Across the world, educators are rapidly realising the importance of collaborative technology in delivering more flexible and engaging learning spaces and a better student experience.
Learning management platforms provide an ecosystem to enable schools to build a digital learning environment that meet their unique challenges. Canvas, by Instructure, is a cloud-based virtual learning environment (VLE) that is particularly compelling for school groups and Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) as it enables the delivery of consistent and structured learning and collaborative experiences across multiple sites, both for pupils and for staff’s Continuing Professional Development (CPD). A VLE provides access to data across the institution that can be transformative for schools, particularly those that are seeking to identify and tackle attainment gaps or raise achievement for the most able.
Although the benefits are clear there has traditionally been a lack of guidance for school groups on how to best select and implement digital technologies. Whilst there are plenty of frameworks detailing how to build a digital strategy, and the government’s new edtech strategy has provided a starting point, there is no comprehensive option. Add to this the need to persuade multiple stakeholders about the benefits of technology to ensure adoption, particularly tech-skeptic educators who will need to embrace a new way of working, and the job of creating and implementing a digital strategy becomes a tough one!
At Focus Learning Trust (now OneSchool Global UK), we embraced Instructure’s learning management platform Canvas as we were committed to radically transforming the classroom experience. The benefit for both learners and staff was clear very early on. Digital disruption provided us with an opportunity to look beyond the constraints of physical infrastructure to evaluate our strategy anew. This required us to re-assess the type of learning we wanted to deliver and how to effectively scale across our group of 24 schools.
Investment in a new VLE made learning significantly more engaging, compelling, and interactive. We found that students were no longer tied to the classroom, but instead able to access course materials whenever and wherever they needed to. This enabled flexible work experience and learning, from home for some sixth form students, for example.
Canvas helped create strong engagement between the teacher and student because it is designed for more frequent and impactful interactions. It helped deliver on-demand learning and feedback and high-quality virtual collaboration and communication.
The pedagogically-driven initiative to rapidly turn low-tech schools into progressive, high-tech digital learning environments was a success, improving on student satisfaction (from survey and student voice results). Inspection reports moved us to Outstanding in all areas in four of our schools, the rest were inspected in the last year and received good ratings. Academic results were less easy to measure in the current exam change climate but they certainly have not dipped, as many feared with curriculum change. Through a strategic partnership with Instructure, Focus Learning Trust has been able to ensure that students develop the understanding, skills, knowledge, and attitudes required for academic success in the 21st century, but also to help them reach their potential and ‘hit the ground running’ as self-directed, lifelong learners when they leave school. So, it worked for Focus Learning Trust. But how do other school groups build similar strategies to reap the rewards of digital learning?
Building your own digital strategy
We found that it’s key for technology to be fully integrated into pedagogy. At the Focus Learning Trust, students, teachers, and leaders all had a hand in choosing, evaluating, and using the technologies. Products and services were not picked to fill a management quota, but were chosen to fundamentally enhance the learning experience. Just as commercial businesses think about delivering a true customer experience, we too prioritised the end users. Only if technology fulfils a concrete need, with the needs of the user at front and centre, will it be successfully adopted. This also helped gain buy-in and trust from senior leadership teams to embark on a digital strategy.
Meeting with other school groups we saw that these types of projects are often siloed as an IT initiative, which is counterproductive. Of course, IT has a valuable role in digital transformation initiatives, particularly in areas such as security and reliability. But if IT is operating independently without the input of teaching staff and faculty, it will ultimately mean that the needs of educators (and therefore students) are not properly represented.
It’s also important to realise that while technology adoption can be daunting, and represents a big change for an institution, the benefits of the investment far outweigh any apprehensions. It’s important to invest heavily in training the staff to make sure that all faculty – from technology novices to digitally savvy advocates, are able to engage with and see the benefits of technology for themselves.
Multi-Academy Trusts and school groups can enact far-reaching change and achieve economies of scale when implementing and adopting digital technologies like Canvas. To do this effectively, they must define a digital strategy that is flexible and adaptable enough to grow and change with the vision of the institution, but concrete enough to be measurable. This means convincing both senior leadership teams and tech-skeptic faculty that technology has the power to be truly transformative.
Strategic EdTech Consultant, Edit.I
On Wednesday 12 June, we hosted the webinar: 'Invest Time in Teachers as Learners: Canvas for CPD'. Watch the recording below for the full insight on how a Trust successfully delivered CPD training across 24 schools.