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Do cloud technologies make a tangible difference to student outcomes?

Posted on: 26 Nov 2019
Posted by: Alex Rees

Now in 2019 every school has an array of cloud-based learning platforms available to them and yet it is claimed across the education community that it is still teacher efficacy that drives student outcomes.

Does your cloud strategy enhance teacher efficacy and is your cloud strategy fit for purpose?

It is now nearly 15 years since the Government’s Harnessing Technology strategy persuaded schools nationwide to adopt learning platforms. Since 2002 I have worked with a number of providers including Digitalbrain, Fronter and Frog. In Pipers Corner School we implemented GSuite in 2014 and Firefly in 2015. This article stems from a project submitted to complete a Masters degree in Technology Management. It has given opportunity to reflect deeply on the big questions we should be asking ourselves within schools but rarely find the time.

  1. Have we successfully adopted cloud technologies into our everyday practice?
  2. Are the whole-school cloud technologies we have chosen fit for purpose?
  3. Do teachers feel that their efficacy is enhanced by having access to them?
  4. Are student outcomes positively affected by cloud technologies?
  5. How should we develop our digital strategy in the light of what we have learnt?

Some of what we have learnt on our journey may encourage you on your journey. Other aspects are directly transferrable and I hope will ensure more schools see value for money in their investments in cloud technologies.

Have we successfully adopted the cloud technologies?

This is first base on for all digital strategists. We need to know that the users that we serve choose to use the technologies we have made available for them.

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We based our implementation strategies of both GSuite and Firefly on the work of Rogers1 and Moore2, the terminology will be well known to most. In a nutshell we worked initially with Early Adopters and then provided training focused on “crossing the chasm” and meeting the needs of the Early Majority. The laggards, we theorised, would catch up eventually!

This was statistically successful and when we analysed the student logins during January 2019 we could see that 100% of the school community logged into Firefly and 99.6% of users logged in after 6pm for out-of-hours access.

We were happy to conclude that our implementation strategy worked. All schools need to regularly assess whether the products purchased are actually being used and login statistics are an easy measure of this.

Are the cloud technologies we chose fit for purpose?

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It is difficult to work out what this might mean and so we used a framework by Allen and Allen3. They theorised that online environments should have the same features as Vitruvian architecture. Much like the Vitruvian man is famed for being in balance and proportion so a Vitruvian learning platform should demonstrate Firmatis, Utilitas and Venustas (robustness, functionality and beauty) for users to appreciate it and continue to revisit it.

We surveyed both our GCSE students and their staff using a 1-5 scale (where 5 = perfect) to establish their perceptions of both Firefly and GSuite. Numerically, thankfully, both systems were considered by the users fit for purpose. What was interesting was the marked difference between student responses on average and teachers’. Students tended to perceive the online technology as more useful for their learning than the teachers did.

Why do students think that cloud-technologies benefits their learning? Why do teachers need further convincing of this? Is this simply the old Digital Natives argument resurfacing or is the perspective of the learner generally more optimistic in terms of what can be achieved with new technologies, and the teacher perhaps more focused due to time constraints on tweaking a strategy honed over many years of experience?

Do cloud technologies enhance teacher efficacy?


Well, sort of.

Efficacy is the measure of moment since John Hattie declared in 2015 that Collective Teacher Efficacy is the concept that has more impact on student outcomes than any other strategy (placing it above ‘feedback’, ‘teacher credibility’, and ‘classroom discussion’ among many others) on student outcomes. Teacher efficacy can be defined as Teachers’ beliefs about their capabilities to improve outcomes. Technology efficacy is therefore their beliefs about their ability to use technology to improve their teaching.

Our research evidenced that there was a positive correlation between teacher’s self-efficacy and technology efficacy: teachers who are confident with teaching technologies also believe that they make a difference with their teaching. This may not, however, be a causal relationship, but it does suggest that if you find a teacher who believes in their own teaching, they are probably also confident using technology in their teaching and vice-versa.

Are student outcomes positively affected by cloud technologies?

This is the Holy Grail for the Digital Strategist. Can we really justify all this investment in technology? Does it actually result in improved GCSE grades?

I compared GCSE grades over the period we implemented cloud technologies, exploring student value-added measures using CEM data and relativistic subject data. I combined these data sets with the survey results I had about teacher’s technology efficacy together with the actual usage data of the different cloud technologies. As a result it is possible to infer from all this analysis that departments with teachers who have a strong technology efficacy have increasingly positive impact on their students’ GCSE outcomes over time.

This sounds like we have finally proved it! The last sentence can be quoted the world over supporting increasing school IT budgets (and staff training budgets) by millions. I must urge caution however as one small study based on relatively few students and teachers is not enough to argue for transferable evidence. There are some very real transferable outcomes that result from this study and I believe should challenge us to change our practice.

How should we develop our digital strategy in the light of what we have learnt?

Some unexpected observations came out of the study that I did not expect but will definitely change the Digital Strategy going forwards.

  1. Teachers from different subject disciplines are drawn to very different functional aspects of cloud technologies. Therefore to further develop our use of cloud technologies I will stop planning whole school strategies, but instead work with individual departments to develop customised departmental digital strategies.
  2. Both staff and students want to use cloud technologies more, believing that they are fit for purpose and that they enhance the teaching and learning process. Students are limited by the amount of usage offered by their teachers, and teachers are limited by their technology efficacy. I am therefore drawn back to Bandura’s principles4 of enhancing efficacy through mastery, social persuasion and vicarious experiences. The school’s responsibility is to strategically create these experiences through the wider CPD strategy.
  3. Teachers’ perceptions about technology are often based on a lot more than the set of tools we have provided them. The study found that they are also(sometimes negatively) informed by experiences in previous schools, current team cohesiveness and the Head of Subject’s preference. This reinforces the need to work with teachers in teams to ensure they collectively own a strategy to develop their usage.
  4. I have also implemented a program of regularly assessing all our current online products to ensure that they are being used effectively by the school community.

So can we conclude that cloud technologies make a tangible difference on GCSE outcomes? There too many factors to argue this defensibly but the evidence does suggest from this small-scale study that teachers who are good at using cloud technologies have increasingly good outcomes for students. Without a doubt the focus moving forwards is to remove the barriers to increased access and to work with teachers on developing departmental level strategies to support increased benefit for students.


  1. Diffusion of innovation image marked as creative commons license and available here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/122135325@N06/16925410471
  2. Vitruvian man image marked as creative commons and available here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vitruvian_man.jpg
  3. Rogers, E., 2003. Diffusion of Innovations. 5 ed. New York: Free Press ↑
  4. Moore, G., 1991. Crossing the chasm. 2nd ed. Chichester: Capstone ↑
  5. Allen, A. & Allen, R., 2018. Improving learning through engaging spaces. In: R. Luckin, ed. Enhancing
  6. Learning and Teaching with technology. London: Institute of Education Press, pp. 124-134. ↑ Bandura, A., 1994. Self-efficacy. Encyclopedia of human behaviour, Volume 4, pp. 71-81. ↑

Alex Rees


About Alex Rees

Alex is Director of Digital Strategy at Pipers Corner School in Buckinghamshire, an all-through day school for girls. In his career to date he has worked in schools across both the independent and state sectors and has undertaken a wide range of whole-school technology management roles for nearly 20 years.