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By Craig Smith, Education lead, Jamf

The education sector has been grossly impacted by the global health crisis and as a result, both students and educators have needed to adapt to new ways of learning, remotely. Schools, academies, colleges and universities quickly digitised content and educators learnt new skills and engagement strategies to support students, keep pace and stay open.

Addressing the digital divide

The pandemic has highlighted a disparity in funding for education technologies in schools, with some educational institutes and teachers being ill-prepared for what was to come after the first lockdown in March. According to a survey by Teacher Tapp, a higher percentage of pupils at independent schools (79%) reported receiving online classes than state school pupils – and even within the state sector, secondary pupils from the wealthiest households were more likely to be offered online support (64%) than their peers from the poorest fifth of households (47%).

As a result, the pandemic has instigated an opportunity for education leaders to collaborate and review how technology and management solutions can support those who do not have easy access to education and where financial investments may need to be reallocated to future proof the education sector.

Making digital learning manageable and accessible

In a region where geographical poverty has had a major impact on the education system, Scottish Borders Council launched the Inspire Learning Project in 2018, with the aim to refresh the education curriculum and make a difference to all young people’s lives. The Inspire Learning team wanted to provide opportunity and hope to students through the use of technology, regardless of social factors like background and location.

The Inspire Learning Project focused on four key areas: mobility, personalisation, collaboration and excellence. Having reviewed different technology providers, the team selected Apple based on its sleek designs and compatibility with other creativity and collaboration apps. To create a seamless and exciting experience for students, enabling them to be successful from the very beginning, they enlisted the help of Apple device management experts, Jamf. This allowed the Inspire Learning team to maintain the unique Apple user experience.

Since the students and teachers were based in multiple locations, iPads were rolled out to maintain mobility. Students were excited to unbox their own iPads and teachers were confident that they could deliver their classes with little delay since the devices could be enrolled, deployed and configured over the air through the Jamf Pro solution.

Jamf Pro provides both students and teachers with varying levels of app management and device access through a few clicks by a selected administrator. As such, students could personalise their own interface and applications and the Inspire Learning team could customise the interfaces and applications of those with learning disabilities, to address their individual needs, on their behalf. Furthermore, using Apple Classroom, teachers could restrict specific applications that were not relevant to their project for a safer online experience.

Whilst working remotely, individuals within the initiative still needed to feel connected with one another and have the opportunity to collaborate. Through Jamf Pro, teachers can arrange specific online learning groups or 1-1 training sessions.

As the project was owned by Scottish Borders Council, it needed to meet the standards of the local government. Reporting and monitoring engagement was crucial for the team to know if students were having the best experience and using the iPads efficiently. Through Jamf Pro, the Inspire Learning team has one holistic view of all devices to ensure the timely rollout of apps, patch updates and software to maintain a high level of engagement and security.

Looking to the future

The conventional learning environment has and will continue to be challenged in the years to come with many schools, academies colleges and universities all looking at ways to build strategies that include digital learning as part of the learning infrastructure – not just an add on. There are many benefits to be realised, from peer-to-peer support and collaboration to increasing productivity and engagement levels that can help students across their education journeys. To make this a permanent fixture and less of a ‘band-aid’ to a world crisis, we’ll need schools and governments to review and reinvest their time and money in education technology. The Department of Education has made positive steps in this direction by supporting disadvantaged children, together with care leavers and those with social workers, with free devices to ease remote learning during the lockdown.

The challenges that educational institutes may face in deploying education technology safely and securely and in justifying their investments, can be alleviated by an affordable and robust device and app management solution that makes investments successful and future proof.

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