Before and beyond remote learning
Jeramie Sutton, Microsoft Senior Executive, leading Microsoft’s customer and government engagement for schools
Explore how and why technology was being used before remote learning, how it’s changed, and look at some examples from Microsoft of how things might evolve in the coming years as we look towards a Hybrid Education future.
Overview – Before and beyond remote learning
Look back to where we’ve come from and then forward to where Microsoft in education is going to take us. The pandemic has seen a rapid expansion in the use of technology to support remote learning, but EdTech was used long before Covid-19 appeared.
Senior Education Executive
Keynote: Before and beyond Remote Learning
Jeramie has spent her adult career working in the technology sector. Having supported all parts of public sector from local government to housing to healthcare, Jeramie’s true passion is education which she has helped lead at HP and Microsoft in the UK. Dedicated to helping schools achieve meaningful outcomes through the use of technology, Jeramie’s job is education schools lead for Microsoft, leading executive customer engagement across England, Scotland and Wales. She is also a STEM ambassador, a mentor for youth charity Urban Synergy and a trustee at a large MAT in the South-West. With a personal enthusiasm for helping young people from all backgrounds achieve their full potential she is privileged to support schools, large and small, in using technology to deliver educational transformation.
Scomis has 40 years of experience in providing ICT services to schools, so we understand the challenges you face and know the solutions that are going to help overcome them. By providing flexible access to technical expertise, we aim to help you to get the most out of your ICT and to exploit relevant, new technologies.
The last couple of years has seen a rapid adoption of cloud-based learning platforms by schools and we are pleased to have worked with so many of our customers to make them a success.
Other Related Topics
If you’d like to hear more from other practitioners about how Microsoft technologies are changing teaching and learning in their schools, please refer to the following:
Lara Sorrell, Microsoft EdTech Demonstrator who builds on Jeramie’s presentation by providing a practical demonstration of how Microsoft’s future vision for EdTech is coming alive in the classroom, in the trust and school office, watch here.
The Cornerstone Academy Trust is recognised nationally and internationally as being at the forefront of EdTech for teaching and learning. Find out how they are harnessing technology to collaborate and develop a supportive learning environment, watch here.
ScomisLive is recognised by ISBL as Continued Professional Development (CPD)
Offering over 20 hours of appropriate learning content for School Business Leaders. ISBL members can register their attendance against their annual CPD commitment.
Jeramie Sutton talks about the role technology can play in education
JERAMIE: I work at Microsoft as part of their leadership team for education here in the UK. We know that the past two years has seen the use of EdTech explode, but we had that in our system long before the pandemic. So, I am going to look at the role technology has played over the years and look at some of the opportunities that the past couple of years has presented that we could perhaps capitalise on as we move forward.
How education technology has been used previously
So, I am going to start by making what is probably a very obvious statement but I feel it really needs to be made – and that is that education technology is not new. Far from it. There are so many examples where we have used technology over the years. We have talked a lot about kit, as it were, over the past few years; we have also always spoken often in terms of unique, best‑thing‑since‑sliced‑bread-type innovations.
For instance, we had this scenario a few years ago where interactive white boards were all the rage. Commonly, what we saw was that the training for them was not particularly good – sometimes the integration with the existing systems was not there, sometimes our IT departments were not well-trained on them. Often, they were almost set up to fail. The challenge we had in those scenarios was that it created an attitude of “we tried, and we failed.” Those excuses go on for years – the technology is not a good fit for our school. That is the challenge we have seen throughout the sector.
In the last couple of years is that the conversation has moved on slightly from kit – although that is a key enabler for having technology in a school – to looking at some more distinct questions. So, how we can reduce teacher workload? How can we better use the data we are collecting and use that meaningfully in our school scenario? None of this is new. We have not had the ability to be able to use them.
New innovations in education technology
I am currently a trustee at an multi‑academy trust based in Cornwall. A couple of weeks ago we were doing interviews for our CEO. I live in Essex; I joined the interview as a hybrid panellist, which worked perfectly – we ended up hiring someone. I had a conversation after with David Parker, the chair of trustees, in which we discussed hybrid interviewing. The fact that we are in the 21st century and the fact we can do that is fantastic! I remember when he was a head teacher in the 1990s; we spoke about video conferencing, and how one day we would be teaching by video conference. That conversation was 35 years ago.
Now, we feel like the reason we have been able to move past and develop some of those conversations about technology is because all those long‑running challenges in education are still as important now as they were before and will continue to be. Those issues of safeguarding, of finance, of attainment, and all those important topics will never stop being the number‑one priority; they have got to be put first.
How the pandemic changed the situation
What happened two years ago is that something else became the most important issue: the pandemic. How we delivered education changed quite literally overnight on the 23rd of March. It changed for all of us. If you are a young person unable to physically go to the location you learn in, how do we ensure that you have access to teaching and learning? The same issue is true for teachers.
So, we saw this huge increase in the use of technology, not because we wanted to but because we had to – and it essentially resulted in the world’s biggest pilot of educational technology out of necessity. We know that, in the UK alone, ten million students were displaced – and the impacts have been dramatic. It was not an ideal situation for how we would want to use technology, but it did prove the point that actually there is a place for it and it can work.
But we also know that at the same time, the impact was immediate, and it was dramatic in what it meant for young people and their learning. The Education Policy Institute and the DfE said by September 2020 that primary school children had lost up to three and a half months in Maths learning. That is something we need to try to overcome. When we look statistically at the gains, we did make some progress – but everything that was made between 2010 and 2020 was lost in the first few months of the pandemic.
Equally, we know that devices are a huge challenge, and despite the fact that now the DfE have provided over 1.9 million devices throughout England, at the moment the pandemic struck 80% of the most disadvantaged pupils did not have access to a device. “Device” in this context does not necessarily mean a laptop or a desktop – it might mean a phone. 80% of them did not have access to anything. The technology that we need is not always in place, but there are gaps that have appeared that we can try to address.
Opportunities we can make use of
There are opportunities that have been presented because we have had that trial of technology. One of them is around accessibility, because often we think of accessibility and immediately think of disability – but that is not the case. We should be looking at it in terms of preference. To use an example, if you and I both love reading, we both might want to read Harry Potter – but I might want to read it on a Kindle, and you might want to listen to an audiobook. It is no different in terms of the content, but you are choosing how you might want to consume it. What we have seen in the past two years is the ability for us to personalise learning, so a young person can engage in a way that works for them best. We know that when young people are engaged, they learn better.
Equally, if there is an additional need – dyslexia, for instance – the fact we can now easily use tools at the flick of a switch is huge. We can change the font size, we can dictate to a computer, we can have it read the words aloud to us. We are now able to embed those tools for all young people and it removes the stigma from using those tools. It means that we can all use them, whether there is an official need or whether it is a preference. We have seen with these types of tools in the classroom you can do that.
How education will change in years to come
Throughout 2020, seeing the impact that the pandemic was having, Microsoft has commissioned research with UNESCO. It was based around reimagining education. With these experiences that we were having, what might it mean for technology as we look to move forward. One of the earlier and most profound findings is that when we stopped thinking of technology as just a vehicle to do the job for us and instead think of it as a tool with which to do the job, the impacts on attainment progress, collaboration, and engagement really start to increase. What we need to start thinking about as we move forward is how do we bring those into the classroom in a very different context. We often talk about how we have learned a lot in the past two years, and we absolutely have, but the context of teaching and learning in the last two years in a fully remote or even 95% remote scenario is very different to what it will be in a year. We need to think about not digital transformation but digital adaptation. We have got the baseline and the foundation, but the content looks different to 2018, 2019, and 2020, and it will look different in 2025.
The technology is an important enabler, and it gives us opportunities to do things you can’t do in an offline capacity or from a blank sheet of paper. It does not take us away from the basics: if you want an EdTech strategy to be successful it needs to be part and parcel of that vision and strategy for the education setting that you are in, so that means looking at what do want to achieve in two or five years out. It needs to fit and support everything that you are looking do in that system and that is something that we have learned.
The culture aspect is especially important. If we had had this conversation about EdTech three years ago, I would have spoken to you about the fact that it is so hard to get teachers on board, and how so many confident and successful teachers who have had great results for the last 30 years were reluctant to try new methods because they simply were not confident using a digital platform. They were very resistant to change. But the good thing about the pandemic is that people have been forced had to learn some of those fundamental skills. We have found that even the anti-technology teachers have admitted that, like it or not, there are benefits to using technology. We have got past a lot of those immediate hurdles around wanting to use it and the desire is there more than it was before.
It is important to look at the unique context. There are many blueprints out there for how to deliver a great EdTech strategy, but what works for one school might not work for another. A high school down the road from me has a different learning context than the MAT in Cornwall; they are at different stages in their education technology. We need to think about the context that we are in – whether that comes down to funding, what the infrastructure looks like, how many devices you have, and even what the appetite is. All of that must be considered, because if we try and cookie-cutter it, you will not find the results you need.
The last bit is, of course, to do with capabilities. We know that traditionally there has been a gap in terms of teachers knowing how to use the technology, but also IT departments. We all know that technology moves on incredibly quickly. If you learned how to use a server back in 2006 and you are the IT person leading that in an educational context, you perhaps need to do more learning to support the environment in the way you need to. Equally, when it comes to cyber security, there are so many more attacks now and we are more vulnerable. You need to have someone who understand the up‑to‑date threats so they can proactively look to secure your environments. That IT capability is crucial to ensuring that whatever you put in place you are safeguarding your environment and your young people.
Using our experiences to improve
With all the experiences that we have had, though, we are a bit of a crossroads because there are not many people in the education sector who will sit there and say that they did not benefit at all from it. Fundamentally, we have all proven that there are a lot of things to be gained from using education, whether it is in the classroom or in the back office. It is down to us to decide to proactively move forward. It goes back to what I said earlier: we have all had a great experience, but the context will look different – so, we need to proactively decide to pivot to that and tailor what we were doing. We will all have examples of where we have done that – some of us have had great experiences in the pandemic, and some of us have chosen to go back to the way things were before.
In my own personal experience, I was a big gym-goer before the pandemic. Clearly, that stopped for quite some time. I moved to an online workout thing, which to be honest I enjoyed much more than I thought I would have done. There is nothing wrong with doing it like that; it was more convenient, and it was cheaper. And yet, the moment we were able to go back to the gym, I dropped my subscription and went back to the gym even though I quite liked what I was doing before. That is an example of how you can enjoy something and continue to do it moving forward. The same goes for education; we must make sure that we are consciously deciding, because those habits will be lost quite quickly if we do not opt to make them part of something more meaningful and just think of them in the crisis context that we had.
The next stage of development in education technology
The focus now turns to what the next decade will bring and I think the better question here is not what will it be but what should it be. We now have an opportunity, based on the last two years’ experiences, to think differently about what we want the education sector to look like in the future. We know that our working habits have changed, and most employers’ habits have changed. If you look at Microsoft, we have now changed our whole policies around where we live and how we work because we want our employees to be able to work in a way that is much more blended with their family lives. We are not the first and we will not be the last. So, whilst I cannot say for sure what the future will look like, we can use those recent experiences and look further back to realise that society and the world have always been evolving – and we can look to some of those trends to inform us. Whilst we do not specifically know what will come next, we can draw down on that idea to help us build a world and education sector that supports an unknown future for our young people.
Technology is much more accessible now. It is much more at our fingertips. Any one of us now, given a couple of days’ training (if that), can design an application. In the next five years there are going to be 400 million more apps created in than in the previous five. There is so much more innovation happening and taking place: we should be looking at this and asking how we enable people to use what is going to be readily available at their fingertips to be creative enough and fit for purpose.
It is important that we do not just look at specific industries; I think that we should be looking at innovation in all different types of sectors. I use social media as one example of these. Twenty years ago, social media did not exist – I believe I joined Facebook in 2006. It is not just about the technology itself, although we know that in many areas there is a huge skills shortage. Primarily tech jobs, but also all the jobs that go alongside those that are not highly technical but do require technical confidence, ability, and skills to be able to do them. We need to be making sure that we are equipping young people with those skills. It will not just be the technology industry they need them for: it will be every industry.
All of that being said, I think it is good to look at what some of those bigger technologies are. The World Economic Forum released the Future of Jobs Report back in 2020 – this was looking at what technologies will be needed across all industries in 2025. The list included all sorts of things, such as power computing – which many of us will be more familiar than we are before because of the likes of Office 365 being used so much more today than they were a couple of years ago. There is a lot around data and connected devices, such as robots and drones. None of these are new to us anymore. These are not unknowns, so we need to make sure we are giving them the experiences to learn the skills to use these in dramatic capacities as well as part of their normal day jobs.
Creativity and self-directed learning
Now, from a Microsoft standpoint, supporting that skills journey from as early as possible all the way through a person’s education is incredibly important and it starts with things like Minecraft. The reason for this is lovely because it is all about creativity as much as it is about technology. I visited a school a couple of months ago; they were talking about how they were using Minecraft and they had been studying the Titanic. This young boy loved it so much and was so interested in the Titanic that he had gone home and built, on Minecraft, a replica of the Titanic that you could walk through and view different parts of the ship. It took him six weeks to do that; he filmed a video of him going through it and uploaded it to YouTube. Now, that young boy was nine years old. It is not just that he was learning about the Titanic – he was learning about those curriculum‑based subjects that are so important, but he was learning to code while he did it. He was building on his skills in a creative way.
This is what is meant by self‑directed learning – when they are engaged, they will go the whole hog and go that little bit further. We should be giving them the opportunities to build those skills and use it that way.
If students want to work in Cloud or Azure (the Microsoft version of Cloud), or big data, or artificial intelligence, we can help them to get the competencies that are really highly valued by employers so that when they leave college or university they can go in there with the right skills that are fit for purpose. We do not know what the future will look like, but we know that skills are a big part of it. Whilst you cannot plan for an unknown future, you can provide them with the baseline skills to make them fit for no matter what it will look like. What does this really mean for education? What does this mean for me as an educator or as a senior leader? I think that that is very important; I talk to you as someone who is an expert in technology. You will be looking at this as an expert in education. We need to merge the two together for you. It is a huge topic, and it is a complex one.
How can we implement this?
To labour the point, your leadership is essential. If you are not making it clear that the way we do things is supported through technology from the moment we walk into the school doors to the day that we leave, it will not filter down that it is important and that is something that people must get behind.
The hard thing about all of this is that Rome was not built in a day – and neither was everyone’s education strategy. This will take time. I think looking ahead makes it more digestible for your teams, your communities, and your parents to get involved with, because trying to do it all in one big bang will be overwhelming and expensive. Looking at it properly and breaking it down into chunks so you can identify what works for you is the way you can build something that is sustainable over time and that is going to deliver the results that you need to fuel young people.
CPD is super important and, you know, you will all know this and all of you will have seen this given the amount of CPD that your teachers have gone through. I ask you to think about what I said earlier about that digital adaptation because the teachers I speak to are knackered because of the experience we have all lived through. In an educational context, you have been under so much stress and pressure being around safeguarding and exams and making things work offline and thinking about Ofsted, on top of grappling with how to use Teams. Often learning something new will tire us out: we will think, “no, I am done, I cannot learn anything else.” So, I think that CPD is important. But helping them see that they already have the skills and that you are just tinkering with them, as opposed to coming in and changing everything, is an easier way to get people them on board. We can help you to do that.
What we can do for you
I guess the last part is underpinning and supporting that with Cloud. Whilst technology is an enabler, and it can permeate, and it should permeate to everything you look to do, all these parts are important before we get to Cloud. We want you to connect your data and young people and share resources and not duplicate what you are doing and do things online and make the best use of your assets – like virtual interviewing, for example. But the ability to do that and understand what you need – what is right for your environment, what components make it up, how do you do that securely and how do you make sure you are not putting any part of the organisation at risk from a safeguarding perspective by following the right steps – that is incredibly important. I think that that is something where you can lean on the tech industry and organisations like Scomis to help you build that. You are experts in education, but when you go to the big MATs, you need to be experts in finance, marketing, how do you attract more people and not just across the whole location. You need to be an expert in so many different areas – it is down to us to help you to be an expert in the technology field, because that is what we do. So, please lean on that expertise because there are a lot of resources out there both in terms of speaking to teams directly – the services and expertise you can buy in, and lots of freely available resources that I can take you through.
So, I think we are looking at it from a pure technology standpoint if you are building these systems, but we must build things that are flexible. We know we have been able to adopt now on the fly, but we never want to be in a scenario where we need to adapt so rapidly and dramatically like we did at the start of 2020. How do you build things that are personal? How do we ensure that someone who is virtual does not have a different experience from someone who is in person? How can I dictate my poem while someone else writes it – can we do that easily and without adding to your workload burden as a teacher? Equally, for someone with an additional need, how do we ensure that everything is inclusive and that that inclusiveness is not stigmatised? And how do you bring that into the classroom so that it feels natural, and everyone gets the experience they need?
Lastly, how can we make sure it is engaging? While it is important that what we are doing is secure and supports all the important and normal things in a school, it can also be fun! We can be innovative and use things like Minecraft. When we are learning and playing, students can get the most out of the experience in the school. We must work and collaborate, which you can absolutely do in a classroom offline, but there are unique and cool ways to do that in a virtual experience. Let us allow those opportunities to flourish and create those ecosystems where that can happen. Many of you will have invested in your own platforms and devices – we must build them to make sure that we are developing the right skills in our systems as we move forward and the knowledge is there for both of your educators, but also your young people. We must make sure what we build is inclusive for everybody and it enables that experience that young people can learn in the best way for them and get the best possible progress and attainment that they can. Lastly it is important make sure that you are safe and secure and that you are using something that is trusted; you need to feel supported and that you have confidence in any systems that you have in place. Microsoft and organisations like Scomis can help you do that.
So, what I am going to finish on is Microsoft’s global commitment and ethos to education – and all of us believe this. I passionately believe that we are here to help you and that our collective vision is to ensure we are empowering every learner and educator on the planet to achieve more.
I have been asked a couple of questions. The first is “how have things changed for you over the last two years? How have your working processes altered?” The answer is: quite dramatically, really. We see now that the ability for everybody to be able to support their direct family and friends when we are working in a remote capacity has been a real eye-opener in a lot of cases. We have seen people who travelled a lot for work; they now see the benefits of being home for bedtime and bath time and having a routine that works for them and is better for their health and wellbeing, for instance. So, we have changed our processes and now we all work 50% remotely. If you want, for any reason, to increase that amount, you can sort that with your line manager depending upon your role to ensure that we have a real blended balance between our lives. If I want to work from 06.00 in the morning and work to 09.00, and then have a break to do something else until 11.00, then work until 18.00 to make up that time, I can do that and that is my choice. As long as my working duties are being physically filled and my customers are being supported in that time, that is the way we want our employees to be empowered to ensure that work works for them, and life works for them as well.
The next question is on a similar tack. It asks what I have noticed regarding societal change regarding work and skills that we think about for our students today. Microsoft has released some recent research around this: people now expect flexible working. People will leave their jobs if they are not going to be able to get that benefit moving forward. I should stop calling it a benefit; it should be just the standard that we can be more flexible, and it does not mean being in the office 24/7. The expectation of younger people and millennials is very different to other generations. Now, they have had the ability to not work in a static environment and it has been empowering for a lot of people. Even my own personal view on it has changed. I used to travel 80% of the time, often abroad; I had to say no to plans at the weekend. Now, I have got a bit more respect for my personal life. So, I think that many people have that, and the good employers out there are responding to that in kind and making sure that our working styles reflect that much more than they have done previously.
The next question asks what we should expect for our students in this refreshed world where we really can think about not what it can be, but what it should be. I think that this is all about creating the ability to have those experiences where they can be more creative, and learning does not have to be one way only. I think that if you can give the airtime for young people to learn – and perhaps not even realise that they are learning – and think in ways that we as adults often do not, that is very important.
I do remember a profound example from a hybrid working scenario last year in Scotland; there was a whole class of 29, and one young girl was working from home. They were doing an experiment with a tea bag. The teacher was worried that this young girl was going to feel left out because she was not physically in the class. They went away for ten minutes; she came back, and she was absolutely buzzing. They had asked her to do the experiment in one way; she had done the experiment in three ways. She had roped her mum in to help her. She had the best results, and she enjoyed it the most because she had the ability to be more flexible and be more creative in how she learnt. If we allow young people to not set their boundaries quite so powerfully, they have their own learning experience, and it might be more powerful than we ever will know.
The final question asks if there are any specific blogs or free resources that Microsoft provides for schools? Yes – we have a whole host of resources and communities designed to support everyone, from senior leaders and teachers to parents and students themselves. We have something called the Microsoft Educator Centre and Microsoft Learn: this is where teachers can go online and access a whole different range of resources for CPD and that can be everything from a half‑day session or a whole-day session, all free and available to accessible. We have a lot of stuff on the Microsoft website that you can access directly from blogs to some of the research I have mentioned and a lot of the resources around leadership support.
I hope that you have learned a lot from this and that it has given you a lot to think about.