May 19, 2022

Meet Ciaran, the award-winning IT designer behind King's InterHigh's leading online provision

Ciaran Sullivan is the lead IT designer at King’s InterHigh. Within his team of three, Ciaran works to ensure King’s InterHigh remains the leading online education provider. Together, the team facilitates the online school’s engaging platforms and tools to ensure the user engagement and experience is as effective and fun as possible for students, parents and teachers alike.

In recognition of his efforts, creativity and dedication, Ciaran recently won Inspired’s Online School Award! We asked Ciaran for his top tips in IT design, how he ensures King’s InterHigh is always prepared to weather uncertain times and what his vision for the future of online education design is.

Have you faced challenges over the past year and if so, how did you overcome them?
Coronavirus has been a dark cloud in everyone’s life. Although King’s InterHigh has been online for many years, our head office was physically in Wales, so many of us had to transition to online working ourselves.

This of course has its advantages. For example, I’m now far more accessible than I ever was before. Rather than travelling to different meetings, I can communicate with all staff members at any time from my computer, which means I'm able to support far more teachers than I did previously.

Having said that, the pandemic also posed significant challenges, including the blurred lines of separating work from your personal life. Wanting to help everyone as much as possible – especially during the early stages of lockdown – inevitably takes its toll.

Therefore, it was important for me to put in place boundaries and prioritise my wellbeing. It can be difficult to achieve, and I often didn’t get it completely right as I still wanted to help people, but now I try and carve out time for myself as often as I can. I also try to mentally close the door at the end of the evening and switch off from work.

Enforcing a routine for yourself is key to achieving a better balance and as a result of doing this, I’ve been more motivated and productive at work. Investing in yourself means you can invest in others.
What is the best part of working in education and IT design in schools?
The best part of my job is the variety! I work on many different tech projects across all subject areas and age ranges, which is really exciting. I particularly like working for an online school, as we’re constantly evolving and developing in line with technological advances. I like to be creative and innovative!
What is the most difficult part of your role and how do you rise to this challenge?
While I really enjoy the variety this job offers, it is also the most difficult part of my role. I support all parts of the school, from classroom setup and interface design to lesson facilities and homework quizzes! This demand on my time can be a challenge to manage.

However, while this is sometimes difficult, it is also wonderful as I have made connections and friendships across all departments.

I like to think of the big picture and look at how different tasks fit together so we’re not duplicating efforts. I am also honest about timelines which helps manage expectations.
What would you say to other education professionals wanting to excel in IT design?
To excel in IT design, you need to keep your students at the heart of everything you do. You need to fully understand what they need and what you want to achieve before you jump into the design.

It’s also really important to be flexible so you can adapt your plans to new information. This is particularly the case at King’s InterHigh, as our students are global and diverse and so their requirements can sometimes be complex. You need to listen to all those voices, so they’re heard and catered to.

Finally, always remember communication is key. Make sure you interact with students and parents to ensure you’re giving them everything they need in terms of IT. Also, ensure systems are rigorously tested. My role isn’t just about design, it’s also about continuing to check our services are as effective and engaging as they can be.
What does it mean to you to be part of the Inspired community?
I helped launch the new platform for Inspired and I’m working closely with all its schools. This is a really exciting time for education and for the internet, given the uptake in online education following the pandemic. It’s been great to see Inspired come in and be aligned in terms of our vision for the future of education.

The Inspired team are just as keen to learn from us as we are from them, making it a wonderful partnership. Now we can bring the best of online education and their other schools together to the benefit of all our students.
Can you talk us through your vision for the future of IT design in schools?
Can you talk us through your vision for the future of IT design in schools? IT design is in an interesting place, as physical schools are beginning to take it very seriously. It’s also something that’s ever changing and constantly growing which is exciting. IT is also about solving problems that have challenged education for decades and building a visual future for the future of schooling.

I think every school is approaching hybrid learning. The world is going in a technological direction and so IT will have to be adopted by every school. There is so much potential here! IT can help make sure education is engaging for everyone, from primary ages to mature students. Also, in terms of safeguarding, there is also so much we can offer through IT. For example, students will be able to raise concerns anonymously so much easier and this will help to keep them safe.
What motivates you every day?
I’m motivated by the challenge of my job. I like to feel I’ve achieved something every day! This includes getting to grips with something that is completely alien to me and solving problems. This job has been very rewarding in that sense, as I have learnt so much and proved to myself I can do anything I put my mind to.

Secondly, the amazing people I get to work with motivate me. This includes King’s InterHigh teachers, who are dedicated to their job, and other staff members. It’s brilliant to get to support them all as they always make an effort to support me.

Finally, our students are a huge motivation. Young people can go through so much which can pose as obstacles to their learning. This is something I can relate to so I want to do all I can to support their education and make their academic journey as exciting and engaging as possible. It’s so rewarding to hear back from students to know you have positive impacted their learning.

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