' point.

A grassroots approach 

However, some of the educators we spoke to are wary of Government edicts which remove choice for educators. Guidance, they say, should be exactly that: advisory services to help promote technology usage. Mandates from above are less welcome.

Indeed, while there is significant impetus on Government to formalise a digital strategy for educators, there is also widespread feeling within the industry that technology adoption will still be driven by grassroots movements from teachers and students themselves, and that any strategy should be devised by speaking to the right people; the educators at the forefront of delivering teaching.

The DfE engaging with the grassroots will empower educators to drive change, providing legitimacy for digital-first teaching strategies and delivering guidance through procurement, implementation and adoption.

What’s next?

Ultimately, our consultations and this morning’s roundtable have confirmed that the industry welcomes more Government guidance – with the proviso that strategy is determined by consulting teachers and learners on the ground. And there is a feeling that, to date, the DfE and other authorities aren’t engaging with the right people. Strategies which are formed only by consulting with the digitally engaged will never help convert the tech naysayers or the fearful: those who need the strategy the most.

Of course, we all know that collaboration isn’t always greeted with open arms. Educators who have had success working in isolation may view this process as an invasion of their pedagogy. And in a time-poor industry where opportunities to interact with other schools are rare, making collaboration happen is difficult, so we know that there is a significant challenge to change the status quo and encourage better and more democratic collaboration.

At Instructure, we hope this is the start of the debate, and that we can encourage the industry to come together to ensure digital success.

W: https://www.canvasvle.co.uk

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