Announcing the ParentPaperwork Activity Care Module

ParentPaperwork has cemented a reputation as the world’s most powerful and comprehensive online forms platform for K-12 schools… and it just got even better for student care. 

We’re taking the work out of taking care of your students. 

We are very pleased to announce the availability of a series of significant updates to ParentPaperwork’s paperless school system, which we are calling the Activity Care Module.

The Activity Care Module is like having another pair of hands in your school office, or with you when you’re out in the field on an excursion.

From the event planning form to the educational needs assessment form, risk assessment form, cost analysis form, parent/student permission forms – and now the Activity Care Module – we’ve completely closed the loop in terms of the forms administration of any school activity.

The Activity Care Module is an essential tool from the start to end of an activity, as well as in the event of an emergency.

New Activity Care information in the Student record

We’ve added a dedicated section in the Student record to store health and care information about your students – emergency contacts, medical conditions, immunisations, allergies – whatever information you consider critical.

As we do already for your existing data, ParentPaperwork can automatically bring this information in from your student management system, and you can use these as fields in your online forms.

Student Care Information available in an easy offline and online format

ParentPaperwork can import your students’ photos, highlight at-risk students and ensure you have the right information available, at the right time and in the right place.

When the occasion comes for an excursion or field trip, you can download a comprehensive record for each child.

Track Activity Attendance

We know that marshalling groups of students off-campus can be like herding monkeys, yet it’s important you record which students are present without having to fumble for a pencil and clipboard.ParentPaperwork lets you record attendance for each student for each activity via a dedicated mobile-friendly page – you could literally be standing at the bus door checking off students using your phone.

ParentPaperwork lets you record attendance for each student, for each activity, via a dedicated mobile-friendly page. You can literally be standing at the bus door checking off students using your phone.

Parents Review Care Information via your Parent Portal

Schools already love our integrations with their parent portal, whether it’s via Schoolbox, SEQTA or a bespoke portal. Now parents have access to review their child’s health and care information as well.

Automated pre-activity Reminder Emails

ParentPaperwork will automatically send reminders just before an activity, with links to the full information in ParentPaperwork, plus the dedicated mobile-friendly page to mark attendance.

Slip Notes

We know there is all manner of information associated with planning an excursion, field trip or, indeed, any activity for your students. So we’ve added a new Notes function to your Slips. Each staff member can record their Notes in a convenient timeline, available to all the staff associated with the Slip.

Each staff member can record their Notes in a convenient timeline, available to all of the staff associated with the Slip.

Control Staff access to Student Care information

A student’s health and care information often contains highly personal and, sometimes, very sensitive information. We have added a new set of permissions so you can control which staff can edit and view this information.

Student Record Audit Log

Privacy, security and accountability are key to ParentPaperwork’s paperless online forms platform, and so we now give School Administrators access to a complete and detailed audit log of not just the changes and updates for a Student’s information but also which staff have viewed the information.

Free to Current Customers

And here’s the best news of all…

The Activity Care Module is free to all existing customers. Plus, it’s free to new customers who sign up before the end of 2017.

Contact us now to stop herding the monkeys. Enable ParentPaperwork’s Activity Care Module in your school today.

ParentPaperwork nominated for Best National Digital Solution in World Summit Awards

ParentPaperwork has been nominated as Best National Digital Solution for Australia in the international World Summit Awards, selecting digital innovation with impact on society.

With this nomination, ParentPaperwork qualifies for evaluation by the WSA Online Jury 2017 among a further 391 international nominations.

The World Summit Award continues to showcase the full gamut of digital innovation – from Mexico to New Zealand, from Qatar to Germany. In the WSA nominees 2017, we can see the richness, diversity, future and innovation of digital solutions on a global scale, and evidence of how digital technology can improve society on each corner of the world.

These nominees have been selected carefully by the WSA National Experts from more than 178 UN member states, who nominate up to eight projects for each country – one for every WSA category. From this point forward, nominees will be evaluated based on seven fundamentals criteria: Content, Functionality, Design, Technology, Innovation, Impact and Global/UN value.

Given the processes to evaluate and accept a nominee, a nomination to the WSA is already an award in itself – the qualification to compete and compare on an international level, as well as being the best practice in digital solutions nationally.

About the WSA
The World Summit Award is a global initiative within the framework of the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). WSA is the only ICT event worldwide that reaches the mobile community in over 180 countries. WSA highlights digital content improving society and focuses on local content with global relevance.

Visit the WSA at www.worldsummitawards.org, or on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #WSA17

Media Contact World Summit Award:
Manuela Wagner
Network Development & Communications, World Summit Awards
manuela@worldsummitawards.org
+43.660.630408.7

wsa_logo_2017_national_nominee

A lack of school data interoperability leads to inoperability

Written by David Eedle, CTO, ParentPaperwork

What are we talking about when we say ‘data interoperability’? Consider this analogy:

You’ve got a kitchen and you mistakenly buy a whole lot of appliances from different countries, which means they all have varying power plugs. The toaster is still a toaster, the blender is still a blender, and a kettle is still a kettle. Individually and in the appropriate environment, they’ll work perfectly. But, in your kitchen with your power points, they can’t function.

Therein lies the problem with interoperability with technology in any situation, school or otherwise. If you’re establishing an office with a bunch of computers that can’t talk to each other, or can’t effectively connect, then what you have is data inoperability, rather than interoperability.

In the case of schools, each school has a source of truth: their student management system. It will be a central database of some sort that holds all the key and associated data about any given student (their name, contact details, information about guardians and, increasingly, their academic information).

The database may hold all that information but the database does not do everything. So schools buy all different types of software – for organising school lunch payments or selling tickets to the school play or sending online forms to parents or managing medical records, etc. – to increase the functionality of their central management system. Generally, we refer to this as a ‘stack’ of software.

But back to the kitchen analogy…

Let’s say you’ve got a core student management system (the kitchen) and you’ve bought five tools (blender, coffeemaker, toaster and so on) but you can’t plug them into your core management system. That means you’ve got six or seven ‘buckets’ of data floating around your school, all of which relate to your students and parents but which don’t talk to each other. That’s not a very viable situation but that’s exactly the kind of situation found in a lot of schools.

Mostly, this comes down to data exchange, which is the interoperability of data or data moving between all of those applications. If the school lunch system knows who the students and parents are, then it is able to help maintain a proper record for a student regarding how much lunch money they have remaining. If they know a student has left the school, then they know they shouldn’t be able to buy lunch. The core system gives the lunch system that information through interoperability.*

There are many student management systems on the market, and each one has its own eccentricities around providing access. As a rule, most abide by a closed system approach (i.e. they are bad at providing access) due to their foundations in technology from around 15 years ago. Today’s software is browser-based and cloud-based, which makes it far more interoperable. However, and, instead, were designed as standalone boxes that ‘you put stuff in’ and ‘you take stuff out’. In other words, they were never expected to ‘talk’ to other software.

As we’ve seen more software coming into schools, the stack has got taller and the older student management database companies are gradually learning to open up their data. They are realising they are never going to be able to have a set of features that deals with every single piece of functionality a school requires. Instead, they’re starting to see the inevitability that a school will have a stack of software and, therefore, those pieces of software will need to talk to each other.

So, what should a school be asking a potential software provider in order to ensure interoperability?

1. How does it integrate with other products?
2. Does that interoperability exist?
3. Is there an API** available?

Software developers need to remember that a school’s data does not belong to them; it belongs to the school. Accordingly, all schools should be able to access their own data freely and the multitude of uses and benefits that data provides.

Speak to ParentPaperwork for more information about school data interoperability.

* With ParentPaperwork, we make it our business to know the details of all students and guardians and, therefore, who’s allowed to do what and who’s allowed to see what. We do that by reading data directly out of the student management database. That’s interoperability. If the student database knows something, then we know it too.

** An API is a programmable interface for software that enables it to talk to another computer and exchange information.

5 emerging trends to help schools stay on top of the technology avalanche: Part One

Written by ParentPaperwork’s Business Development Director, Sam Sapuppo

What can a 30-year veteran of school leadership possibly learn in two years of working for an edtech startup, ParentPaperwork? I surprised even myself.

We all know the bugbear of working in a school: everyone went to school, or knows someone who went to school, so everyone is an expert. Parents have also begun looking at and comparing schools through a business process lens. This aspect provides further and sometimes conflicting pressures but also wonderful opportunities. I would encourage all of us to use this window of opportunity to explore everything that enables a school to use its most precious commodities – staff time, finance and natural resources – to the best of its ability.

In this environment, the role of leadership in a school is to distil and discern lessons that can be learnt, and processes that can be built upon from business and community enterprises; to help the school work smarter and be overall more effective.

With 500 schools in eight countries, my recent edtech experiences have seen me work daily with a microcosm of the global school community and the vagaries that this environment throws up. This includes the multitude of student and learning management systems, communication platforms, websites, school budgets, processes and skill-sets.

All of us are working to assist staff who have varying degrees of digital skills. This is the easier obstacle to overcome. The more difficult issue is dealing with the cultural resistance – or indifference – to the introduction of yet another new technology in a school.

As a cautionary observation, I believe it is not just a school staff issue. The other side of the coin is the glaring and frustrating thing schools universally face; that is, the speed of technological and product change, and the time and expertise required to stay on top of it. What I hear from IT directors and principals is: how do you deal with the growth of problem-solving startup companies with their superior adaptability and versatility of software design? There is something new every day and it is just easier to do nothing.

In my particular case, as a team at ParentPaperwork, we are group of experienced:

  • Entrepreneurs – who have serious solution building experience;
  • IT engineers – with UX experience;
  • School leaders, administrators and teachers;
  • Marketing and sales professionals; and very importantly
  • Parents of school-aged children.

In our mind, we are trying to help schools work smarter rather than harder – a phrase that is very easy to roll off the tongue but much more difficult to achieve in practice. We are not egotistical enough to think we are the only ones doing this, or that we have the best way to solve it all. We do however believe we are an essential component, not just because of the solution we produce but because of the WAY we are going about our solution.

Smart schools have always understood that people come first. Whether it’s their staff, students or parents, the ‘primacy of people’ ethos remains no less fundamental in the age of digital integration. I dare not use the term ‘digital disruption’ in the education space. Indeed, it may be argued it has never been more critical to a school’s success.

Digital integration is making every school face up to the challenge of embracing and managing change. It is also an opportunity to re-engage with communities, drive innovation, reduce costs and boost efficiency.

So what are the five most important emerging trends that smart schools are using when building their IT ecosystems? We’ve identified the following:

  1. The user experiences should be front and centre of all thinking and planning.
  1. All programs and systems need to be interoperable.
  1. The benefits that new programs and processes employ are the key drivers for a decision, not the cost. Think: can we afford NOT to employ this new program and/or process?
  1. Staff time and data to assist with decision-making are now the two most valuable assets a school owns. Every new program and system that is deployed should address this new focus.
  1. Continuous improvement needs to be mandatory and non-intrusive.

Coming up, an in-depth look at these five trends – 5 emerging trends to help schools stay on top of the technology avalanche: Part 2

 

Parents can now use the Digistorm schoolAPP for Schoolbox to receive and submit online forms

A key goal for us at ParentPaperwork is ensure we are a cooperative part of the education technology landscape, and a signature strategy towards that goal is promoting interoperability between ParentPaperwork and other high quality products.

Many schools in Australia, and increasingly overseas, use the Schoolbox learning management system. And many of them use the terrific Digistorm schoolAPP for Schoolbox.

We are pleased to announce that ParentPaperwork is now fully integrated with the Digistorm schoolAPP.

When a message is sent to parents advising there is a new Slip for them to complete, this is also delivered as an in-app notification to their phone. Then when they open their app they have all their childrens’ ParentPaperwork forms at their finger tips, both previously completed ones, and forms yet to the submitted.

The new Slips can be completed and submitted right there inside the app. The ease of use and convenience is fantastic.

Notifications

When a new Slip is sent  to parents, a notification will show on their phone. They can tap the notification to open the Digistorm app and complete the form.

App Menus

A new menu option is displayed in the Digistorm app.

Tapping this link will open a list of Students with a count of any outstanding Slips for each.

Tapping the name of a Student will open a list of Slips, with incomplete ones at the top (highlighted with a red dot), and completed Slips at the bottom (green dot).

Tapping a Slip name will open the online form from ParentPaperwork directly in the app browser window, so a Slip can be completed and submitted, or viewed if it has already been submitted.

There is no cost for a school to use the ParentPaperwork integration to the Digistorm schoolApp. Just contact our Support Team to arrange for the connection between ParentPaperwork and Digistorm to be configured.

 

 

 

Interning as a Data Scientist at ParentPaperwork

LinkedIn Photo
Juan Daza

University of Melbourne, Masters of Information Technology student Juan Daza shares his experience interning as a Data Scientist at ParentPaperwork across the Australian summer.

The University of Melbourne currently runs the Tin Alley internship program where students have the opportunity to apply to great companies in Victoria. Tin Alley has been named Australia’s best internship program and I was honored to be a part of this summer’s intake. One of the companies who gave students the opportunity to get hands on experience was ParentPaperwork and I have been working with the team in the role of Data Scientist.

In this blog post, I want to take you through part of my journey and ParentPaperwork’s goal to empower hundreds of schools with tools to make better informed decisions and more importantly, reach a 100% response rate from parents to slips.

I believe that the first step to make informed decisions is to have the facts and information at hand, which is why one of my main tasks was to assist in the development of the real-time analytical dashboard with key metrics for schools to understand their patterns of use and behaviours.

Data visualisation is a powerful tool in any Data Scientist’s tool box, so I set out to explore the data using Python and SQL and through multiple iterations develop simple yet powerful and self-explanatory visualisations.

I found key metrics that would allow schools to understand their current situation and trigger their curiosity. In conjunction with the team at ParentPaperwork I defined the following metrics.

    • Average response rate (AVR): This is defined as the number of parents who respond to the slips sent to them.
    • Average response time (AVT): The average time it takes parents to respond the slips received.
    • Slips returned by due date: The percentage of slips that are returned before the due date.
    • Timely parents: The number of parents that respond before the slip’s due date.
    • Total Number of forms and broadcast sent.I was mindful of the importance of having the right data displayed at the right time which is why I made sure that my data cleansing process was thorough.

In many cases, slips are sent to both parents and only one parent responds which means that if I calculated the response rate based on the available data, then the number would be biased because I would always have one responded slip and one unanswered slip. I had to develop some cleansing techniques to deal with this fact and get a clean and unique dataset from which I could query freely. I tested some powerful Python functions to wrangle ParentPaperwork’s large dataset and to find the correct dataset to achieve what I wanted to do.

I had to take additional considerations whilst analysing other metrics. As an example, while analysing the average response time from our parents I found an interesting fact. My calculations of the arithmetical average response time were of roughly 80 hours. This meant that on average, a parent responded to a slip every 80 hours or around 3 days. This is an amazing turnaround since paper based forms have a turnaround of around two weeks or more.

However, once I drilled down to the data I found some interesting insights. To look further into this, I set out to understand parents behaviour and I analyzed the response rate progression in the first 30 hours. I thought that the best way to do this was to visualise the behavior of this metric within the first hours of having sent it.

Reverse Burndown Chart

Figure 1. Completion Percentage per Time to Complete

We can clearly see how responses behave. At first, there are very timely parents that respond within a couple of hours and as time passes by, slips get more and more responses making the average response rate higher. Eventually it would reach the Global Average Response Rate which is around 75%

After this, I wanted to understand how many responses are received once the slips are sent. I developed a histogram to get an answer to this question.

Histogram

Figure 2. Response Frequency per Time to Respond

As it can be seen from the graph, parent responses have a very long tail, however most responses received occur in the first 30 hours of sending the slips. At the time of writing this article, around 60% of the responses were received during the initial 30 hours.

Taking this into account, I decided to calculate the weighted average based on the amount of responses received in each time slot. Using this method, I found an average of approximately 9 hours which is a very impressive number. Additional considerations such as night hours might be taken into account to adjust the average response time but in this instance, I will not go further into it.

Answers to many more questions were developed by following a thorough process where I drilled down in the data to find useful hints. I created groups of parents and found those who consistently respond late (or don’t respond) and determined based on the time of day what are the response times and response rates overall. All of these features will be rolling out gradually to help schools make better decisions. This comes to show how at ParentPaperwork various techniques are deployed to work towards making it a data driven organisation.

Stay tuned because over the coming months more news about the upcoming Data Analysis module will be released. The new Analytics Dashboard is now available to all ParentPaperwork schools.

Workload still an issue for teachers in schools globally

Online tools such as ParentPaperwork are a great way to reduce teacher workload.

Where do forms fit in?

This is not a new topic that I’m about introduce. And it’s one I’m hoping for the sake of my 9 month old niece in Phoenix, Arizona and my children’s future children and their teachers, will be solved sometime soon.

What am I talking about? Well as the CEO of an Edtech startup based in Melbourne, Australia one of the key issues that we talk about in our office amongst the team, is ways that we can help schools run better by using the ParentPaperwork platform to automate paper form processes inside the administrative function of the school. And just because what we do deals with administrative forms, doesn’t mean we don’t positively impact teachers too. It does and I’ll explain more further in.

Teacher workload is not going away as an issue

In the education news sources I scanned last month in Melbourne The Age highlighted a new survey, ‘Put Education 1st‘, commissioned by the Australian Education Union’s Victorian branch which found that most teachers are failing basic tasks due to out-of-control workload. You can quibble on the numbers, however when surveying 13,000 teachers leads the survey to the conclusion that teacher workload is going crazy, then I pay attention.

50 to 60 hour work weeks, the new normal?

Earlier this month the BBC reported that many teachers in the UK were working 60 hour weeks. This compares to the Australian teachers who are working in the 50 to 55 hour range and Australian principals over 60 hours a week. The BBC story drew on a report from the Education Policy Institute that used data from the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey between 2012 and 2014. Again the issue of teacher workload and the issue of administrative tasks is mentioned over and over.

One thing I know for sure as a parent who has one child who has made it through 13 years of schooling and another who has another two years to go, and a third who will be in the Australian special education system for another 8 years, I do not want my children taught by someone who is stressed, tired, exhausted and on the point of overwhelm. And that is ditto for my niece and my children’s children. A well-rested, happy, dynamic and positive teacher who really drives the teaching/learning experience, can’t be expected to thrive in a culture and environment of chronic overwork.

New Edtech can be part of the workload solution

I’d like to say that we have a solution for you in ParentPaperwork, however what I think is more accurate to say is that we can be a part of the solution. One point of the UK story that worries me is that teachers are being shortchanged professional development opportunities because there simply isn’t time to attend them or apply for them. They are missing out on learning about the latest techniques, technologies and peer developments that could be shared and deployed to alleviate their current workload.

The part of the solution that we offer should make both teachers and principals happier. On the student side of the equation ParentPaperwork deals with all the forms that go home to parents requiring responses such as permission forms, rsvp’s and the like. The schools who use ParentPaperwork have found over 150 regular form processes that can be deployed using our platform.

The most important equation is the teacher-student relationship

Anecdotally principals and other education leaders report to members of my team that there are many issues that keep them awake at night but maybe the most contentious is how to best support teachers in their efforts to teach and create and grow positive relationships with students.

Principals are also telling us that they want to know about Edtech solutions that their teachers will use. That means they must solve a real problem and be easy and quick to use. Qualitatively I think we know that no matter how much data and structure you give to the bulk of the student population, the single most important factor in student success is the quality of the relationships they have with their teachers. One outstanding, thoughtful and caring teacher can switch a student who is flailing around struggling to fit in to the school environment, back on to learning, not simply because the teacher makes the content compelling but because they also create a bond of trust and safety and a space to learn. Learning after all is about taking a risk to move position from what one knows now and defending that, to opening one’s mind to a bigger picture and greater potential.

How much time does your staff spend on forms?

If you’re a principal I wonder if you’re aware how much time your teachers spend on some basic forms that are part of school life. How many hours do you think are spent doing the following?

* preparation of forms

* photocopying and distribution of forms

* collection of forms and follow ups

* management of the information – is this re-transcribed into another format?

* collation of information

* concerns about accuracy of the information and following up

* storing and retrieval of form information, when required

Schools are busy places and in any week there will be incursions, excursions, specialist classes and activities that require some kind of permission process to take place.

Real Edtech solutions, not fads

As Edtech entrepreneurs we’re not interested in creating tech bling and products that make a teacher, administrator, or Principal’s working day harder. Our mission is to help schools run more smoothly and to make our contribution towards taking a school paperless. We hope that a byproduct of what we do can help give teachers back a few precious hours a week, hours not spent distributing and collecting and hassling for forms from students. And give Principals, the capacity to know that all forms processes that run their school can be viewed at a glance and reports and analysis generated so that some of the compliance and other issues that keep them awake at night, can be put to bed for good.

If you’re currently part of the ParentPaperwork revolution then congratulations, we’re just getting started and we welcome you to help us make your school as efficient and effective on the administrative side as possible. If you’re not, please consider directing your Head of IT to our site for a demonstration. We are not the whole solution to teacher and principal stress and overwhelm but our current schools customers are finding that we take you a good way there. Time off forms and administration is time given back to the people you work with and to your students. Which in my view, is where best to put your precious time and energy.

6 simple reasons to invest in digital data management

tower of playing cards falling

Non-educational businesses commonly have larger swathes of staff dedicated to the disciplined management of records and data. It’s rarely an option for overtaxed schools with other priorities. But it’s becoming too important to put off.

Schools are in a position to lead in this area. Student data represents a uniquely sensitive batch of data-sets. Protecting and defending this information, not to mention using it to optimally enhance student experience, is central to the modern educational mission.

Here are some simple, but critical, benefits of modernising your data management:

1) Security

While digital systems aren’t immune from risk, they’re considerably more reliable than physical document distribution, where human error is given and risk of information going rogue is high. The security provided through a fit-for-purpose data management system protects personal and organisational liabilities. That trust translates into better relationships with staff and parents.

2) Lower overheads

A modest initial investment pays for itself quickly when you add up the staff and production time involved in paper-based data management. Reduce duplication of effort and output, collect and distribute more information in less time, and no don’t pay for paper, photocopying or other unnecessary costs.

Read more: How much does paper cost your school?

3) Redundancies & fail safes

If your system for capturing, holding and retrieving data is robust with distributed access, you’ll have built in buffer if something goes awry. No single individual becomes a single point of failure if they’re not available, and electronic triggers can protect you against a range of likely (or unlikely) scenarios.

4) Productivity

Quicker and more trustworthy access to information boosts workflow productivity. Productivity has a flow on effect, opening up more opportunities to improve other common processes. Getting to the end goal speedily gets notices – staff and parents both will appreciate not waiting around to complete a task or validate that a task has been completed.

shoe slipping on banana peel

5) Permissions

Getting a smart, digital information management system in place means you can create different layers and levels of access to suit your organisational needs. This means more can get done, work can scale while still minimising risk, and you can empower your people without compromising standards or safeguards.

6) Piece of mind

At any given moment, can you isolate a piece of key information about a student, and guarantee that information is timely and accurate?  You can’t afford to answer no.

For businesses, good digital record maintenance is an opportunity. For schools, it’s that and more. It’s a chance to work smarter and get more out of information on hand. But it’s also a chance to put distance between educators and overly manual processes, and return to human-to-human conversations.

New technologies can save teaching, if we let them

Students at school using computer

Several recent reports have cast a spotlight on the workload crisis facing educators and administrators in schools.

The Australian Education Union’s (AEU) 2016 State Of Our Schools Survey polled over 9,000 respondents around the country. Released in March, the findings reveal a vast and rising administrative burden on teachers and school staff, including work previously done by education departments.

AEU deputy federal president Maurie Mulhero told the media: “We’re hearing from principals that they’re doing too much of the administrational, clerical, business side of things, which is taking them away from the important teaching and learning.”

Principals are also finding it harder to fill vacancies. Mounting expectations on educators to fulfil more administrative duties, and the overall increase in paperwork for both teachers and administrators is a driving factor in the struggle to attract and retain talent.

Teacher working with student

The picture is all too similar in the UK, where Education Secretary Nicky Morgan called for less pressure on teachers to spend precious time completing administrative tasks.

Meanwhile a recent survey by The Guardian suggests teachers across England are at “crisis point”, with nearly half planning to leave the profession unless things change. The survey found 98% of teachers are under increasing pressure, with 82% describing their workload as “unmanageable”.

More than three-quarters find themselves working between 49 and 65 hours a week. Unsurprisingly 73% reported that their workload is impacting their physical health and 75% say their mental health is taking a hit.

“I just want to do what I love without all the red tape and stress,” one educator told The Guardian.

Technology needs to step up and educators with vision need to meet innovators at the table.

Read more: Technology can bring wellness to schools

Earlier this year John Roberts, Chief Executive of Edapt and ed-tech entrepreneur, authored a timely report on the role of technology in reducing teacher workload and improving the education ecosystem overall.

He questions why education has been left on the sidelines of the data, technology and innovation revolution, leaving “many teachers still being required to duplicate manual data entry.”

Roberts points out that while decision makers are genuinely concerned with investing in technology, that investment is often surface level rather than truly innovative or transformative.

Critically, it rarely addresses the most acute issues facing teachers and administrators.

Download Roberts’ full report

Reducing the need for data input, and creating ways of managing administrative tasks efficiently at scale are central to the holistic reform Roberts advocates.

The graph below from his report shows the percentage of educators investing time into unproductive data related tasks.

datatasksgraph

Respondents of the UK Department for Education’s Workload Challenge survey (which tapped over 43,000 teachers) ranked ‘recording, inputting, monitoring and analysing data’ the single biggest pain point for workload (56%). Additional administrative and support tasks were a problem for 37% of educators surveyed.

Educators, school administrators and parents recognise that much of this work has value or importance for themselves and students. But the ways the work happens are lacklustre at best, archaic at worst. Old, incompatible and labor intensive systems are still being used to capture data, and systems that don’t integrate or talk to one another mean that duplication is rife. Automation is a rarity and systems that leverage the power of teacher and parent insights rarer still.

Time for change

Across countries, governments and different social landscapes, the vice of administrative workload is a unifying thread for educators, obstructing the potential of the sector in an era that should be freeing them like none before.

The data is stacking up and it seems the tide may finally be starting to turn. Technology can dramatically lighten the load for teachers and administrators under pressure, and can transform morale across the sector. But the problem needs to be tackled holistically.

Training staff in social media, buying a round of iPads, or investing in an occasional platform upgrade won’t suffice. Apply innovation to help relieve systemic problems, and you’ll build for the ages.

Images: neccorp, Wonderland/Creative Commons. ‘Can technology reduce workload in schools’, John Roberts.

How are schools managing innovation?

Little boy walking into desert

In a recent discussion with an innovative educational leader I admire, our conversation turned to the issue of constant change and signs of change fatigue in her staff. She noted that the fatigue she saw with her educators wasn’t evident in her parent community.

When you consider that the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and federal government continue to remind us the nation needs to be agile – we need to embrace innovation, that we’re going to be part of an ‘ideas boom’ – then it’s likely change will become more pronounced, not less.

So how do we manage that fatigue?

Change in education comes from a variety of directions, some technological, some cultural. There are new standard frameworks, the Australian Curriculum, new databases and administration systems, online reporting and portfolio development, new email systems, new learning management platforms, content management and marketing initiatives.

If your school experience has been anything like mine, most of these ‘innovations’ have been seen by staff as disruptions conceived by education bureaucracies, committees, or members of the school’s executive. They’ve been received as changes imposed from the outside, by a group of others who don’t understand or appreciate the realities of staff working conditions and the intricacies of their roles.

The real challenge is internalising innovation thinking. Transforming it from an outside-in mandate or an internal ‘testing bed’ into the school culture at large.

With our current approach, I can understand why we isolate innovation to a specific development group to pilot its launch. If not, fledgling ideas would be very likely sucked up into the vacuum of existing school policies, where they get lost forever in a haze of bureaucratic negativity, if they aren’t nurtured and protected in the early phases. We all appreciate there is one sure fire way to kill innovation – just keep saying no!

But what if there was a different approach?

Every day, a leader with a good idea fails at change management. Most fail because they can’t get beyond the vision. Most employ the tried and true method of “Freeze, Move, Refreeze”, then backfill the move with staff training. This process reinforces the notion for everyone that innovation is an event, associated with a seismic shift.

Innovation has milestones, but it is continuous. We have to give ourselves room to experiment, and work on practices that free, rather than shackle us.

In the past, best practices for implementing new technology in schools have at least included the following elements:

    • An ICT strategy that is part of the school’s strategic plan;
    • A change management strategy that reflects the culture of the organisation, including policies, procedures, and practices;
    • A roll out plan that includes stakeholder engagement, a communication plan and technical resources.
    • A well-resourced training plan.

Until recently we’ve been focused on replacing multiple non-integrating pieces of technology with a master curriculum and administration/finance systems program. A one size fits all approach.

These practices provide order and security for managers, but the question is, will they continue to be effective in a supercharged innovation environment?

If new products, initiatives and ideas are continuously arriving at an ever increasing pace, will schools miss out because their frameworks simply aren’t accommodating the possibilities?

And what about schools who don’t have the resources to load up for training, roll outs and technical implementation?

The majority of schools in the world survive on skinny administrative resources. How might they embrace and step up to innovation?

Asking the right questions

As a profession we place an enormous emphasis on developing smart classrooms, characterised by nimbleness and creativity. There’s some inspiring work.

How do we extend this same desire and mission to developing a smarter school as a whole?

School councils, school boards, principals, heads of departments, staff and parents could begin by asking themselves the following questions:

  • How would you assess your school’s readiness for adopting new technology and processes?
  • Does your school understand the difference between a change-ready school as opposed to an innovative school?
  • Do you have established ways to promote innovation and change?
  • Do you have staff who are ready and able to innovate, and staff who can lead change?
  • Does your Principal and their leadership team promote and manage change?
  • How flexible is all of the above?

Is your school change-ready or innovative?

School girl with business men

Innovation is the new normal, and schools need a culture of it to help our young people to  innovate themselves. It’s not something we can silo, or bolt old thinking around.

I encourage you to read Digital Transformation requires total organisational commitment, an excellent post from Ron Miller that speaks to our challenges. 

I continue to learn and be inspired from others that have bridged the digital divide and constructively equipped themselves to navigate for continuous change.

Got 10 minutes? Watch this great presentation by U.S. entrepreneur Diana Kander about a better way to approach innovation. Kander entered America as an eight-year old refugee of the Soviet Union. She’s become a hugely successful businessperson and educator, and understands from experience that innovation is less about planning and more about people.

Here she uses the world of business and products as a frame of reference, to explain where so many of us are going when we’re trying to innovate.

Read the first article in this series, Innovation: Are you ready for it?

Photos: Ian Burt, elmimmo