ICT has been a growing part of schools for roughly 20 years. However, very little has changed over that period of time in how schools, overall, are using it if we look at the way that technology is being used functionally. There are some schools which are doing fantastically well and they have always been stand out schools. What we have seen, with changes in federal funding, is the ICT story has evolved because there were a lot of schools that had never considered ICT and yet now many are in a position where it is literally ‘use it or lose it’ and it really made IT part of the agenda. We are now seeing ICT as one of the general capabilities that is required, so now it is not just part of the conversation, it is now a core component as part of our education delivery.
With federal funding being pulled, we are seeing conversations around BYOD becoming more prevalent and we are seeing definitions of BYOD changing over time; however, fundamentally ICT is categorised as a requirement rather than something that is ‘nice to have’.
You have to have a strategic plan. There are schools which, through either direction from above or through a funding imperative, are heading down a BYOD path but there has been little guidance around what best practice looks like, which can make it difficult. With no strategic plan and no real connection with how such an array of devices are going to integrate and be used in the classroom – be it tablet, smartphone or laptop – ultimately what you are at risk of doing is having to ‘dumb down’ the lesson to meet the need of the lowest common denominator of access. Professional development has been a real challenge because it has been tough to build in functional improvement. In other words, how can we deliver something that was not previously possible with the current paradigm? It has been tough to get functional improvement with one standardised device and yet if we open that up to any number of devices, without a very structured and strategic plan around how we are going to do it without specific professional development, we are asking for trouble. We need teacher buy-in and we need to be supporting the people who are supporting the growth of our kids. If we do not have a plan, we are looking at something that is going to be very complicated.
It is also important to have an equity plan. If you go down the road of an open-ended BYOD program, you need to also support the kid who cannot afford it. If you consider the kid for whom it is a struggle to get to school camps and so forth, it defeats the purpose if all you do is increase the divide between that kid and everybody else.
Best practice we have seen is schools that designate minimum requirements which means either specific devices or what are the minimum things that the device must have. For example, it must be able to connect to the network wirelessly, it must have a keyboard, etc.
I think the next big thing, which is really exciting, is called ‘Cognitive Computing’. There are all kinds of ways that data can be captured to show how a student is going and what they are doing, because the biggest challenge is with ‘true differentiation’. With increasing workloads on teachers, how do we differentiate the individual student’s learning experience to give them the best opportunities? There are systems coming out that can process information like the key indicators that help adapt the individual learning experience to meet the student’s requirements. The reality is, these kinds of things would never have been possible without technology in the classroom.
Paul Hutchings is the Education Lead at Lenovo
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