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A path to the new normal

Australians have a history of coming together in times of crisis. Through bushfires, floods and droughts, we support one another. While we all grapple with the personal and professional impacts of COVID-19, it is incredibly heart lifting to witness some of the amazing ways our community has responded. From health workers and the myriad of others on the front line, to those who have helped by staying home, our nation has responded to adversity as a team. Few places demonstrate this collective response better than our schools, where remote learning has been rolled out at record pace.

I have been lucky enough to see the incredible work going on in Australian schools to support the near-instant adoption of remote learning.

Some have been well prepared with well-executed strategies to incorporate collaboration technologies, and some face a greater struggle with the enormous complexities of deploying, operating and managing such environments. All appear to be doing an amazing job, considering the incredibly difficult circumstances.

I have always advocated for improved engagement between ICT and the “business of education” because, as in any organisation, it is when technology is aligned with the organisation’s goals and objectives that it shows the greatest value. In my experience, there can sometimes be a disconnect, where the strategic value of ICT isn’t fully understood by leadership.

This can manifest itself either through underinvestment, or significant investment in the wrong areas. This crisis has demonstrated the value of strong alignment between ICT and the business, and if this doesn’t bring the two to a closer alignment, then maybe nothing will.

Beyond the strategic shifts is the real-world disruption being experienced by teaching staff, students and families. Organisational and operational change that would normally take years to accomplish has been fast-tracked over the period of a few weeks. It’s vital to ensure no one is left behind.

REACT | ADAPT | RECOVERY | GROW

As we try to understand how best to respond and manage the enormous change, we are reacting to the immediate crisis and adapting our ways of working. However, we won’t be in crisis mode forever, so we also need to think about the long-term implications, to help inform the decisions we make today.

This is particularly important when making decisions on complex ICT initiatives, as technical debt can be a significant impediment to any organisation when we do arrive in the recovery phase.

Phases of COVID-19

It’s also critical to understand how short-term investments can support long-term opportunities that emerge during later stages of the recovery: Revisiting security is essential, as with any change in the IT environment, and the implications around data storage and management must be a key consideration.

From a school perspective, the understandable rush to deploy remote learning technology meant that robust design and planning principles had to take a back seat while the associated risks were managed on-the-go. The reality is that this approach can only be sustained on a short-term basis, as schools need to adapt to ensure that security, governance, student safety, policy and equity are adequately addressed while new environments are optimised.

We are seeing this play out now with security issues including ‘Zoom Bombing’, and a spike in malicious activity. Governance and policy risks have emerged from inappropriate storage of data, and some schools have reported students kicking teachers out of virtual classrooms. And of course, equity issues are stark, with governments and schools scrambling to provide access to appropriate technology, devices and internet connectivity to large numbers of disadvantaged families.

Schools are tackling these issues in record time. The next imperative from a technology perspective is to ensure that ICT and the business are strategically aligned, best positioned to capitalise on COVID-related investment and manage future recovery and growth.  All this, while managing the wellbeing of staff and students as they battle through unprecedented levels of change.

This may be an ideal opportunity to redefine how learning is delivered to every student. No doubt Strategic Plans will be under review in the very short term- one thing I am certain of is that ICT (if not already) will be integral to those future strategies.

A recent Gartner poll tells us that 10% of businesses are still trying to determine how to respond to the pandemic shock, 12% have a plan and are responding, 64% have moved past the initial shock and are in the process of adapting their business, and 12% have already planned their post pandemic activity.

From this data it’s clear that many businesses are already planning for a post-pandemic future but, if you’ll excuse the 80s reference, without Doc. Brown’s DeLorean, a Flux Capacitor and a suitable amount of Plutonium, the future may remain unclear for some time yet.

Recovery – Challenging but with opportunity

One thing that is almost certain is an economic downturn, and the effect on the education sector is yet another unknown.

A significant challenge will be managing the ongoing support of disadvantaged families, especially those without means or access to the right technology or adequate internet access. We are already seeing some amazing work in this area, with the support of the Australian business community.

The recovery phase may be challenging, but history tells us that with any crisis or disruption comes opportunity: the chance to realign thinking, change our approach and drive new and innovative practice.

The New Normal

Will we return to the way things were prior to COVID-19 or will remote learning, Artificial Intelligence and Robotic Process Automation do away with teachers altogether?

Neither, I think. I firmly believe nothing will ever replace quality teaching, but there are more questions than answers on what the new normal will look like –what I do know is that schools have undergone a sudden and profound change where technology has played a critical role.

A popular opinion is that we may be operating in a hybrid mode, where schools support both on-campus and remote learning for the foreseeable future. This might be because we need to protect at-risk students or their family members, cater for front line or essential workers, and support disadvantaged students or those with special needs.

Here are some questions that might be relevant in the new (hybrid) normal:

  • How will this change affect catchment boundaries? Is there an opportunity for schools to provide specialist remote services outside of their normal geographical area?
  • Are strong remote learning capabilities and digital classrooms going to be selection criterion prioritised by parents?
  • What new skillsets and partnerships will be in demand?
  • What does a needs-based funding model look like in the new normal?

The innovation that is necessary from a teaching and learning perspective is something only educators can define, but I suspect that technology will be more important than ever for our schools in how they operate, manage risk and deliver quality learning going forward.

The IT teams in schools have been instrumental in reacting to the events of late. Ongoing, they will need a new level of support from leadership, a seat at the table and the opportunity to support the inevitable transformational change.

How can we help?

In times like these, we all need to work together. We understand that funds are tight, so our education team is offering a free, no obligation 30-minute technical consultations with schools, to help them work through any technical challenges they are facing and connect them with resources to support their transition to remote learning. Got a tricky question or need a sounding board about creating a new normal? Contact our friendly team today.

Tags: Security, Education, The Anywhere Classroom, Tertiary Education, K-12 Education, Data Storage, Modern Workplace, COVID-19

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