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Chris Rothwell

Director of Education Microsoft

Over the last 18 months, the pandemic has forced most students to stay away from the classroom. But the hybrid classroom is here to help.

A great deal has been written over the last 18 months about the problems the pandemic has caused schooling, but very little attention has been paid to the opportunities that have occurred in its wake. One of these is the rise of hybrid learning: like many things, this was a trend that was in the pipeline anyway but has been accelerated by the crisis and is heralding a real change in the world of education.

“A recent education press release by Lenovo revealed that six in 10 (59%) UK teachers feel the way that education is delivered has changed for the better due to the pandemic.

“Hybrid classrooms are essentially ones in which you are picking the best of all the available options in order to teach,” says Chris Rothwell, Director of Education at Microsoft. “There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to teaching so people can use the best of what teaching has to offer with the right mixture of different formats.”

Benefits to students

This in turn can be of great benefit to the students. “Pupils often react well to interactive learning as they are going about things in a different way,” he says. “In fact, one of the advantages of digital learning is that you can interact. For example, when using digital board, teachers can turn on the immersive reader, make the text bigger, highlight it, break it down into syllables and so on. This can be transformational, especially for children with dyslexia.”

Four in 10 (39%) parents and a third (31%) of teachers in the UK believe remote learning has improved children’s independent learning skills. Independent learning was one of the main skills that parents (39%) and teachers (31%) cited as a benefit of remote learning, one that will set them up for further education and the future world of work.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to teaching so people can use the best of what teaching has to offer with the right mixture of different formats.

Encouraging work life balance

But the benefits are not just there for the pupils: it is improving the quality of teachers’ lives, too. “Anything that makes life simpler and easier for teachers is a benefit,” says Rothwell. “Teachers now use Teams; they can tell stories and demonstrate complex concepts. It also makes life much easier in many other ways. I know a teacher whose son is passionate about football and so she spends many hours waiting for him while he plays. But while she’s doing so, she can also mark her class’s homework on her phone. It makes for a much better work/life balance, which can only be good for everyone.”

The changes are here to stay. Even when school life returns to some sort of normal, the use of conference solutions to help teachers in the classroom has opened up more opportunities. Just as there may now always been some aspect of working from home in the office, learning from home is almost certain to feature in classrooms too. The hybrid classroom is the new classroom, with all the virtual tools to match.

Kevin Watson

Principal BSix Sixth Form College

Case study

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, education facilities were forced to work remotely. BSix recognised that it needed to completely revamp how its services were delivered as it was not designed to suit remote learning.

BSix had around 1,000 desktop computers, 40 mobile devices available on site and a VPN for a limited number of staff to enable remote working. As a result, a large scale up operation was required.

To enable remote working, BSix engaged with Microsoft, Lenovo and Hex1010 to help design an integrated cloud-based infrastructure that would support learning, teaching and seamlessly integrate telephone communications.

The first part was straightforward, exploring cloud based options – BSix was already using Microsoft Azure solutions so moved the existing computers to Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) to provide virtualised Windows environments for students and staff.

However post pandemic challenges remain in encouraging continued investment in this infrastructure against tight budgets as well as maintaining continuous IT support.

To address those challenges BSIx has a fixed CAPEX budget. It also opted for robust Lenovo laptops for all staff to replace equipment in classrooms. They chose the Lenovo DaaS solution which includes system integration and implementation. These changes will deliver a better teaching experience for all staff and students over the next five years.

Stats are from a survey which was commissioned by Lenovo and carried out by Censuswide. It was distributed in the UK and completed through an online platform in May 2021. The survey is made up of 500 teachers and 2001 parents with children aged four to sixteen years old.

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