Every school should embrace the idea of ICT automation. It saves time, reduces workload and can minimise the likelihood of error. But what do we mean by ‘automation’ in this context?
It’s best to think of it as a spectrum that spans simple applications to others that are far more ambitious. Here are some examples that might prove helpful for your setting…
Arguably the most basic type of automation is the humble template. If there are particular documents you want staff to complete, creating a template is simple way of making everyone’s lives easier and ensuring that the returns will all follow the same format.
You can take this a stage further by using certain types of software. Word, for instance, will let you create fixed electronic forms with editable areas for others to enter information. These can appear as drop-down menus if you need to limit people’s range of responses, or you can impose a maximum character limit for written responses.
Forms can also prevent people from using their own fancy formatting, should you wish – once a form has been created, it can be saved as a template. Many applications will allow you to create forms of various types, so it’s worth exploring your software of choice and seeing what it’s capable of.
A common feature of well laid-out spreadsheets is conditional formatting. If you use a spreadsheet to keep track of your school’s hardware inventory, conditional formatting will help you see at a glance whether some items of equipment experience faults more often than others. Set up a conditional formatting rule to highlight in red any printer, for example, that’s required attention more than once during the last half term.
More useful still are management information systems, which will automatically acquire data from multiple sources and present it to you on a single screen, enabling you to gain insights into possible links between pupils’ attendance, standards of behaviour and academic outcomes. If Harry’s scores have started dropping seemingly out of the blue, the data may well indicate his unauthorised absences and ‘late’ markers have started rising at around the same time.
A step up from linked systems are those that don’t wait for you to identify warning signs – they’ll tell you about them. It’s possible, for example, to set up a rule whereby if a pupil is late to school three times in as many days, the deputy head will be automatically notified and the pupil assigned to a ‘late’ group. With that kind of setup in place, the school will be better equipped to investigate what’s going on and contact parents before an issue gets out of hand.
Finally, there are the numerous appbased test creation programs that will mark simple tests for you automatically. These can not only save teachers valuable time, but also enable them to focus on common errors. When configured appropriately, automated marking systems can drastically increase the speed at which teachers are able to receive feedback on whether pupils have understood the work covered.
We can expect other forms of automation to become ever more affordable, powerful and useful to schools in the years ahead, not least in the form of adaptive learning systems based on artificial intelligence, and perhaps even ‘bots’ capable fielding basic general enquiries from parents. Watch this space…
Terry Freedman is an independent education technology consultant and writer