SWAN Smart classroom of the future
Almost a decade ago, an official review of IT in the Scottish public sector, The McClelland Review, concluded that Scotland was “lagging behind” in...
The Smart Classroom
of the Future
Exploring Digital Transformation and the Internet of Things in Scottish Education
Almost a decade ago, an official review of IT in the Scottish public sector, The McClelland Review1, concluded that Scotland was “lagging behind” in its use of IT. The report recommended that a national, overarching IT strategy was introduced.
In response, the Scottish Government launched a new digital strategy2 in 2012, and refreshed that plan3 in 2017. In all reports, the Government’s stated aim is to, “…put digital at the heart of everything we do – in the way in which we deliver inclusive economic growth, reform our public services and prepare our children for the workplace of the future.”
As a result of advances in technology, digital transformation has become the watchword of many nations, and Scotland is no exception.
Digital transformation is recognised as a key factor in citizens’ quality of life, contributing to the ability to participate digitally in society and in improving how public services are delivered.
Digital transformation, including the Internet of Things (IoT), is also essential in developing education services and teaching the skills needed for the future.
With rapid technology developments taking place, we are seeing everyday devices – from watches to whiteboards – become ‘smart’ technologies connected to the IoT.
The interest in concepts such as the ‘smart city’, the ‘smart hospital’, or the ‘smart classroom’, is at an all-time high. In diverse societies around the world, governments are exploring how these connected technologies can benefit their populations.
Research by Capita Technology Solutions on behalf of the Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN) examines these topics and looks at the innovations Scottish citizens are keen to see.
The research also explores what kind of digital initiatives people in Scotland are open to using and would like to see introduced in the future.
This report is the final in a series of three on this theme and focuses specifically on the potential of IoT and smart technology in Scottish education services. The first report explored digitalisation and IoT in healthcare and can be accessed here; the second looked at local government services and can be accessed here.
Overall, the research finds that across all areas of the public sector, there is a strong appetite for innovation and change. Key findings include:
- 84 per cent of respondents believe that Scottish public services should embrace more digital technologies.
- A clear overall majority (92 per cent) state that access to digital services and connectivity is important in where they choose to live now.
- Regarding future choices over where to live, three quarters (75 per cent) said they would be influenced by access to digital services and connectivity.
Moreover, given that one million people in Scotland live in remote, rural, and hard-to-reach areas – this desire for greater connectivity is especially relevant to how education services are equally accessible to all students.
The responsibility for education provision in Scotland falls to its 32 local councils, supported by central government agencies including Education Scotland (Foghlam Alba) and the Scottish Qualifications Authority, alongside other public bodies4, and providers such as universities and colleges.
Often, the pupil population in Scotland can be dispersed over large geographical areas, and a considerable island population presents challenges; for instance, the Western Isles Council (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) provides services to more than 27,000 people spread over 15 islands5.
These factors mean that delivering education across Scotland is a complex task compounded by unique geography.
Innovations in technology and the increase in digital channels have the potential to bridge gaps between education providers and students – for example, by supporting distance and remote learning initiatives.
The Western Isles Council (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) has adopted this approach already, through its e-Sgoil (e-School) initiative which aims to improve equity and access to education across its region, through digital collaboration.
e-Sgoil also makes use of collaborative technologies, such as video collaboration platform Vscene, operated and owned by Ajenta, to give students access to other teaching resources and learning opportunities.
This approach is particularly useful in Scotland where there is a shortage of teachers in rural areas; recent data from the European Parliamentary Research Service found that schools in remote Scottish communities face problems finding qualified staff.
At the same time, in the physical classroom, technology can be applied to improve the student experience and increase teaching effectiveness, by better connecting teachers, students and learning materials.
Digital technology can also change how schools and universities track and monitor resources and facilities, and even improve student safety and security.
In this report, we’ll look at how digital transformation and the IoT can enhance education services. We’ll also explore the innovations that people in Scotland want and are willing to adopt, as the buzz around the ‘smart classroom’ and indeed the ‘smart campus’ continues to grow.
Finally, this report will also discuss how new, smart initiatives in education can be rolled out successfully; including the development of a future-proof technology backbone and infrastructure to underpin digital projects, allowing programmes to scale easily and benefit pupils across all of Scotland.
*The research was undertaken in May-June 2019; commissioned by Capita on behalf of the Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN), and conducted by independent market research company, Opinium. The total sample size of 2,000 consists of Scottish adults aged 18 or over, from all regions of the country.
Majority of Scottish citizens positive about
the smart classroom
Smart classroom's across Scotland
For many people, using digital technology at work or at home has become the norm – whether emailing colleagues, streaming the latest Netflix series, or submitting a meter reading to an energy supplier via an app.
Younger generations in particular are comfortable conducting interactions and conversations via digital platforms, as social media has become ubiquitous.
Expectations are now growing that digital also becomes the ‘default’ channel when it comes to education; this will include integrating technologies like the IoT, cloud computing, sensors, artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Today, digital technologies and IoT devices can combine to create a ‘smart classroom’; this could include tools like a smart whiteboard, a tablet for taking notes, or a digital textbook.
When asked, the majority of Scottish citizens were optimistic about the potential of IoT and digital technologies, with 85 per cent overall believing such technology will enhance the education experience.
Looking at the results by region, respondents in the Highlands were least enthusiastic, with a lower than average (76 per cent) number answering in the positive.
To what extent do you think IoT and digital technologies could enhance the education experience?
The research also looked at the potential for digital technologies to enhance the education experience of those with disabilities or additional support needs.
Examples of such technology include specially designed devices and software, and accessible online courses.
All respondents were overwhelmingly positive on this question, with 91 per cent believing these kinds of technologies can enhance education for this group of students.
To what extent do you think digital technologies (e.g. specially designed devices and software, online remote learning) could enhance the education experience of those with disabilities or additional support needs?
Thinking about the biggest potential benefits of digital technology and IoT devices in education, respondents identified the ability to help deliver more interactive learning (60 per cent) and to facilitate distance and remote learning (56 per cent) as the top two.
Again, in the Highlands, the sentiment was less positive on this question, with a fifth (20 per cent) stating they don’t see any benefits of digitalisation in education.
This sentiment is one we expect to see change as government programmes (see box out) bring greater connectivity to Highland communities through a full-fibre network.
What do you think are the biggest benefits of using digital technologies and IoT devices in education?
A new project will bring gigabit-capable services to 152 sites in the Highlands by March 2021. As part of Capita’s Scotland-wide SWAN programme, the project will bring transformational gigabit-speed services to schools, libraries, offices, hospitals, and university campuses. The sites across Inverness, Fort William, Thurso and Wick will be connected to a newly built full fibre network.
This project is the result of a collaboration between the Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Natural Heritage, NHS Highland, the University of the Highlands and Islands, and the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS).
These Scottish public sector organisations have given Capita the role of delivering these gigabit-capable services, with CityFibre set to construct the fibre network connecting the sites. Full fibre provides the infrastructure required to develop new digital services and smart city applications such as smart traffic controls and HD CCTV. Improved connectivity will transform the provision and access of public services, while also accelerating investment in the region by future-proofing its digital capabilities.
Drew Hendry MP, SNP, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, said, “The potential for Inverness and the wider Highlands really is enormous through improved productivity, inward investment and innovation. Instead of following, we will be at the forefront of the digital opportunities and that is certainly cause for celebration.”
Leader of The Highland Council Councillor Margaret Davidson commented, “This is the first step in what will make the Highlands one of the best-connected regions in the UK. This will ultimately draw millions of pounds of investment to local communities and benefit both businesses and the wider population.”
Reaching all pupils through digital channels
Distance education or distance learning is a way of using technology to learn remotely without being in regular face-to-face contact with a teacher or educator, regardless of location.
For example, school or university lessons, vocational courses, and professional courses could be delivered to students online, and in the future even through virtual, or augmented reality approaches (technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view).
Alongside distance learning being selected as one of the top two potential benefits of digital technology in education, the majority of Scottish citizens think that schools and universities should provide more of these kinds of services.
An added benefit of distance learning is that it helps to ensure attainment in rural areas matches that in cities, where access to education services is more straightforward, and that students and educators in remote areas are not disadvantaged.
Do you think schools and universities should provide more remote and distance learning services?
This issue is one the Scottish Government continues to address, forming the commission on the Delivery of Rural Education in 2011, and publishing its recommendations in 2013 .
One recommendation agreed by all stakeholders was the need for greater connectivity – with insufficient broadband coverage noted as a possible, “significant isolating and limiting factor for rural areas”.
The commission’s report said broadband improvement, “would provide much greater opportunities for otherwise isolated schools, with online learning for pupils and improved continuing professional development opportunities for teachers; as well as the chance to benefit from further innovations likely to develop in the next decade.”
The majority of Scottish citizens agree, with 92 per cent saying that digital technologies (e.g. online education courses, distance learning) could better connect remote and rural areas and improve attainment.
To what extent do you think digital technologies could better connect remote and rural areas and improve attainment?
Reflecting on these results, and on the earlier findings around the potential benefits of digitalisation and the IoT, it’s clear there are differences of opinion between residents in the Highlands and the rest of Scotland.
This has, in fact, been the case across these series of three research reports from Capita on behalf of SWAN, with similar conclusions drawn when exploring digital transformation in local government and in healthcare.
For instance, in the Highlands, people were more likely to say that the IoT wouldn’t enhance the delivery of local government services (23 per cent), and more than a third (34 per cent) of Highland respondents said they wouldn’t use digital technology to contact a healthcare professional.
Both of these figures were higher than the corresponding averages for all of Scotland in each report. To understand why this trend has emerged throughout this research, it is important to consider the complexities of the Highlands region which may result in slightly more negative perceptions of what technology can offer.
Broadly, the Highlands consists of some larger conurbations such as Inverness, some smaller towns such as Wick, and several remote communities spread across challenging terrain, including island communities.
There is currently a low level of connectivity outside of places like Inverness, and in Thurso, Wick and Fort William, where efforts have been made to increase access to full-fibre broadband.
In some places, residents struggle to even get 2G network reception – so the idea of smart technology in education, or more connected public services in general, may seem like a remote possibility to many living in these areas.
The result is that expectations around digital technologies and the IoT are lower than in larger cities and towns. To combat this, public service providers and educators in the Highlands and in rural areas need access to digital infrastructure that reaches all corners of Scotland, in order to enable connected, smart technology and the IoT.
These findings underline the need for further education around the potential of greater digitisation in the public sector throughout the Highlands and rural regions – helping residents to see what’s possible will encourage opinions to change.
Moreover, the success of the smart classroom will depend on having an IT infrastructure in place that can offer the required level of connectivity.
The UK Government and Scottish policy makers are addressing these issues; in particular with funding from the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), which is increasing access to full-fibre broadband through its Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programme (RGCP).
SWAN supports these efforts, and is fully committed to driving fibre into rural and remote areas to deliver the bandwidth to reach the ‘final 20 per cent’ that remain unconnected. Initiatives such as this help not only local and developing businesses, but also public services, and health and education services.
Connecting education in the Highlands
Some institutions in remote and hard-to-reach areas are leading the way when it comes to digital transformation in Scottish education, showing that existing connectivity challenges can be overcome.
One such institution is SWAN member, the University of the Highlands and Islands (Oilthigh na Gàidhealtachd agus nan Eilean); it has 70 learning centres spread around the Highlands and Islands, Moray and Perthshire, and can deliver a large percentage of its courses to anywhere in the world via distance learning.
The University uses Ajenta’s Vscene solution via SWAN as part of this – which is a video collaboration platform developed specifically for the research and education sectors. Digital technologies such as this remove geographical barriers and enables remote conferencing and collaboration, regardless of a student or teacher’s location.
“We are already seeing the benefits of digital technology in education – the SWAN network has allowed us to deliver courses to anywhere in the world via distance learning,” said Jem Taylor, Head of Strategy and Development in the University of the Highlands and Islands’ learning and information services department. “Digital technologies have removed many of the geographical barriers that previously restricted students’ learning. With our learning centres spread around the Highlands and Islands, Moray, Argyll and Perthshire, this has been invaluable in helping us level the playing field for further and higher education in the region.”
Making the smart classroom a reality
Making the smart classroom a reality
As digital transformation inevitably continues across the public and private sector, and technology advances continue to impact the way we interact with the world around us, the skills that students and workers need to be successful are changing.
In the future, many jobs will require people to have highly developed digital capabilities, and with increased use of technologies like artificial intelligence, future economic success will demand that digital skills are improved.
From an early age, schools will need to deliver a different kind of curriculum to students, such as teaching programming skills, or how to write an algorithm (a process or set of rules for a computer to follow).
Some councils have made changes to incorporate these skills into the curriculum, for example, primary schools within the South Lanarkshire Council area already teach coding. However, overall, the research found that there is work to do in this area; most Scottish residents (80 per cent) today believe there is a digital skills gap in Scotland, and 32 per cent believe Scotland is behind other countries when it comes to the development of digital skills.
Do you think there is a digital skills gap in Scotland?
Where do you think Scotland is when it comes to the development of digital skills?
Ultimately, this research underlines that technology and digital transformation have a key role to play in the future of education in Scotland.
It also shows that overall, people living in Scotland are open to innovation and willing to embrace the great potential of technology in this area – from interactive learning to distance education. But it also shows that to realise this potential and deliver on the vision of the smart classroom, Scotland’s digital infrastructure will need to continue developing.
The key takeaway is that while technology to better connect education services is emerging all the time, the infrastructure to support its roll out also needs to be in place.
The IoT and digital technologies require secure, fast and reliable connectivity to operate; and the infrastructure must make it easy for new services in schools, education institutions and workplaces to be provisioned – so non-tech experts can get up and running with projects immediately.
Importantly, it needs to be country-wide so that all of Scotland can benefit. This will also help to improve attainment for all, close the perceived digital skills gap, and develop Scotland’s population into one that leads other nations on digital issues.
The good news for those in the public sector, as well as technology developers and vendors with solutions for the education, is this infrastructure already exists. SWAN was created to establish a single shared network and common ICT infrastructure across Scotland’s entire public sector.
Connectivity is already provided to approximately 6,000 sites across Scotland through 250 unbundled exchanges and over 7,000km of fibre network – there are 22 SWAN members covering more than 90 organisations including 50 per cent of local authorities, 3,000 NHS sites and 22 NHS Health Boards.
SWAN can help education providers to build an IoT network at rapid pace, and ultimately help to deliver the digital experience that citizens will expect in the future.
Building the Smart Classroom:
Ajenta and SWAN help students connect
Ajenta is a globally focused business, headquartered in Edinburgh; it works with clients to create simple, cost effective communication tools that are changing the way that people collaborate. Ajenta became a SWAN value added partner in 2018, to offer easier access to the Vscene video collaboration platform – connecting a host of local authorities, as well as the Scottish Government.
Through this partnership, Ajenta will be able to offer a secure, private connection for public services to communicate without having to use the public internet, via SWAN. In addition to the data security benefits, using SWAN will allow Ajenta partners to benefit from the highest quality connection to ensure a consistently immersive, human experience – which is particularly important in a classroom setting.
“Scotland is a nation of innovators, but we can only unleash that potential if we have the means to communicate and share ideas effectively. This begins in the classroom, where access and equity in education resources, and efficient knowledge sharing, is the key ingredient for a nation to gain global economic and human advantage.
There is a global shortage of teachers, and this is a genuine challenge in Scotland. Our aim is to overcome this issue by connecting as many classrooms as possible with digital and smart tech, to help to schools and universities share learning resources and collaborate easily – SWAN offers a comprehensive level of connectivity that makes this possible.”
John Wilson, CEO and Co-Founder of Ajenta
Scottish Wide Area Network
Launched in 2014, SWAN is one of the most significant single public sector ICT initiatives ever undertaken in Scotland.
The SWAN IoT capability for the public sector in Scotland will underpin key government agendas by providing better and more accurate data on factors including water levels, air quality, footfall analysis and provide additional analytics for future health and social care services.
The solution will be enabled by IoT technology from Cisco and other partners of choice deployed across the network.
SWAN already provides connectivity to more than 90 organisations, including the Scottish Government, Scottish Qualification Agency, Historic Environment Scotland and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.
In addition to approximately 6,000 sites across Scotland, including 50 per cent of the local authorities and all 22 boards across NHS Scotland, 250 unbundled exchanges, and over 7,000km of fibre network, SWAN has the unrivalled ability to deliver an IoT network to a wide geographical area at a pace otherwise unachievable.
The resulting network offers better connectivity, better performance and faster speeds as well as delivering value for money for the Scottish taxpayer, as detailed in the £30m savings stated in the Scottish Government’s refreshed digital strategy.
The outcomes for Scotland mean public bodies are more easily able to communicate with each other, share services and better serve Scottish citizens.
SWAN allows all its customers to benefit from economies of scale as well as increasing productivity and collaboration, acting as the gateway for N3, the Internet and Janet networks.
SWAN offers a wide range of connectivity options and a portfolio of shared and Value-Added Services (VAS):
SWAN is also helping to unify network assurance – by applying a common standard of data assurance, it simplifies public sector interaction and ensures greater security for data transmitted internally and externally.
Capita Technology Solutions
Capita Technology Solutions is one of the largest IT providers in the UK, providing critical digital, cloud and infrastructure services to over 3,500 organisations.
It’s the number one provider of IT services to the public sector, supporting one in four hospitals, over 2,500 schools and 50 local councils.
Capita Technology Solutions has top-tier partnerships with, and accreditations from, leading technology vendors, including Microsoft, Cisco, Dell EMC, AWS and HPE. Its team of over 4,000 people includes 1,000 technical specialists and 250 highly qualified field engineers, providing onsite support to our customers.
Further information can be found at: www.capita.com
1Review of ICT Infrastructure in the Public Sector in Scotland, John F McClelland C.B.E, Scottish Government, February 2010
2Scotland's Digital Future - Delivery of Public Services, Scottish Government, 19 September 2012
3Realising Scotland's full potential in a digital world: a digital strategy for Scotland, Scottish Government, 22 Mar 2017
4Mygov.scot/organisations – Sector View, Scottish Government, Aug 2019
5Population Estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Mid-2018, Office for National Statistics, June 2018
6 Teacher shortages in remote Scotland among worst in Europe, The Times, 19 Oct 2019
7 Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education, pp.6, Scottish Government, 13 April 2020