We interviewed Adrià Baqués, General Manager of technology training school IronHack, at its Barcelona site. He runs the operations on the Barcelona campus and ensures seamless communication between students and teaching staff. He also helps other Ironhack centres to manage practical classes and online content which they have recently extended to all their schools.
Covid-19 redefines the cornerstones of conventional education at all levels. How have you adapted to the new situation? How has your digital DNA helped you?
Although we did have virtual teaching options, at IronHack we were highly rated for providing a high quality, 100% face-to-face school. Obviously, when the pandemic broke out, we had to be flexible and redirect our services, with no loss of quality or confidence, towards a remote model.
In the past our classes were always live with a 24-hour teacher; nowadays, this way of teaching has not changed at all. In other words, even when we are operating remotely, we have the teacher giving classes non-stop using the virtual classroom format. The process is simple: we record the lesson and share it in our servers’ cloud environment. This means students can access the content whenever they want.
Furthermore, an advantage over the other schools’ conventional education model is this “digital DNA” which we have had from the outset. Our teachers come from digital and technological backgrounds, so they have had fewer issues and a more constructive attitude when it comes to bringing virtual tools into their classes.
In this respect the cloud environment is an essential tool for your business. How has this digital tool helped you to quickly scale up and roll out your services to new students?
The cloud environment stores a large amount of content, streamlines its use and provides total freedom of access in real time
In fact, our success lies in a structure which is underpinned by the cloud. Without its potential, adaptation would have been slow, expensive and very possibly extremely challenging on conventional servers due to the enormous amount of large data we have to store. The cloud efficiently stores the hundreds of hours of classes we produce, from all curriculum subjects and teachers in all our schools, and allows us to easily retrieve and share them in real time.
Tell us more about the process of adapting to 100% online learning, especially the feedback from students who are more used to face-to-face teaching.
Our key goal was to replicate what the student experienced in a face-to-face classroom in a digital environment and we have succeeded in doing so: work groups have migrated to virtual group study rooms where they can work together; physical day-to-day learning tools, such as post-it notes, have been replaced by digital applications which simulate their practicality; and the assistance of the teacher, who used to sit at the computer alongside the student to help them programme code or other highly tangible tasks, is still there but with remote assistance connections. This allows teachers to access the student’s computer live and guide them on screen.
However, students were initially very reluctant to accept this. They had obviously enrolled for face-to-face education and the subjects they study include a major practical component in physical classrooms. Lockdown forced them to stay at home and not all of them had a welcoming study environment: poor Internet connections, noise at home, low concentration, etc. To mitigate these external effects which we could not control, we made some changes to our methodology; for example, we adapted live classes to shorter sessions with breaks and more support from the teaching staff. We have gradually managed to regain the students’ confidence.
What business opportunities have you generated by working in a cloud environment?
The cloud environment has made it possible to store a large amount of data
Before the constraints of Covid-19, many of the students who did our face-to-face courses lived close to the campuses or could afford to travel. By evolving to the virtual curriculum and with the freedom of access to learning materials provided by the cloud environment, we have been able to attract more users not only locally and nationally but especially abroad, because we cater for different time zones and in different languages.
What is the biggest challenge you have had to address in this product remodelling which at the same time is the core of your business?
The main challenge has been emotional, trusting. We are an intensive education school and in the past the students spent many hours together on the premises, hanging out with their classmates and teachers. The first issue that was posed was what would happen to this human bond against a background of social distancing. We had to work hard to convince students that the care and assistance from the teachers would be the same in e-learning as in face-to-face classes; basically that their academic performance would not be adversely affected.
How do you see the future of learning? Is the 100% online model now here to replace conventional learning? Or will education be a hybrid?
It is not easy to predict something so important in our society because there are many cultural, socioeconomic and technological factors involved which we cannot control from educational facilities. In my view I think the two will go hand in hand.
Remote learning will gain considerable importance, just as is happening with telecommuting. Many users have seen in recent months that performance is the same or sometimes even better due to the flexibility of using educational content on cloud media. This does not mean that face-to-face learning will disappear; it is still a service that a considerable segment of users will continue to ask for where possible due to their personal situation.
What would you recommend to someone who is thinking of specialising in the cloud?
Both in the future and in the present, cloud environments are becoming strategic businesses for many sectors. The reason for this is obvious: its responsiveness, the “now I want it, now I don’t want it” it gives to users, and the cost optimisation and responsiveness it gives to companies.
Years ago, fewer than we think, our society did not generate the incredible volume of data that it handles now. Today’s businesses can collect more data to deliver better services, and they obviously need to have not only the most powerful digital tools, such as the cloud, but also highly talented, forward-thinking digital professionals who can make the most of their potential. Working and thinking as we did in the past is no longer acceptable, either in terms of time or cost.