I’ve worked in education technology for years and, most recently, spent 18 months leading the deployment of the Adobe Spark app to more than 900,000 students and teachers in Wales and Northern Ireland. So, the following may come as some surprise: I don’t believe that technology drives outstanding teaching and learning.
What I do believe is that technology can provide powerful support for educators and learners and that it has the potential to make both exceptional teaching and successful learning outcomes possible. It can give students unique opportunities to express their ideas and build 21st-century digital literacy skills. And because digital projects and assignments are often creative and fun, technology can inspire students to engage more deeply with their learning.
But in order for technology to truly support teachers’ work and students’ learning goals, it has to be deployed thoughtfully. Every school and classroom uses multiple system accounts, software applications and technology services, which means that things can become cumbersome fast. Ultimately, teachers and students just need their tools to work as expected. Therefore, it’s the responsibility of IT teams to prevent technology from ever becoming a barrier to learning.
In my work on deployments for Adobe’s education customers and the school in Ringwood, England where I’m Vice-chair of Governors, I’ve created some best practices for IT teams. Here are my top tips for deploying technology at schools so that students and teachers can get the most out of their tools every day:
1. Make single sign-on (SSO) a reality.
In order to get students and teachers using school technology investments at scale, it’s best to use SSO authentication. SSO eliminates the need for everyone to remember multiple usernames and passwords for different applications and services. This provides a better user experience with quicker access to learning tools while simultaneously reducing the burden on IT staff who would otherwise have to manually reset these forgotten login credentials. SSO also makes it easy for IT to add new students and teachers when they join the school.
2. Give everyone access to needed tools and services from day one.
When I worked in leadership roles around IT curricula and systems, I always made sure that new students and staff had access to all the school’s educational IT tools and services on their first day. This required a lot of planning, and it also required linking multiple systems to our user directory. But it was worth the effort because it meant that everyone could immediately get to the tools they needed and start learning and working together. And when new students arrived at the school partway through the year, having an account with their own name instead of a generic username gave them a feeling of belonging, showing that they were important to the school community.
3. Set up virtual workspaces where everyone can collaborate.
When COVID-19 closed schools in 2020, I supported my school by setting up Google Workspace for all teachers and students. It took a significant amount of time to generate all the classrooms and assign all the users so they could log in and access the correct classrooms. But after recently completing the process for the second year, I can say it was definitely worth it. We’ve seen high engagement this year.
By giving everyone the same complete set of tools for creating content, staying organized, communicating digitally and more, you empower them to work more productively and collaborate with ease—both in the classroom and at home.
4. Support trainers and teachers with well-crafted learning resources.
Deploying educational software is only the first step. It’s important to give edtech trainers and teachers the resources they need—tutorials, PD courses and ready-made lesson plans and assignments—so they can learn their way around the tools and discover all the ways they can be used to enhance teaching and learning.
With Adobe software like Adobe Spark and Creative Cloud, we encourage our trainers and teachers to explore the following free resources:
5. Prioritize time savings.
Teachers have a lot of material to cover, and students have a lot to learn. It’s important that we always strive to save them time in their day-to-day work. IT leaders need to carefully analyze both new and existing edtech solutions to be sure that they either create great learning experiences or free up teachers and students to focus more of their time and attention on learning.
Whenever I’m working on a deployment, I remind my IT colleagues that, in a class of 30 students, if it takes 10 minutes for everyone to get started with their technology tools, the teacher has just lost 300 minutes of learning time—gone forever. That’s why it’s essential that IT departments take the time to think through their deployment strategies, make the proper plans and do their best to make technology easy for teachers and students to access and use.