In this contributed blog post, Scott Langshaw, IT manager at the East Manchester Academy explains the importance of enabling students through the use of technology.
The use of tablets in schools has soared in recent years and the explosion in educational apps shows no sign of slowing down. Mobile technology is opening up so many new possibilities for teachers and students that it is nothing short of a revolution.
But if the wireless network is not capable of supporting a burgeoning number of tablets, a school could find itself plunging back into the dark ages.
Here at The East Manchester Academy, we wanted our students to benefit from mobile technology, but in common with so many schools, our wireless solution no longer had the capacity to support the great work that was happening in our classrooms.
If you’ve ever had to stand up in front of a bunch of 13-year-olds and explain that they can’t get hold of the material they need for their geography project because the wireless network is down, you will understand the problem.
Likewise, when a teacher tries to get 30 students to complete a quiz on their devices, but the wireless connection grinds to a halt and the quiz doesn’t update, then nobody learns anything. Rather than helping, our old technology was preventing lessons from progressing smoothly.
Time for change
The time had come to upgrade our IT infrastructure. However, we are a school and though our dreams may be big, our IT budgets come only in small sizes. We needed solutions that would help us engage our kids, but they had to meet our budget.
As it turned out, the solution was more affordable than we had expected, and I have been particularly impressed by the capability of the wireless solution. Our IT partner, Capita Managed IT Solutions, helped us to tailor a new solution exactly to our needs.
It’s been fascinating to see what a difference it makes to have a reliable wireless solution around the school. The big change is that our classrooms are always connected, whether students are using tablets, laptops or a combination of both.
I would go so far as to say that our Wi-Fi meets the expectations of the most impatient teenager. Students can log into the system instantly and everything they need for the school day is all in one place.
Working together is the best way to engage students and help them learn, and this is one area where mobile technology really comes into its own. Our students are accessing the content they need straight onto their tablets so they can share and edit their work together.
Teachers connect their tablets to the whiteboards in the classroom for a class discussion, and when it comes to marking work, teachers send instant feedback with a few taps of the screen.
The tablet revolution has taken off in our academy, and the students are benefitting from lessons which are engaging and enjoyable. It is reassuring to know that despite our limited budget, we have built the foundations for great teaching and learning both now and in the future.
Reading, and Bracknell, hotly followed by Oxford (near MeetingZone HQ) and Edinburgh, are officially the best cities to live and work in the UK – according to the Good Growth for Cities Index published by PwC and think tank Demos recently. It ranked UK cities against 10 criteria including employment, health, income and skills, housing affordability, commuting times and environmental factors. It follows similar research last year from PwC that ranked London (over Berlin, Stockholm, Paris and New York) as one of the best cities of “Opportunity”, in a report which examined intellectual capital and innovation; culture, technology readiness and how accessible a city is to the rest of the world.
So what does this say? Well our growing interest in such surveys shows how we’re all – employees, HR and management – much more focused on well-being and work-life balance. And that’s a good thing. But for me, external factors like location are just part of the equation. The ‘best’ place to work shouldn’t just be about where your office is based, but also about the company you work for – so for example how does management operate and what culture does it creates for employees.
Today’s companies rightly scour over all sorts of indicators of work life balance including employees leaving, employee satisfaction surveys and hours worked. But what often gets forgotten by management is the impact of technology in creating that sense of well-being, which in turn can lead to content and productive employees.
Again, PwC provides insight here. It conducted extensive research earlier this year into attitudes amongst 400 SME’s ranging from 10 – 1000 employees about deploying Unified Communications (UC). UC brings together a huge range of services, from email to web conferencing and telecoms to sharing data. They found that management was focused, quite understandably on how UC technology would make the organisation successful and improve bottom-lines such as productivity, costs and efficiency savings.
But what they’d overlooked was the more intangible, ‘softer’ benefits such as the ability to improve the workplace environment and to empower employees. If you look at the table below from PwC, it’s clear there’s disconnect between how they ‘expected’ to benefit from UC and the actual ‘realised’ benefits they received. Across the board the realised benefits exceeded expectations. But while you’d expect productivity, efficiency and even collaboration gains from UC deployments, the really interesting bit was how the deployments impacted employee perceptions of well-being.
Source: PwC SME Survey, February 2015 (n=400)
Often management make assumptions that employees are armed with the right equipment or that the tools are “good enough” to work with, so are reluctant to rock the boat to invest in new technology. PwC saw that a UC deployment achieved a whopping 54% uplift in employee well-being. That clearly highlights that employee’s value being given technology that make their jobs and collaboration easier.
For me the big worry was the marked difference between the 8% well-being benefit that management expected and the realised 54%. This shows how out-of-touch management really are with how employees feel about their jobs and their desire to perform to the best of their ability.
It would seem our senior management need to be more cognisant of their employee’s need for ‘the right tools for the job’, and how it can affect creating the contented, happy and productive employees’ they crave.
This is a guest post by Geoff Smith, managing director of Experis Europe.
This guest post from Steve Gandy, CEO of MeetingZone, describes how businesses were hit by loss of working hours during the tube strikes due to lack of flexibility.
Anyone of London‘s 4 million commuters who struggled into work during the recent meltdown of the UK Underground system will understand only too well the chaos the tube strikes caused to travellers and other transport links. Our recent survey has revealed there’s also been a huge cost to London businesses too.
Those London strikes were part of an ongoing dispute with the Unions (which represent Tube employees), over plans to introduce 24-hour tube services at weekends. The launch of the 24-hour tube service has now been pushed back due to this, but not before the entire London Underground network came to a standstill on 8-9 July and 5-6 August 2015.
The survey of 1000 London commuters, estimated that businesses lost a total of over 1.5 million working hours during the London tube strikes from employees being late into work. What‘s more, we calculated that London‘s commuters wasted an extra three million hours just getting to and from the office. These are staggering figures especially when you consider that much of it is really unnecessary. But this was made even worse by the fact the research also showed that only 9% of bosses let employees work from home during this time. 72% of employees feel bosses are still failing to offer flexible working options during travel disruptions.
Sure, not everyone can work from home or remotely, but most office based jobs don‘t actually require people to sit at their desk. Technology like Unified Communications (UC) means that users can fire up a presentation, edit it with a colleague over IM or jump on a video chat instead – so it seems daft to ask employees to face travel hell.
As I’ve mentioned before, part of the problem is cultural. Many managers and business owners aren’t opening their eyes to how technology could change the way people work and drive efficiencies. They’re happy to think ‘if they can‘t see them working they can‘t be working‘, which is of course nonsense. You can just as easily sit at your desk and do nothing. Even where companies do have access to UC technology, you see a lot of them assume a couple of training sessions mean staff are confident enough to use it when an unplanned event occurs. They aren‘t. What‘s required is a culture of adoption driven by senior managers who embrace the technology and lead the way, not only offering continuous training but also through post roll-out support.
I feel sorry for all the commuters that had to set their alarms early. Forget the trains running on time – UK business should run on time too. The lost hours during the recent London tube strikes should be the turning point for companies to start thinking about flexible working options to reduce the amount time commuters waste.
This is a guest blog from Richard Pedley, software engineer, Delcam, part of Autodesk.
The CBI recently highlighted that the UK manufacturing industry is experiencing a crisis. In the UK we are lacking the vital skills to increase our productivity. In particular, the STEM skills gap has been an issue for many years and STEM teaching needs to be prioritised in the UK curriculum to encourage growth in this field.
One of the main issues we have found is a general lack of awareness surrounding the broad range of opportunities STEM skills can offer after education. Raising awareness about the jobs available from a young age will help children aspire to pursuing a career they might not have considered or heard of before.
There are a number of ways the manufacturing sector can get involved in helping to address the issue. At Delcam, we’re looking to address this by engaging with the Bloodhound and STEM Ambassador programmes. The programmes work to promote the engineering profession with a focus on the country’s young people by sending specially trained ambassadors to local schools. Delcam has been involved with the Bloodhound scheme for the past eighteen months and, at the start of July, three ambassadors visited Harborne Primary School to deliver a special school assembly for 270 students in Years 3 – 6, followed by an interactive Bloodhound activity session for Year 5 students.
The assembly focused on the history of engineering in the UK and also introduced speed as a scientific concept in a way that would be engaging and straightforward for children to understand. Speed, fast cars and specifically powering Bloodhound are topics that children can really get their teeth into. It can be easy to underestimate the student’s level of understanding, but as with every school we’ve visited, the children were keen to get involved and shout suggestions for powering the car.
After the assembly, the Year 5 students were lucky enough to have their own Bloodhound breakout session which involved three classes, totalling 90 students each building their very own version of the Bloodhound car. We explained to the students the principle of harnessing force to drive a car forward. The children were then able to put this into practice by building a Bloodhound-branded cardboard car from scratch with a straw and balloon jet engine. The children were then able to race the cars to see which would go the fastest and furthest. The pupils were eager to modify the cars even further which has inspired the teachers to create follow up activity sessions for the Year 5s. Teachers and pupils alike thoroughly enjoyed the day and there are already plans in motion for a return visit to Harborne Primary School next year.
Initiatives like the STEM Ambassador programme are only the beginning and, at Delcam, we’re also passionate about furthering the opportunities of older students with involvement in apprenticeships and graduate programmes. Specifically, we take in over 28 graduates and undergraduates a year to invest and build the UK talent pool. Schemes such as F1 in Schools are also hugely important in engaging the future workforce.
It is crucial that businesses and educators continue to work together to show students the wide range of STEM-careers that are available, both in manufacturing and in other areas, and ensure the tools and support are available to ignite the passion to create the STEM stars of the future. Getting fresh talent into the manufacturing sector will also support the future of manufacturing, ensuring we are able to incorporate new ways of doing things and tackle productivity issues with innovative solutions, rather than doing things the way we’ve always done them.
This is a guest blog by Claire Higgins, a student from Notre Dame High School in Scotland, who recently visited Silicon Valley after winning the Founders4Schools Appathon competition. Claire and her team mates thought of the winning app idea Smart Wardrobe.
Monday morning rolled around after much anticipation and excitement about the trip. The 4:30 morning wake up was a tiring but welcome experience as we were buzzing about going to California. We were all incredibly excited for the trip despite the fact that some of us had already been to the States- the west coast was unfamiliar ground to all of us. The fifteen hours’ worth of traveling felt longer than we had expected, probably because we just wanted to get to San Francisco as soon as possible. When we eventually arrived and collected what luggage we had, we went to meet Iria from founders4school and the Cambridge University team; Ben, Joseph and Patrick. The Cambridge teams 4th member was still finishing is first set of exams and so was meeting us on the Wednesday night. We got to see different parts of San Francisco which was amazing as none of us had ever visited the city. We went shopping and walked down to Fisherman’s Warf where we could see Alcatraz across the water. We were all exhausted and extremely jetlagged by the end of the day, and so we were relieved when we got back to our hotel rooms.
On Tuesday we attempted to wake up at 7:45. When we were ready, our driver Jason drove us to our first company, Square. We were very excited despite our tiredness. In Square, we had an amazing breakfast- which was also free! Our tour guide, Megan, was an employee who has been working at Square for just over a year. She and a current intern showed us around the amazing offices before taking us to a conference room to talk to another two square employees. They told us the story of how square started and how much more advanced the UK are in payment methods as in the US you still have to swipe your credit/debit card and sign the receipt. They spoke to us about their goals, which is to have everyone paying bills on their smartphones with their product.
Then, we went to the wonderful world of Facebook. First, we were taken onto campus by two engineers who showed us all the options we had for lunch, which (like Square) was unbelievably free! We sat down and spoke to them about what they do at Facebook and what it’s like to work at such a big, well known company. We also went to the Facebook shop to buy some souvenirs. Then, we were shown around the campus by another Facebook employee who also told us what the main offices and teams were and what they do. We were particularly surprised about how the Employees didn’t have any set working hours, as long as they were working on something and were making an impact, which we soon found out was the way most companies worked.
Our final tour of the day was tesla where we were told the history of the company, how the tesla car is made and even got a picture inside one! We were given a tour of the factory and were told what each machines job was. None of us had ever been to a car manufacturer’s factory before and so found it incredibly interesting to see how the cars were built.
By the end of the day, we were all very tired, so after a quick mean at a close by pizzeria, were glad to go to bed.
On Wednesday, we had to wake up at 5:30 to go on the Stanford Dish trail. From 06:30 to 07:50 we walked the 4.6 mile trail before heading to LinkedIn.
Our tour guide, Aaron, who works in the marketing side of the company, took us to breakfast, where the food choices were endless. After breakfast, he gave us a tour of the offices and games room before taking us into a conference room to talk to current employees and interns. They spoke to us about what they like about the company, what their job is at the company and how their job makes an impact. We found this extremely helpful as it gave us a better idea of what careers we may or may not want to pursue when we’re older.
After LinkedIn, we walked down the street to Google. At Google, we had lunch with 2 employees who told us all about their job and department at Google. We were also told about how voice recognition works and how they feel it’s becoming a bigger part of today’s society. We were shown around the visitors centre and told a bit more about Google (its history etc.) before going back to the hotel for a few hours free time.
On Wednesday night we all went bowling before meeting Evgeny, which was fun. Once he arrived we went to a BBQ type restaurant, before heading back to the hotel.
On Thursday, we went to Paypal and Edmodo. We were all tired and dreading the long flight home later that day.
At Paypal, we were shown around the campus by two employees. We also spoke to them in a large conference room about the advantages of working at Paypal, what each group of people do and their own personal life’s history. It was interesting to learn how each team work differently from each other.
After Paypal we went to Edmodo where we had lunch. We were then brought into a conference room where we spoke about our idea before learning about Edmodo and what each person’s role is in the company. The university team had to leave early as they were going on a road trip to LA to visit other places such as SpaceX, which they had organised themselves. When they left, we got a tour of the offices.
After Edmodo, we had to say goodbye to Iria as she was going back to San Francisco for a few days. We were driven back to the airport where we began to make our way back home.
We all arrived back home on the Friday afternoon at around 2:30 UK time and we were extremely excited to tell our friends and family all about the incredible experience.
Going to California really gave me an idea about what I want to do when I’m older. I’ve always thought about doing engineering, and this has helped me narrow down what types I may want to do as a job when I leave school. I really loved going to all the companies as it’s a once in a lifetime experience, and I know that I was really lucky to get the opportunity to go. It’s also shown me how different businesses are in the UK, as in Silicon Valley it’s all very casual and chill. When I was there I never felt unwelcome and everyone who we met made it easy to feel comfortable in such a big place. I really did love the trip and want to thank Appathon for giving us the opportunity to go.
This is a guest blog by Chris Hale, software product marketing manager, working for Sharp in the UK.
Today, education and teaching methods are on a transformative path. Schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions are endeavouring to keep up with digital and technological advances and what their learners – largely digital natives – demand. A lot has changed since chalk and blackboard were the only means of communication. Today learners expect to work from PCs, laptops and tablets daily for their lessons and research as well as for homework. The challenge of creating and sustaining engaging learning material is faced by teachers every day; a task that is being made easier by using Interactive White Boards, up-to-date printing facilities and collaborative file sharing. Meanwhile in the background Managed Services can streamline administrative processes and reduce costs.
Interactive whiteboards combine advanced high definition displays with multi-touch screen technology and wireless connectivity to other devices. They help to create highly stimulating lessons and present engaging visual information that brings learning to life. The immersive learning experience is more collaborative and enables teachers to create and deliver compelling interactive material to enhance understanding of the topic, optimising engagement and stimulating their students. Making the whiteboards as intuitive to use as the blackboard allows teachers to focus on their teaching, not the technology.
With increased access to digital technologies, schools are also implementing Managed Print solutions for quicker, more convenient printing from PCs, interactive whiteboards, and mobile devices. Print demand in education remains strong – with classroom handouts, test papers, homework, essays, research… a Managed Print Service (MPS) can help both save paper for the school and offer secure and convenient Printing for students. The new digital age of education means that documents can be printed when and where they are needed but still give administrative staff clear visibility into printing usage and costs. Features such as scanning and storing can also reduce unnecessary printing.
Leeds West Academy (LWA), part of the White Rose Academy Trust, specialises in English and Performing Arts, and several LWA students have gone on to establish themselves as chart musicians or stars of the screen and stage. While preparing for its move to a new building, the Academy planned IT services requirements for its 1250 students, teachers and administrative staff, to enable them to connect instantly to the network and wirelessly access support services. LWA implemented Sharp multi-function printers, which provide a simple and secure way to print, copy, scan and share documents in colour and black and white. They are also equipped with a biometric fingerprint authentication system which quickly identifies and authenticates individual users and gives them access to their own secure print queue. IT Service Manager, Richard Shaw, said: “With students and staff able to log-on at any device within seconds to release print and scan documents, there are no delays.”
Having logged on, students and staff can use the MFPs to scan learning materials and documents to email or save them to a USB drive, saving print costs and paper. The implementation of the MFPs has also reduced the administrative burden, for example, a simple one-touch interface supports scanning to SIMS (Schools Information Management System), enabling paper-based records to be captured and recorded digitally.
Schools like Leeds West Academy, investing in technologies to modernise processes and future-proof learning environments, are benefitting from reduced costs and administrative loads as well as more effective management of student records and governance. More importantly, students are enjoying a more engaging, interactive and collaborative learning environment where their familiar digital technologies are now at the heart of their educational experiences.