Let’s Talk About Money

Working with some European countries recently has brought the issue of money – and how it relates to technology – into sharp focus. This article argues that in times of shrinking budgets, there is a strong case to make more, not less investment in ICT.

Should money be spent on ICT in schools at all?

With education budgets under pressure, and often having to cover not only schooling but broader children’s services too, a question that seems to be increasingly raised is whether money should be used for ICT in schooling at all.

To those of us involved in ICT in schooling, the answer seems an obvious “hell yes”. However, to a senior decision maker, ICT is usually just another cost. Of the $2.4trn spent on schooling every year, ICT is just a “drop in the ocean”. To someone looking at budgets at a high level, ICT will be buried amongst many other budget lines, not least staffing (sometimes as much as 80% of whole budget) and physical buildings – the schooling “estate”. Regardless of budgetary conditions, it’s always important to consider how ICT can be used as a strategic asset.

Whether choosing to invest in more staff, the physical environment or ICT, the decision making process should be set in the context of measurable, desired outcomes. Only when the required outcomes are known does it make sense to think about where to make or cut investment.

The key areas where investments in schooling should be expected to have outcomes and impacts are:

  • Academic — qualifications; acquisition of 21st Century skills; test results; and “Value Added”
  • People — high performance; organisational health; staff retention; staff qualifications; stakeholder satisfaction
  • Operational Excellence — efficient and effective processes; fit for purpose environments; spaces that are appropriate for effective learning; demonstrable value for money

ICT can impact deeply in all of these areas, enabling each type of expenditure to have maximum effect. Let’s now take a look at some of these in more detail.

Academic Attainment

A big question is whether – and to what extent – ICT can raise student attainment. Isolating the impact of ICT from all other contributory factors can be problematic. However, positive relationships between ICT use and improvement in subject-related learning have been found in several subject areas.

In 2006, for example, a research project conducted by Becta (the British Educational Communication and Technology Agency) investigated the effects of ICT on educational attainment, based on evidence gathered from 60 schools in England. This research analysed the relationship between the pupils’ performance in National Tests and GCSE’s (secondary school exit examinations) and their reported use of ICT at three age levels (11, 14, 16). The study found evidence of a statistically significant positive association between ICT and higher achievement, particularly in national tests for English, Science and Design & Technology.

The graph below depicts the relative positive impact of ICT on certain subjects.

A second UK project – “Test Bed, 2002 to 2006” – confirms that technology may lead to an improvement in test performance relative to ‘benchmark’ comparators. Test Bed schools showed higher learning performance in English – 4.68% vs 4.09. They showed significant comparative increases in mathematics test scores. Additionally, the number of secondary pupils achieving A to C GCSE grades had significantly improved over the course of the project. The Test Bed project showed that just one year after technology had been implemented, there was improved attainment. From this report, it is possible to quantify the effect of an ICT investment and to show the cost of achieving an improved outcome.

However, sceptics could argue that the UK, which has traditionally spent significant amounts of money on ICT in schools, declined in the PISA international ranking in recent years – hardly demonstrating good evidence of improved attainment associated with significant ICT spend. Perhaps then we should look at a set of countries that lead the world in schooling attainment – the Nordic countries.

E-learning Nordic 2006 shows that ICT has a positive impact on improving the pupils’ learning. A positive impact of ICT on teaching is seen on pupil engagement, differentiation, creativity and less waste of time. The study also shows that the preconditions for using ICT for knowledge sharing, communication and school-home co-operation are beneficial.

Echoing these findings, the 2006 OECD study entitled ‘Are pupils ready for a technology rich world?’ tells us that there is an association between the length of time students had been using computers and their PISA Mathematics scores.

For additional background, look at “The ICT Impact Report – A review of studies of ICT impact on schools in Europe” from European Schoolnet.

Despite these pieces of evidence, the truth is that there is very little hard research clearly demonstrating that ICT directly improves learning outcomes. The direct cause and effect of technology on test scores and exam results is very hard to pin down. Some would even argue that this is no longer even a relevant question – what matters more is that if schools see the value of students acquiring 21st Century Skills then ICT is an undeniably crucial tool.

Whilst it’s fairly clear that ICT makes learning more effective when properly implemented, it’s by no means easy to quantify the degree to which this is the case.

People

Clearly, people are any organisation’s biggest asset, and ICT has a role to play in terms of helping mangers set, manage and evaluate objectives and performance. Dashboards, KPIs and portals all have a role to play in helping staff align to organisational goals, and perform at their best and in ways that best serve the objectives of the organisation. Organisational health can be monitored through ICT systems, helping to reduce staff turnover – which is estimated to cost 1 year’s worth of salary for each person leaving an organisation.

Continuous Professional Development is another area where ICT can play a role. In Maryland, for example, it used to take 18 months for a teacher to receive a certificate after completing training. After the introduction of a CRM system, that time was reduced to a few days.

Finding out if stakeholders are satisfied with a system is made much easier with online tools such as e-forms and surveys. Analysing the data and discovering areas of dissatisfaction is again made easier through the use of ICT.

Operational Excellence

A concept worth exploring is the use of analytic systems to precisely target investments to where they needed, and then understand the return on that investment. Imagine a schooling system that has extremely low Science scores. One approach could be to throw resources across the entire system in a National Science programme aimed at raising Science standards generally. A better approach is to use analytics to deeply understand the causes of the problem and then to use this information to remediate it. Out of the thousands of potential contributory factors, analytics could help identify those factors that have the biggest impact on the results, and enable much more precisely targeted resourcing to address those issues. The net is raised standards at a fraction of the cost of the “scatter gun” approach.

A lot of money can also be wasted where future conditions are inaccurately forecast and planned for. Predictive analytics has role in:

  • Predicting the needs of students, teachers and stakeholders.
  • Modelling possible local, regional, state, or national trends that will affect schooling and the  programmes offered
  • Forecast workforce, resource and budgetary requirements

Finally, energy savings can be made easier with “smart environments”. ICT enabled security services can also help reduce costs.

Saving Money With ICT

So let us now go deeper into the operational side of schooling and further explore where ICT can directly save money. After all, the implementation of ICT in other sectors has mainly been in the pursuit of driving out costs. Schooling is different to other sectors, but there is no reason why the rules of high performance in other sectors can’t be applied here.

Administration

Administrative costs can be enormous; particularly where schooling is managed centrally and detailed reports and strong compliance is required. Technology can save time and money by making processes such as reporting, timetabling, student record keeping, examination, attendance, HR, and financial management faster and more efficient.

At each step of the administration process – Monitoring → Analysis → Planning – ICT can cut costs through decision support and decision automation enabled by automated workflows.

Areas for both cost savings and increased efficiencies include moving from paper reports to KPIs and dashboards.

Technology also has fantastic potential for easing the teacher workloads. For example, assessing students is a labour intensive process for teachers everywhere, but technology can play a role in helping teachers and stakeholders understand students’ knowledge capabilities and skills. In a Virtual Learning Environment, for example, students can undertake learning tasks which can be assessed and reported on automatically.

Effective resource management can lead to greater efficiencies especially where a Resource Management or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is used. ERP systems includes financial, supply chain and human resource management sub-systems, together with analytical and programme management tools.

Enterprise Resource Planning can be used for:

  • Financial management
  • Supply chain management
  • Business intelligence
  • Performance management
  • Project management
  • Human resource management
  • IT management

Shared Resourcing

Many services consumed by schools can be aggregated, and Cloud services are accelerating this. Managing content, data, interventions, HR, IT support, specialist learning services, procurement and many other services are often better managed by consortia. Clearly, areas such as leveraging aggregated purchasing power can have an immediate financial impact. ICT – particularly communication and collaboration technologies – can enable consortia to be easily formed and flexibly managed.

Imagine the savings that could be derived from an aggregated set of Cloud services that enable a large number of schools to purchase goods and services through a simple mechanism for procurement, billing, supply-chain, and accounting.

Inspection

Sending inspectors to schools is an expensive method of quality assurance that involves checking work after the event, identifying sources of non-conformance, and taking corrective action.

This is a comparatively inefficient method for achieving a basic level of quality. It requires the employment of people to check on operations, and inspection doesn’t add value to the service – it merely adds to the cost. ICT can be used to enable schools to self-inspect, and address quality and performance issues. This enables a smaller face-to-face inspection team to ensure that schools are aligned, complying with reporting guidelines, and dealing with the exceptions.

Examination and Assessment

Public examinations are a huge industry. In England, for instance, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that the cost of running the examination system in 2003-04 was $915 million. (QCDA, 2005).

ICT can open up new ways for students to demonstrate and authenticate their understanding, skills and abilities, at comparatively low cost. E-portfolios, distance peer assessment, electronic testing, assessments and video presentations are all readily accessible to many students. ICT can be used to go beyond “rear view mirror” assessments, as it makes it possible to access and analyse student achievement data on an on-going basis, and take corrective action before high stakes examinations.

Risk Management

The hidden cost of ineffective learning

Most of the rioters in the recent English riots had low education achievement. Across the world, the hidden costs of disengagement and poor academic performance are enormous, and have a range of impacts such as:

  • Crime, drug use, teenage pregnancy etc
  • Poverty related health issues
  • Future tax revenues
  • Low participation in e-citizenship

A recent European Commission study puts the lifetime cost of dropping out of school early at between 1.1 and 1.8 million Euros per person. In Finland the cost is estimated at 27,500 Euros a year. In Spain, for example, dropout rates are running at 30%, so making even a small impact on this number can make a big difference. ICT solutions such as SIGMA – an early warning and intelligent intervention system in the United States – have potential for significant positive economic impact by anticipating which students are most at risk, then intervening before problems become serious.

Whilst ICT is just one of many factors affecting academic performance, it’s reasonable to assert that an investment in engaging children and supporting their learning with ICT should have a payback. Decision makers seeking both quick wins and longer term benefits can use ICT mediated intelligent intervention techniques to address a range of schooling related issues – academic and social.

For a deeper analysis of how risks can be managed through intelligent intervention, see “Managing Student Relationships” article.

Saving ICT Costs

ICT itself can be made more cost effective in a number of ways, and through virtualization and Cloud services in particular. Software licensing is an easy target for cuts, but the reality is that it accounts only for 14% of ICT spend at the most and in some cases as little as 5%.

The key is to use software to drive down ICT costs, and virtualisation and Cloud technologies offer a range of ways to reduce utility, facility (e.g. electricity and property), hardware, maintenance, and support costs.

Other approaches include using systems such as Windows Multipoint Server to “breathe new life” into old hardware, and re-using older, refurbished computers through, for example, the digital pipeline initiative.

Understanding ROI

Return on Investment is a highly contentious issue in schooling because there are just so many factors and variables to take into account. However, understanding ROI is crucial – without it, concrete plans are much harder to make manage.

At a very simple level you could argue that ROI can be stated as the number of units of learning completed divided by the cost. Schooling systems are ecosystems, so we need to consider a range of other factors too.

According to Cranfield University School of Management, all benefits can be measured to one degree or another, and the main categories of benefit are:

  • Financial—can it be converted to money?
  • Observable—can you see it, or find evidence of it?
  • Quantifiable—do you have the figures available now, somewhere?

ROI can be thought of in value terms too. For example, economic value, which needs to be understood at the level of contributing human capital to local, regional and national economic development plans.

Social value—clearly the domain of schooling—is more complex, but the Harvard Business School offers some useful insights:

“… Social Value is ‘about inclusion and access.…’ Value creation in this arena can be measured using a social return on investment metric (SROI), social earnings calculations and other evolving metrics. SROI analysis attempts to identify direct, demonstrable cost savings or revenue contributions that result from… interventions. (Jed Emerson, Jay Wachowicz, Suzi Chun, 2001)

One clear example would be to connect citizenship programmes with reductions in crime, or healthy eating programmes with reductions in healthcare costs.

Steps to Establishing ROI

The London Borough of Hillingdon produced an excellent model for understanding ROI across a range of public services. The following is based on this work (Simon Willis [Editor], 2005).

The first step is to list all the benefits that come from an initiative across all stakeholders. The second step is to categorise those benefits into three groups:

Financial Benefits

Those that will (when delivered) realise hard tangible cost savings, e.g.

  • Reduced property and utility costs
  • Reduced facilities management costs
  • Reduced recruitment costs
  • Cheaper, faster procurement—enabled by online procurement
  • •Reduced postage costs—swapping from manual post to email.
Efficiency Benefits

These are productivity improvements – e.g. employee time saved from web-enabled self-service. They can either be banked as financial savings or alternatively counted as ‘free’ resources to be reallocated elsewhere.

E.g.

  • Greater productivity—increased staff motivation from flexible working
  • Reduced staff turnover—improved work-life-balance
  • Better use of specialists—focus on value-added tasks via job redesign
  • Greater efficiency in data handling from access to electronic information
  • Reducing resource duplication
  • Reduced admin from standardisation of responses—e.g. communication to parents
  • Parent and student self-service using online forms/transactions
  • Enhanced performance-monitoring through tracking/data
  • Simplified supply chains.
Human Capital Benefits

Those benefits that cannot be converted with any degree of reliability into cash or productivity gains, but are the core operation of schooling—i.e. the number of units learned:

  • Academic Qualifications
  • Vocational Qualifications
  • 21st Century Skills

An example of how this can be brought together for an investment in a schooling system is as follows:

In this example, for a total investment of $1.5m, during Year 1 of the modernisation project an additional 500 units of learning has been outputted and other benefits to the equivalent amount have accrued. Using this example, you’d expect to see increased ROI over time as capital expenditure decreases while the benefits persist.

Setting out the ROI in this way clearly illustrates where investments need to be made, where costs can be reduced, and impacts best gained.

According to ICT Nordic report, “return on investment from ICT investments requires a commitment to organisational implementation on the part of the school management. They must be visionary enough to initiate and continuously support the use of ICT as a strategic tool for developing the general ambitions of the school.

In conclusion, in times of budget constraints, there is a strong argument to make more, not less ICT investment. ICT can be a strong strategic asset to increase academic and people performance and drive operational efficiencies. It can be used to save money in areas such as administration, inspection, examinations and assessment, and managing risks. For ICT to have financial impact it needs to be deployed with accuracy and in pursuit of clear goals. It also needs to be managed in an environment in which ROI is understood.

The Transformed Phase

This is the fourth and final article on the phases of transformation that schooling systems go through. The first was “Taking the First Steps”, and this phase is characterized by access. The second, Taking the Next Steps – The ‘Enhanced’ Phase, is where technology is used to enhance existing processes. The third -“The Strategic Phase” – is characterized by using technology to meet strategic goals and help determine what those goals should be.

Feedback that readers have kindly sent me had prompted me to adjust the overall maturity framework so each of the main characteristics of each phase now look like this:

Four Stages of Schooling System Maturity

Whilst the three preceding phases were about applying technology to schools as they currently are, the Transformed Phase is about fundamentally changing the nature of schooling itself.

Using ICT to transform schooling allows us to ask questions such as “where is school”, “how do we deliver personalised and engaging learning experiences”, and “how can we develop highly effective and efficient schooling systems”?

Whilst transformation will mean many different things to many different people, there are three main ingredients to a transformed schooling system.

The first is providing anytime, anywhere learning for all citizens. The second is providing highly personalised experiences to all learners. The third is about building a culture of high performance throughout the entire schooling system.

Anytime Anywhere Learning For All

The first principle in transforming schooling is to redefine its “customer” base. At present, schooling reaches learners between the ages of 5 to 18, within narrowly defined geographic boundaries, and for around 18% of the year only. Now, there is a significant opportunity to deliver learning services to entire populations at relatively low costs. This is because the cost of digital content and software only marginally increases with the number of users, and because the cost of delivering e-learning services at massive scale through Cloud computing is increasingly cheap and getting cheaper.

To date we have thought about learning in the physical sense of going to a place called a school. Going forward, schools will facilitate learning less as a physical experience and more as one that can take place across different locations. Increasingly, we can expect the process of schooling to become less dependent on learners regularly attending a single campus over a long period of time.

Schooling will spread out of the physical confines of the school campus, and into ‘found space’ such as offices; high street locations; apartments; and even the homes of children.

The youngest learners need somewhere near their own home where they can physically go to access learning facilities; to learn with other groups of learners and access richer materials than those which they have in their own home. Older learners need learning spaces to interact with their tutors, counsellors and learning managers, but also need to learn in environments that are appropriate to their learning tasks. For example, a specialist science learning module – say optics, for example – may well be based in a traditional (campus) school laboratory, but equally there could be a company in the local community specialising in optics that would be willing for students to learn at their facilities.

In this model, there is still room for the traditional “Campus School”, but as a social, intellectual and resource hub – a place for those specialist learning facilities which might not be available in the local community such as laboratories, workshops, libraries, art studios and gymnasia. The Campus School is also a place from which to organise and manage learning and produce learning content.

The Campus School of the future will be a community resource; it will be open for 52 weeks a year, 7 days a week from 7.30 am (with breakfast clubs, computer clubs, gym facilities etc.), and will stay open until 10.00 pm (with after school clubs, homework clubs, sports facilities, cyber cafes etc). Its pupils will be aged 1 to 100. The four walls of a classroom/school will be replaced with online classrooms/schools/homes, ensuring access to technology and information for all.

Many university towns reflect this approach, where university learning facilities are embedded in the local community. Schooling is catching up. In “First Steps” we’ve already seen the ‘Kiosk’ model in India, where learning is simply put out onto the street to be consumed by self-organising groups of children. On the other side of the world, in New Zealand, Discovery Learning has schooling facilities deeply embedded in the community with locations in shopping malls and central business districts. Here, “school” isn’t a building and children are given “trust licences” to learn where they need to in the local community.

In this model, there is a vast spectrum of types of learning spaces, from traditional classrooms to cyber cafes, each type able to facilitate different levels of collaboration and self-directed learning.

Learning Spaces (C/O lookred)

New types of learning spaces will facilitate a much wider spectrum of learning methods too:

Technology Enabled Learning Styles. C/O lookred

Where Is School?

“Anytime Anywhere Learning for All” means exactly that. Every citizen, anywhere, able to access organised learning.  Not everyone will need to, or be able to, attend school in order to receive schooling services, which poses the question “where is school?” In the transformed schooling model, schooling is embedded deeply into the local community in the following way.

Anytime Anywhere Learning for All

1. Community Learning Spaces

Community Learning Spaces are places in which formal, organised schooling takes place for school age learners, that are not within the walls of the traditional Campus School. These spaces are, in effect, “franchises” of the Campus School, and firmly embedded into the Campus School’s systems. Learners in Community Learning Spaces have managed internet access, and plug their personal learning devices straight into e-Learning Service. Even the youngest children can learn with ICT – e.g. games based learning, immersive environments, interactive whiteboards and programmable toys. Learning to write with a Tablet PC helps young children to acquire basic skills long before they can type or use a mouse.

Learners are registered as members of the Connected Learning Community and the process of data collection begins. Managed learning pathways and dynamic timetables ensure that students work on the tasks that are most appropriate for their stage of learning. A spectrum of creativity, productivity and learning tools ensure that the optimal blend of computer and teacher mediated learning takes place. The ICT infrastructure comprises wireless network, workstations, display, scanners. Infrastructure and Core Sofware Services mean that computers joining the wireless network are managed via a Virtual Private Network. Users and devices are authenticated, and policies – especially security and filtering policies – are imposed.

Teachers, assistants and other responsible adults – connected to peers and experts through the technology – directly support the learning process. Learners progress through the curriculum as quickly as their learning performance permits, and move to different learning spaces when appropriate. Staff and learners alike access the Connected Learning Community portal to get information, content and tools. Learners can see their assignments, feedback, learning materials and web links from a single site, and populate an e-portfolio with their work. Community Learning Spaces are extensions of
the Campus School, and both staff and learners will spend some time at there.

2. Campus School

The Campus School acts as a central point for organising, managing and creating Anytime Anywhere Learning in the community. The Campus School in effect “franchises” learning operations in Community Learning Spaces, so ICT is used to drive alignment; manage performance; and ensure high quality, paperless administrative processes. Live communications ensure that expertise within and beyond the Campus School can be “piped” into the Community Learning Spaces (CLS) on demand.

The IT Infrastructure of the CLSs are supplied as a service from the Campus School.

Learners – of all ages – visit the Campus School to use specialist facilities and IT equipment that are unavailable in the Community Learning Spaces. Whilst learners bring their personal learning devices into the campus, the site has a proliferation of multi-touch interactive displays and these enable learners to access a vast array of information and content from anywhere on the site.

In the Schooling Enterprise Architecture model, Campus Schools are branch sites from the Local Education Authority hubs and as such receive the full range of Schooling Enterprise Services for Student Relationship Management, intelligent intervention, performance management, planning, operations and administration.

A master database of resources – people, spaces, equipment and content – enables the Campus School to dynamically timetable learners so their precise learning needs can be met immediately. Predictive analysis of learning pathways enables the system to book or purchase resources well in advance.

Underpinning the IT infrastructure at the school and its “franchises” is a set of Core Software Services including Security, Identity, Comms & Collab, System Management and Directory services. Services are either delivered through on-premises servers or relayed from data centres, private and public clouds “upstream” at LEA and/or MoE levels.

3. Local Education Authority

As a Hub in the Schooling Enterprise Architecture, the Local Education Authority’s main role is to deliver Schooling Enterprise Services to Campus Schools. Their managerial functions, facilitated by ICT, are to drive accountability, alignment and performance.

Another key role is to run large scale access programmes. Using aggregated buying power and regional connections the LEA is in an ideal position to acquire devices, infrastructure components and support for the best price-to-quality ratio. As a Hub for the MoE, LEAs should be able to ‘enforce’ MoE mandates on standards, quality and Service Level Agreements.

The LEA can also be an aggregation point for data held on children by different authorities – health, social care, the police and education – to be aggregated to give a secure ‘big picture’ on children,
particularly those who may be at risk.

4. Workplace

Anytime anywhere learning for all means delivering learning experiences to all, including those in work. Online vocational courses are available through the Connected Learning Community portal. Workplaces offer valuable learning opportunities to learners of all ages, especially where specialised equipment is beyond the financial reach of the Campus School. The workplace can also be used to house Community Learning Spaces. Being part of the Connected Learning Community Portal; local businesses can have direct dialogue with – and receive relevant learning services from – their local Campus School, FE College and University to better meet the learning needs of their organisations.

5. University

Universities offer a rich extension to the Campus School learning community by offering online access to lectures, experts and learning resources. Within the Anytime anywhere learning model, Higher Education is made available to students who are ready to take learning modules offered by the University – virtually or otherwise.

6. Off-Site Learning Environments

With community-wide Wi-Fi coverage, homes, cyber cafés, hospitals, and recreation areas can all be turned into learning environments.

Personalised Learning

Transformed schooling organises the learning around the individual, not the other way around.

Learning, by definition, is personal—no one else can learn for you. People learn different things at different speeds and in different ways. When students walk into a learning space, they bring very different sets of attributes, abilities, knowledge, skills, understandings and attitudes with them.

Over recent years, the concept of personalising learning has gained considerable ground.

From a technical perspective, personalising learning is about:

  • Delivering an extended range of opportunities to learn – individually and collaboratively
  • Delivering content that addresses precise learning needs
  • Managing learning pathways

Extending Opportunities to Learn

The wider and deeper the choice of content, the more personalised the learning experience can be. When providing learning to an entire community, the type of learning experience consumed will range from informal learning to structured and accredited courses.

Extended Learning Opportunities for All

With a wide and deep supply of learning content, learners can have a wide choice of learning experiences, modalities, pathways and assessments. For example, being able to pick from a menu of languages to learn is a more personalised experience than just having one to choose from. To be able to choose what level to study a language at – from beginner to advanced – again adds to the degree of personalisation.

Personalised learning is not about learning in isolation, however.  It is quite the opposite in, fact.  Learning is a social activity and personalising the learning experience is to do with providing opportunities to collaborate as well as to learn independently. A learning task that has been personalised for somebody could involve them working in a team, and part of the assessment could be how well they have managed to collaborate with other people. Therefore, another technical requirement here is to provide Communication and Collaboration tools – the more sophisticated these tools, the
greater the possible degree of personalisation.

Addressing Precise Learning Needs

Learners learn in completely different ways, and at different rates depending on prior knowledge and their learning styles. Therefore personalised learning systems need to deliver content so that different learning styles are addressed and different learning speeds are catered for. For example, in learning about the skeleton of dinosaurs, one learner might learn best by listening to a recording, another through looking at pictures, another by using a Tablet PC to kinaesthetically piece together the bones with a stylus.

From a technical point this means that content needs to be packaged so that learners can access it through multiple learning modes. Increasingly there will be automated agents that scour the internet and deliver content that precisely matches learning needs.

The relative length of time that it takes a learner to acquire the expected learning in each module shouldn’t matter as the e-learning services will adjust the personal learning pathway that the learner takes accordingly.

Managing Personal Learning Pathways

The extent to which a learning task has been personalised is a function of the extent to which that individual’s prior knowledge, skills, preferred learning styles, and attitudes have been taken into account when assigning the task.

In this model, learners are constantly assessed as they move through the learning programme, and the pathways that they take continuously evolve as they work their way through. This relies on feedback loops and systems which can dynamically adapt to the twists and turns of the learning process, and set challenging learning goals and tasks. This is essentially about using “business logic” which in turn uses data to decide what students need to learn next and manage the learning process.

Setting the learning task automatically is something that intelligent tutoring systems and learning management systems such as “Success Maker” have been doing for many years. However, if completing the learning task needs more than just a computer, managing the process dynamically becomes complicated.

This is where dynamic timetabling comes in. Dynamic timetabling starts with the premise that learning should be organised on a ‘performance’ as opposed to a ‘time’ basis (see Schooling at the Speed of Thought for more details). The core idea is that dynamic timetabling matches the optimal learning experience for a learner to the resources needed to deliver it. For example, if the learner has  mastered the concept of soil erosion in Geography, the next task may be to apply that learning in a practical experiment. This involves working with others who are at the same learning stage, using equipment, a physical space and teacher/assistant supervision. Ideally, the dynamic timetabling system will have predicted when these resources will be needed, organised them ahead of schedule and matched the learner to what they need to complete the next task.

Dynamic Timetabling

Today, this can be at least partially accomplished through resource scheduling within CRM.

Once the learning task is completed, a record of achievement builds in the learner’s e-portfolio.

Culture of Performance

In the Transformed Phase the entire schooling system is working at optimum efficiency and effectiveness – what Joey Fitts and Bruno Aziza (Driving Business Performance, 2008) call a “Culture of Performance”. To get to this stage schooling systems will have gone through the following stages:

  • First Steps: Increasing visibility
  • Enhanced: Moving beyond gut feel, and planning for success
  • Strategic: Executing on strategy

A culture of performance is goal orientated; results are measured and members of the Connected Learning Community are competitive in a constructive way. A culture of performance is
about transparency, predictability, and the ability to adapt to changing conditions. With capabilities to monitor, analyse, and plan, performance orientated organisations can create a culture where information is a prized asset, aligned execution is the norm, and accountability is embedded.

From a learner’s perspective, this is about friction-free administration regarding courses, options and assessments. It’s about micro payments, and cashless vending, and not having to repeatedly enter the same basic data for silo’d administrative processes. It’s also about the seamless escalations of issues – such as requests for special support.

From a teacher’s perspective this is about doing the lowest possible levels of administrative tasks, confident in the knowledge that the system is dealing with the administrative mechanics of running the schooling operations. For those administrative tasks that teacher have to do, reporting, administration, productivity and communication & collaboration tools ensure that the tasks are efficiently executed and add real value to the organisation.

Administrators and managers get the benefit of using processes that have been integrated. For example, when new staff join the organisation, background checks, basic data collection, terms and conditions, salary and on-boarding systems all work together as a single function, crossing organisational boundaries automatically. When strategy is set at the highest organisational level, this cascades down automatically into the objective setting process, ensuring organisational alignment. Performance management tools linked to in-depth data about learner performance ensure that teaching staff are rewarded fairly. Business intelligence is available to provide deep insights into operations to ensure that resources are being used to maximum effect.

Bringing it All Together

The key difference between a transformed schooling system and any of the other phases is the degree to which the entire system is architected around the student.

Learner at the Centre

The Transformed schooling system will integrate a spectrum of services and processes, many which would have been in silos before the transformation process, around the student. The result of this is that the student experiences a range of highly individualised services, delivered by a high performance, highly connected, lean, efficient and cost effective schooling system.

Getting to Transformed schooling is a long journey. In most countries there will be significant inertia from legacy systems. Paradoxically, one of the drivers for transformation is diminishing budgets. In the United States, for example, there is a strong surge towards anytime anywhere, personalised learning for all – delivered from outside the formal schooling system, driven by collapsing schooling budgets and widespread dissatisfaction with the current system.

Ultimately, the point of investing in transforming a schooling system is to get an order-of-magnitude improvement in return on education budget investment, and this cannot be done in isolation. The whole enterprise of transforming schooling needs to be organised within the framework of a Schooling Enterprise Architecture, as described in detail in Schooling at the Speed of Thought.

Schooling Enterprise Architecture

Focusing on the “IT Platform Architecture”, the Transformed phase has 5 interconnected layers:

Tranformed phase - five layer Schooling Enterprise Technology Architecture

And finally, across each layer are the following key technology levers:

Schooling Enterprise Technical Concept Architecture - Transformation Phase

This is the last in this series of articles on the phases through which schooling systems evolve, but watch this space for related articles. All comments, feedback, questions and suggestions for articles will be very welcomed.

Thanks to Matthew Woodruff and Chris Poole from lookred for contributions to this article.

The “Strategic” Phase

This is the third in a series of articles that aim to help schooling systems develop their technology, the first being “Taking the First Steps“ and the second, Taking the Next Steps – The ‘Enhanced’ Phase.

There are four distinct phases through which technology in schooling evolves. The first phase is characterized by access. In the next phase, technology is used to enhance existing processes. The third phase is characterized by using technology strategically. No longer is technology considered a “bolt-on”, or “veneer” on top of existing processes – it now helps drive schooling towards strategic goals such as significantly improved learning and better return on investments. In the final phase, leading edge schools use ICT to transform their operations, using it to personalize learning, integrate deeply with the wider community, run extremely efficient administration systems and develop a culture of performance.

‘Strategic’ Phase Vision

In the Strategic phase, technology becomes a key asset in achieving the strategic goals of an organisation. It’s about restructuring work and processes and doing things differently.

Typically in this phase, the strategic goals of an organisation would include raising standards and improving performance, and technology is a strategic tool for achieving these strategic goals by enabling:

  • Intelligent intervention – data driven support for learners
  • Connected Learning Communities – fully exploiting all available resources, and integration with the local community
  • Monitoring, analysis and planning – data driven decision making
Four phases of ICT implementation

Goals

Intelligent Intervention

This is essentially about using data to make well informed decisions about what students need to learn or do next. To fully personalise the learning experience students should be constantly assessed as they move through their schooling, and their learning pathways should continuously evolve. This relies on highly effective feedback loops and systems which dynamically adapts to the twists and turns of the learning process, and sets challenging learning goals and tasks. This is extremely difficult to do within a paper-based setup, but can be made a lot easier through using IT systems that provide analytic and workflow capabilities.  Intelligent tutoring systems, and managed learning environments, are becoming more commonplace and increasingly sophisticated.

Monitoring, Analysis and Planning

To manage an organisation strategically, as opposed to fighting fires, the ability to monitor performance, analyse results and plan for improvements is fundamental. Organisations wanting to manage strategically must have three key capabilities:

Monitoring

This capability provides managers with the ability to know “what is happening” and “what has happened.” Organisations implement dashboards, scorecards, or reports to monitor their performance. These visual applications allow managers to keep an eye on important indicators of their organisation’s health.

Analysis

This capability provides managers with the ability to know what is happening and why. To analyse performance, organisations implement solutions that are often very interactive in nature and allow managers to investigate the root cause of issues they see in their dashboards, scorecards, or reports.

Planning

This capability provides the organisation with the ability to model what should happen. Organisations develop processes and tools to conduct the essential planning, budgeting, and forecasting exercises. These processes allow managers to align groups and individuals around the metrics that drive the organisation—for instance: “what are our examination result targets?” or “what is our spending versus our revenue?”

Connected Learning Communities

Whilst there may be elements of learning that require independent work, learning only really acquires meaning in a social context, and the most immediate and direct social context for schooling is the local community.

ICT can be used to connect together all those who can make a contribution to students’ learning – e.g. local business, community resources (e.g. museums/libraries), parents and 3rd party learning services. It can connect students to inspiring individuals and inspirational speakers; promote debate and engagement between collaborators in face-to-face or virtual groupings; and provide mentoring opportunities. Connecting stakeholders together in a Connected Learning Community has enormous benefits such as engaging parents more deeply in the learning process, speeding-up processes and improving students’ connections with the outside world. The core of a connected learning community is a portal that can be accessed from anywhere.

Scenarios

Student Access

In the Strategic phase, students have continual access to their own learning devices. These devices need to enable a range of learning scenarios (not just content consumption), be rugged, easy to repair and support, manageable on a network.

Devices should be available to students so they can learn anytime anywhere, access content, learning management and communication and collaboration tools via the Connected Learning Community Portal.

Anytime Anywhere Learning = access to devices + learning services

Having access to their own devices enables students to experience a wide range of learning scenarios:

ICT enables a wide range of learning styles

Classroom

Classrooms need to accommodate an increasingly wide range of learning styles, and equipment needs to be laid out in quite different ways according to the demands of each different learning task, for example:

Different learning tasks require different floorplans

BECTA provided the following guidance to UK schools on different classroom layout options:

Pods – separate circular / hexagonal / octagonal benches with workstations
Hexagonal pods
Advantages
  • No corners with 2 computers, so no dead spots that cannot be used
  • No extra space required for 2 pupils to share a computer
  • Can support collaborative work as users working around ‘one pod’
Pods – squares with computers on two sides only
Square pods
Advantages
  • No corners with 2 computers, so no ‘dead spots’ that cannot be used
  • No extra space required for 2 pupils to share a computer
  • Can support collaborative work as users working around ‘one pod’
Bays built along walls
Bays
Advantages
  • Teacher can more or less see all computer screens from the centre of the room
  • Provides opportunity to use the centre of the room for tables enabling work away from the computer, and to gather groups for discussion
  • Cabling and electrical work is cheaper and easier than ‘pod’ designs as along the room edge.

School

In the Strategic phase, IT has become a strategic asset to schools. With the infrastructure optimised in the Enhanced phase, we now turn our focus on workloads delivered by servers.

The following services are core in the Strategic phase:

  • Optimised Infrastructure – including File and Print, Database Services, Directory Services, Security, Device Management, and Data Protection and Recovery
  • MIS – Management Information Systems
  • Portal
  • Unified Communication
  • Virtualisation – centralizing computing tasks to improve scalability and system performance

These, typically, will be delivered through three layers:

  • On-Premises – the school hosts key functions on their own servers
  • Data Centre/Private Cloud – the Local Education Authority (LEA) delivers services to schools from their servers
  • Public Cloud – the school receives services from the LEA, Ministry of Education and private suppliers from Public Cloud Services
School Server Infrastructure

Portal

The Strategic phase is characterised by the Connected Learning Community, the core of which is a portal that can be accessed from anywhere. For it to be effective it needs to be “role based” i.e. present users with information and tools relevant to their role and to them as individuals. In other words a teacher in the community sees the information relevant to all teachers, their fellow subject specialists, and also information specific to their particular group of students, their particular HR information, and their particular teaching content, tasks, calendar, e-mail etc.

A portal should give students, parents, managers, teachers, their own “spaces” and deliver to them the resources that are important individually to them through a single web page.  It aggregates information from diverse systems into one interface with a single sign-on ID – and organisation-wide search capabilities so that users can access relevant information quickly.  Teaching and administration staff can use the portal to distribute information to students based on their enrolment, classes, security group or other membership criteria, while enabling them to personalise the portal content and customise the layout to suit their needs.

A great Portal reference architecture is Twynham School. Twynham is a 1600+ Secondary school in Christchurch UK, built  a powerful collaboration platform – “Learning Gateway” – which allows students, staff and parents to work efficiently; develop independent and inter-dependence in their learning strategies; and support children in achieving their full potential. Twynham School won the BECTA ICT Excellence Award in 2008 for learning Beyond the Classroom and the schools works with over 400 schools internationally to support the development of their Learning Platforms.

Twynham School Portal Navigation bar

Mike Herrity at Twynham has published a detailed e-book explaining how the Learning Gateway is used: http://bit.ly/qJohiL

Microsoft have also published a full architectural guide explaining how Twynham built their Learning Gateway – http://bit.ly/qORAW5

Enabling many of the functions in the portal are 2 sub-systems – Content Management and Unified Communications & Collaboration.

Content Management Systems (CMS)

When ICT is fully implemented, vast amounts of content gets created.  In order to get maximum efficiencies from ICT, this content needs to be organised and managed in a way that means that people don’t replicate one another’s work.

A content management system in a connected learning community helps education institutions organise and facilitate the collaborative creation of documents and other content. They enable the full life cycle of content – from initial creation to delivery to end users.  CMS comprise document and records management, web content management, forms, search, library systems, curriculum frameworks, curriculum systems, curriculum exemplars and resource assemblers.

Unified Communications (UC) & Collaboration

Today it is typical that people will have multiple contact addresses – direct line phone number; mobile phone number;  e-mail; Instant Messenger; home number; personal mobile number; home e-mail, etc. Unified Communications (UC) takes identity and presence and then has all of these other ways of interacting simply connect up to that.

A single integrated identity can simplify how you find and communicate with others.  One integrated desktop application can provide easy access to all the ways users are likely to want to communicate.  Another key advantage to UC is that in using Voice over IP (VOIP) for telephone calls, it has the potential to significantly reduce communication costs.

UC enables students, teachers, parents and other stakeholders to confer and consult in the way that suits their work style by switching seamlessly between videoconferencing, telephone, email and instant messaging.

Also within UC are task and calendaring functions.

Data Driven Decision Making

In a schooling system, data driven decision making is supported by a huge number of information systems.  Any process that involves the creation and transmission of information can be considered an information system – even informal discussions.

The collective term for the information systems in schooling is Management Information Systems (MIS).

Functions Supported by an MIS

The functions that a Management Information System need to support are:

Improving Student Performance Progression Management
Learning Management Intelligent Intervention
Parents Engagement In Learning Better Teaching Decisions
Make Better Management Decisions Monitor, Analyse and Plan
Tactical Decision Making Data Visualisation
Manage Resources More Effectively Planning and budgeting
Financial Control Asset Control
Reporting Accountability and Alignment
Performance and Assessment Data KPIs, Scorecards, Dashboards and Reports
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) Drive Administrative Efficiencies
Planning Organising
Controlling Co-ordinating
Management Information Systems – Functional Architecture

In this context, an information system really means an organised hierarchy of information sub-systems. Management Information System (MIS) is a term used as a container for all of the electronic information systems within a schooling system.  These systems vary in size, scope and capability, from packages that are implemented in relatively small organisations to cover student records alone, to enterprise-wide solutions that aim to cover most aspects of running large multi-site organisations.

A MIS includes the following sub-systems:

  • Decision Support Systems (DSS)
    • Finance
    • Performance Management
    • HR
    • Student Relationship Management (SRM)
    • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
    • Analytics and Business Intelligence (BI)
    • Timetabling
  • Student Information Systems (SIS)
    • Integrated Student Record
    • Electronic grade book
    • Attendance Management
    • Automated workflows
    • E-Forms
  • Learning Platform
    • Learning Management Systems (LMS)
    • Managed Learning Environment (MLE)
    • Virtual Learning Environments (VLE)
    • Content Management Systems (CMS)

For a full description, see Schooling at the Speed of Thought, Chapter 6, Managing Information.

Local Education Authority

In the Strategic Phase, the goal of service provision at Local Education Authority level is to deliver those services which when aggregated improve in quality and price.

Local Education Authorities can use their scale to negotiate the best prices for content, communication, support services etc. Many of the services requiring the most maintenance and management – e.g. learning services, system management, business intelligence, and administrative tasks such as payroll and HR, are delivered more cost effectively from a centralised point.  Other benefits include the use of greater amounts of data for decision making – an LEA with data from many schools can perceive more patterns than a single school with its limited pool of data.

Many LEA services are delivered through data centres built on top of optimised infrastructures. Increasingly data centres will become Private Clouds – essentially Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) within the data centre. The large scale and pay-as-you-go economics of Public Clouds aren’t available in typical Private Clouds. However, Private Clouds offer at least some of the scalability and elasticity benefits of Public Cloud but with additional control and customisation. Increasingly many of these services will be also be delivered from Public Clouds.

The services delivered by the LEA can be split into two main categories:

  • Schooling Enterprise Services
    • Monitoring, Analysis and Planning
    • Intelligent Intervention
    • Student Relationship Management
    • Administrative Processes
    • Operations
  • E-Learning Services
Local Education Authority Schooling Enterprise Architecture (SEA)

Ministry of Education

Some of the Schooling Enterprise Services delivered by LEAs to their schools and communities could be provided at National level from the Central Ministry of Education. Services such as strategy, policy, budgets, and curriculum are usually set and delegated at national level.

Computing functions at Ministry of Education level can be grouped into three main categories:

  • Internal departments – Curriculum, Policy, Research etc.
  • Regional Services – Resources and BI
  • National Services – Content (information services) and infrastructure – e.g. national level schooling enterprise internet backbone
Ministry of Education perspective

One of the most important functions at Ministry level is to have a “clear line of sight” of the performance of the schooling system. This enables BI analysis and for resources to then be focussed on the areas where they will have most impact.

Fitts and Aziza (Joey Fitts and Bruno Aziza, 2008) talk of a “line of sight” from strategic to operational to tactical decisions as the discipline that drives aligned execution. “Line of sight” means clear visibility of goals, and progress towards them at executive (strategic), management (operational), employees (tactical) levels.

“Clear line of sight” is about performance metric alignment across organisational layers. This can be thought of as an organisation chart for performance metrics, indicating how the various levels of the organisation’s performance metrics relate to one another. At school level, classroom teacher’s metrics roll up to their Head of Department, which in turn roll up to Deputy Principals, which in turn roll up to the Principal. In turn, and depending on the mode of operations, performance metrics for Principals should roll up to those of Local Authority Directors, which in turn finally roll up to the Ministry of Education.

Clear Line of Sight enables strategic allignment

Technology Building Blocks

Finally, pulling these building blocks together we get the following high level architecture:

Technology Building Blocks for Strategic Phase

Conclusion

Moving from the Enhanced Phase to the Strategic Phase is as much about management as ICT. In this phase, the technology is used a tool for getting better allignement between strategy set at MoE level to exectution at school level. At all levels, there are strategic decisions that ICT can help monitor, analyse, plan and execute.

In the next article in this series, we will explore the final phase – Transformation.

Cloud Watching #3 – Managing Student Relationships

How could junk-mail and schooling effectiveness possibly be linked? The answer is “CRM” – Customer Relationship Management software. CRM is now firmly entrenched across a vast spectrum of businesses as a way of managing sales and marketing relationships with customers. Anyone possessing a loyalty (rewards or club) card will have their purchasing behaviours tracked by CRM, which then automatically triggers direct marketing activities such as special offers and tailored messages. But CRM is being increasingly used to support the learning process too.

Derivatives of CRM – known as XRM solutions – have been developed for a range of sectors. In healthcare for example XRM is used for a range of activities such as notifying patients of upcoming appointments and how to manage their illnesses.

As the schooling process is getting more data driven we are seeing a sharp increase in the use of CRM in education too. SRM – adaptations of CRM for students – i.e. Student Relationship Management, is rapidly on the increase.

SRM has been extensively used in Higher Education for a long time for a variety of purposes – e.g. implementing targeted marketing campaigns to prospective students and alumni. SRM is used in HE to support enrolment and to track financial matters such as the payment of fees. For similar reasons, SRM is also used extensively in private schooling.

In Brazil, Gestar—an independent software vendor—built an SRM system for private schools that not only handles the administrative “mechanics”, but academic matters too. The objective was to apply the concepts of “marketing one-to-one” to the complete relationship cycle with students – from the initial recruiting process to completion of school and beyond. By gathering and using the information generated in Management Information System (MIS) and Learning Management System (LMS) – eg attendance and individual assessments – it was possible for the schools served by Gestar to improve their effectiveness.

In schools using the Gestar SRM system dropout rates are reduced by cross-checking data across a range of “risk factors”. This makes it possible to identify students at risk of dropping out, and this automatically triggers processes such as setting up interviews, identifying the causes of dissatisfaction, and aligning the student’s objectives with what the school can offer.

Through linking with the LMS, SRM is able to determine if students are accessing the e-Learning tools, completing assignments within given deadlines, and if they are satisfied with their learning activities. Through automated workflows, “intelligent intervention” can be used to address specific problems.

Pre-defined workflows and escalations, in some cases completely automated, make it easier for a teacher to be more “granular” in how they address students’ individual needs. The benefit for the teacher is that their administrative burden is reduced. The benefit to the student is that they get a more personalised service.

So, as SRM is based on software used to manage sales and marketing, a key question is “what is the difference between a learning programme and a marketing campaign?” The answer, actually, is “not a lot”. The mechanics are very similar – place people into groups according to what you want them to learn or do; then step them through a series of linked actions until the goal is reached; then recycle the data to make ever improving interventions.

Another company offering SRM solutions for schooling systems is UK company lookred®. Working with New Line Learning Academy (NLL) – a consortium of public schools – in Kent, UK, founders Chris Poole and Matthew Woodruff had the innovative insight that it’s practically impossible to personalise relationships with thousands of students without using technology. To meet the goal of tailoring learning experiences for all students in the NLL consortium, Chris and Matthew designed a solution centred on SRM and the extensive use of Business Intelligence software.

Crucially, Chris and Matthew made the link between SRM and Intelligent Intervention. This involves setting up a set of “risk factors” that may affect learning performance, finding students who fit the risk profile, and then intervening through goal orientated actions. Imagine, for example, that a school has found that those students with the lowest reading ages perform the worse in examinations, then clearly reading age can be considered a risk factor. The same could be said for other attributes such as attendance, behaviour, or socio-economic factors.

To illustrate how SRM works, let’s explore further the ‘reading age’ example. Using SRM a teacher could run a report to identify all students with a reading age in excess of 2 years below their actual age. Armed with this data, the teacher can now trigger a whole set of automated events and escalations – e.g. getting students to reading clubs; persuading parents to encourage more reading at home; asking teachers to give extra reading support where needed etc. To do the same analysis and run the intervention programme using a paper based approach would be extremely resource intensive.

The goal of intelligent intervention isn’t to just react to a string of unrelated scores however, but rather to tackle deeper personal needs through addressing a range of student attributes. At the heart of the SRM is the student profile. This builds up over time and as more data is added, the smarter the interventions can get.

At New Line Learning, the data that is held in the student record could be easily used to make comparisons between groups of students.

A different example of how CRM can be exploited in schooling systems is in the area of professional development. In Maryland, USA, the State Education department used CRM to improve administration of certification. At any one point in time, there will be 160,000 people in the Maryland State Education System requiring certification of one kind of another. Overwhelmed with a backlog of requests processing times for new certificates extend to as long as 18 months. Working with Avanade, Maryland introduced a CRM system that reduced certificate-processing times to as little as five days and virtually eliminated dependence on paper.

WHY SRM IN THE CLOUD?

Besides the core advantages of scaling, managing resources and cost that applies to most aspects of Cloud based services, there are two additional advantages that SRM in the cloud brings:

1. Scaling interventions – there is technically no reason why an intervention – say for absences – can’t be deployed across multiple schools. If the risk factors, triggers and escalation paths are the same or similar, then a centralised system could potentially manage interventions across several schools simultaneously.

2. Better data – the more schools are contributing data to understand risks and how best to mitigate against them, the better. The more data, the more variables can be considered and the richer the decision making process.

IMPLEMENTING SRM

In the business world, CRM is as much a philosophy as it is a software service At its core CRM is seen as a more customer-centric way of doing business enabled by technology. The focus of CRM is also shifting to encompass social networks and user communities.

For SRM to work in a schooling system the organisation must analyse its workflows and processes; some will need to be re-engineered to better serve the overall goal of tailoring services to students.

If student relationships are the heart of effective schooling, then SRM can be the engine that mediates relationships at scale.

Further information

http://www.gartner.com/technology/media-products/newsletters/datatel/issue1/gartner1.html

http://download.microsoft.com/download/6/9/3/693d3df0-9202-42cd-a961-1bb7b1b8b301/MSDynamicsCRM_EDU.xps

https://partner.microsoft.com/40062157