In Ystad Municipality, Skolon has been part of upper secondary students’ everyday lives for several years now. Having heard about students’ progress and a desire from the schools themselves, the municipality felt that the time had come for further expansion.
“We’ve been able to follow our upper secondary schools and have seen how they’ve developed together with Skolon, so we felt that the organisation was now ready to use Skolon at compulsory school level, too,” says Anki Demred Klinga, Digital Development Manager at Ystad Municipality.
In Ystad Municipality, Skolon has been part of teaching for some time now. However, this has primarily involved upper secondary students. Having been given several demonstrations of the digital platform and having discussed the system with head teachers, the municipality has now chosen to use Skolon at compulsory schools, too.
There is already a digital development plan at school level that the municipality’s Digital Development Manager, Anki Demred Klinga, has drawn up for preschool and compulsory school levels. This states that there should be more strategic responsibility at administrative level for looking at which resources can be used in education.
“A big part of this is that we will look at how digitalisation will help streamline administration for teachers, and we think this is something Skolon could help us with,” says Anki.
The ability to offer a wealth of resources
Anki takes a particularly positive view of the fact that, by using Skolon, the municipality can make life easier for teachers with their heavy workloads, and the real advantage is that they get access to all the teaching resources they need in one place.
“To begin with, I believe that what teachers will appreciate most is having everything in one convenient place, and that Skolon will bring added value in their work. Then, once they become more familiar with what it involves, they will particularly appreciate functionality such as deep links, as these help to structure work conveniently for students. The ability to offer our teachers the wealth of resources available on the digital market and the way they are presented so clearly are of course major advantages of using Skolon.”
Equal education and higher quality teaching
Anki believes that there will be advantages for students, too, as all students can get access to equal education wherever they are. She also says that digitalising education involves enhancing the quality of teaching.
“Although we already have a digital development plan for the municipality and the schools have local digital development plans, there can sometimes be differences between individual teachers and individual classrooms in terms of how they work digitally. We hope that Skolon will enable us to reduce the inequalities between schools and teachers. There are also endless opportunities for schools to continue working with digitalisation. We’ve focused on making classroom teaching digital, but at school level we want to be able to reduce teachers’ administrative workload and streamline our digital processes. Our aim is that both teachers in the classroom and we at administrative level should be able to make better use of the data that digitalisation can offer, to find out how we can reach the next level.”
Educational and financial benefits
Anki also believes that Skolon will bring both educational and financial benefits for the municipality.
“Thanks to Skolon, we get clear statistics about which resources we are using and how we can optimise our use and get the most out of these resources. I think this is interesting at both school level and municipality level.”
The digital tools included in Skolon come from providers of all sizes, all of which have one thing in common: they create digital tools that are good for education. And for Anki, it is a clear benefit that the selection of digital resources does not need to be so different compared with the choice of analogue resources – the important thing is to establish a vision of what they want to achieve, before then carrying out evaluations and seeing the results.
“When it comes to resources, I’m thinking about the added value we look for in digital resources. It shouldn’t just be a book in a digital format or a PDF copy that you can’t do anything with. Digital resources can offer interactivity, with everything from short movie clips and audio clips, to writing little notes, summaries of paragraphs and so on, which takes things to a whole new level. Digitalisation in schools should be seamless and straightforward. Just like we talk today about how electricity should work, I believe that digitalisation should also work in the classroom. And that it should be a natural, effective way to achieve students’ objectives.”
Speed and simplicity were two of the reasons why ICT educator Angelika Johansson wanted to introduce Skolon at Valdemarsvik Municipality. She had previously used the service in her work at Västervik Municipality, and felt that it would be the natural next step in Valdemarsvik’s digitalisation work.
“Skolon is the digital desk that makes everyday life easier for teachers, students and ICT educators.”
The municipality’s first step along its digitalisation journey involved leasing devices in order to create the digital desk, and Skolon was at the back of Angelika’s mind right from the outset.
“The municipality faced extensive digitalisation work,” recalls Angelika. “We had few devices, and the schools only had limited opportunities to work digitally. Once we had the devices, we would load them with digital services and the time eventually came to introduce Skolon, but things went faster than expected.”
As a result of coronavirus, Skolon opened up its entire digital platform. This meant that the process began earlier than anticipated, but Valdemarsvik Municipality welcomed this.
An open platform allows new services to be tested
This spring, Sweden’s schools had a greater need for remote teaching. Skolon therefore decided to open up its platform temporarily to increase access to digital resources at all the country’s schools, and to offer accessible learning to all. This also meant that schools had the opportunity to try out new services that they had not previously used.
“Despite the fact that we didn’t need to close any schools, we prepared for the possibility of school closures. Skolon opening up its services was an excellent opportunity for us to try its digital offering, and we saw that this would be a good platform for accessing digital resources, as well as being convenient for both teachers and students who were not used to working digitally.”
Speed and simplicity persuade Valdemarsvik
Valdemarsvik Municipality was also attracted by Skolon’s speed and simplicity.
“If we hadn’t had Skolon, our teachers and students would have had to juggle several different websites and log-ins. Skolon ensures that our digital services are both straightforward and fast. The GDPR aspect is also extremely useful, as Skolon has taken significant responsibility and offers a convenient solution. We still have to sign data representative agreements with the service provider, but if the service is in Skolon we can be sure that it will be relatively simple to sign agreements, and that’s reassuring.”
Teachers can explore the library themselves and find digital resources that they can start a trial period for. In the classroom situation, the teacher can easily lead students to the right service, saving time and effort for teachers and students alike.
Digitalisation is high on the agenda
Right now, the municipality is working hard to train administrators at its schools in order to make things easier for everyone involved. The next step will be a full-scale launch, which Angelika is looking forward to.
“In order to ensure a smooth start-up, I’ve helped with accounts and resource links. But now the school administrators have had training, they know more about which services their specific schools and students need and can deal with all the administration themselves. We’re a small municipality with around 700 students, which has been manageable, but we look forward to all the synchronisations being in place to ensure everything runs even more smoothly at the start of each academic year.”
Last but not least, Angelika feels that both she and the municipality have received good support with the implementation of Skolon:
“Skolon has always been excellent at providing answers and fast feedback when we’ve had any questions or thoughts. When we’ve encountered problems or challenges, we’ve always received immediate help and our issues have been resolved quickly.”
When Kristinehamn Municipality decided to take the next big step towards digitalising learning, it was more than just the time savings for teachers, all digital resources being in one place or the extensive partnership with resource providers that persuaded the municipality to choose Skolon – the opportunity for better GDPR compliance was also a decisive factor.
“We wanted to take greater responsibility for ensuring equal access to good resources,” explains the municipality’s IT Strategist Michael Örnstedt. “If we are to focus strategically on increased use of digital resources, we also need to know that we have the technological infrastructure in place to back this up. This involves making the transition from uncontrolled, time-consuming manual administration of student and teacher accounts to automating the complex user lifecycle management of digital identities within a wide range of digital tools, in different areas of operations. Skolon is an incredibly important piece of the puzzle which addresses a significant part of the complexity involved in this. We also get an excellent insight via a clear visual interface into how the personal data we share – with both Skolon and the content providers that Skolon works with – is processed. We need to comply with GDPR fully, and not just on paper. Taken together, these are the main reasons why we chose to work with Skolon.”
“We need to ensure equal access to high quality content”
Kristinehamn Municipality has long been aware that it was time to take greater responsibility for learning resources, and realised that using a solution such as that offered by Skolon would enable them to focus strategically on digital resources to a higher degree.
“Basically, we need to take responsibility for satisfying our students’ and teachers’ rights to high quality resources. We need to ensure equal access to high quality content. We also want to ensure that we have joint guidance that we can adhere to, including for quality assuring resources. Digital resources bring new opportunities, but at the same time we face completely different challenges when it comes to how we distribute these compared to printed books. Skolon helps us to deal with this challenge in a satisfactory way.”
“Skolon is a bit like an onion, with layer after layer”
Skolon’s digital platform provides full control of licences and automates the administration of student and teacher accounts within a broad collection of tools from different providers. The school has full insight into who has access to what, and the administration is simpler when allocation and user lifecycle management are dealt with in one place, regardless of the resource and the number of licences. Michael takes a particularly positive view of this.
“When describing Skolon, you need to do this from several different perspectives. Skolon is a bit like an onion, with layer after layer. The visible outer layer consists of what teachers and students encounter: a portal that simplifies access to the resources we choose to use. Teachers can also get a better understanding of how students use these resources. The inner layers relate to Skolon’s technical management of the incredible complexity involved in creating, maintaining and closing personal accounts within a wide range of resources, in an effective, quality assured manner. Instead of dealing with this via individual integrations between a student administration system and a digital platform that’s used by all users, in this case this involves being able to meet corresponding needs for many different resources that are used to very different extents. This could be anything from a resource used by an entire organisation to one that’s used by an individual school or teaching group. From this perspective, Skolon acts as an integration hub with a clear visual interface that we can use to orchestrate all this. We sync our list of students with Skolon, and Skolon then deals with the rest.”
The importance of ensuring GDPR compliance
Skolon includes basic functionality that allows for the systematic working methods required in order for schools and municipalities to be able to ensure compliance with GDPR. For example, Skolon’s system automatically restricts the sharing of personal data to only those services that the individual user actually uses, even if they have been made available to the whole school.
“I get an excellent insight into how the personal data we share – with both Skolon and the content providers that Skolon works with – is processed. And this is perhaps one of the main reasons why we chose Skolon. We need to comply with GDPR fully, and not just on paper.”
In addition to this basic functionality, Skolon has also created a data visualisation tool to make it easier for schools to manage personal data. This visualisation gives a clear overview of which user data exists among the various content providers, and stopping data from all tools is also straightforward.
“The data visualisation tool is already one of the most important functions for us. Anyone who claims to be currently complying with GDPR without this type of infrastructure solution is either ignoring reality or failing to be fully aware of the challenge that this actually involves.”
The need for smooth administration of digital resources and user accounts
Michael explains how, in his role as an IT strategist, he has thought long and hard about the best way of distributing an ever-growing proportion of digital resources. He has been watching Skolon for a number of years, and has seen the digital platform’s rapid development.
“Distributing printed resources is relatively simple. Distributing digital resources in an effective and legally sound manner is a different matter entirely, as they are usually associated with unique user accounts. There is now a standard for data exchange between schools and content providers, but moving from a paper product to a working technical solution for all parties is not something that happens overnight. Understanding of the complexity involved is improving slowly but surely, and there are a number of initiatives other than Skolon that aim to resolve this issue. But I don’t feel that any of these address the bigger picture in the same way. Skolon was quick to understand the complexity of providing digital resources to students and teachers, and in my opinion is the solution that meets the overall need the best.”
Digital resources can fundamentally change teaching
Kristinehamn Municipality has just started using Skolon, and the idea was to implement the platform gradually during the spring before holding a broader discussion in the autumn on which resources the municipality wants to use jointly. However, just like many other projects, the process has been sped up as a result of Covid-19, and the municipality and Skolon had to start planning to launch sooner. Both the schools and the municipality look forward to a full start-up by the autumn semester.
“As well as the obvious and direct benefits of digital resources when it comes to multimodality and enhanced accessibility, there is also great potential for development in the slightly longer term. I see excellent opportunities for digital resources actually being able to fundamentally change teaching if we can be smart about harvesting the large volume of data that students consciously or unconsciously generate. This data is incredibly valuable, as it has the potential to offer both students and teachers new insights and learning support that were not previously possible. I know that some content providers are already working actively to refine this using AI, and I’m convinced that this trend will accelerate. We will see it in all industries that need continuous, effective skills provision, not just education.”
A well thought-out infrastructure does away with costly manual administration
Michael believes that content providers will do more digital business as their products evolve and we begin to understand and tackle the underlying challenges together.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the biggest benefits yet when it comes to digital resources, but at the same time I do see that we need to be serious about taking the plunge. If we don’t, it’ll be hard to influence developments. I would challenge both my client colleagues and all providers to dare to be visionary and to address the need for innovative digital solutions that radically change teaching processes. But development comes with a financial cost. If we can do away with costly manual administration and the support this leads to through well thought-out infrastructure, more resources can be invested in aspects that add value. For schools, this ultimately involves good quality teaching. For our suppliers, this involves supporting us in our work by delivering good products and developing the next generation of digital resources. Here, I would like to stress that we and our suppliers have a joint responsibility. I therefore believe that we need to think long and hard about the complexity involved in distributing digital resources to such a large number of individuals as is the case with schools. I certainly think we should look at what Skolon is in essence, and what the service can do to avoid unnecessary and costly obstacles. I don’t see any superior alternatives to Skolon on the market right now.”