In a time of rapid technological development and some of the most exciting innovations that history has ever produced, amazing new possibilities are finding their way into our schools. This article is the third installment in our in-depth look at mapping the future of technology in our schools.
The BYOD Hiccup
In the face of the growing and accelerated need for technology infrastructure in schools, being mindful of all of the use cases, the need for connectivity and security, at a glance the project in its totality can look like quite a mountain to climb. At the same time, schools more often than not are doing so whilst being conscious of budgetary constraints – it can be difficult to know exactly where to start.
Lincoln Goldsmith from Acronis says, “Soon you are going to be able to cater for Device Management, File Management and Content Management all in one. Looking at the needs of the end user plus the compliance, ethical and privacy requirements, and maintain productivity for IT, it can be a real challenge. We are seeing an array of devices coming into the schools – one student might use a Windows tablet, the teacher might be on an iPad, and another student has an Android tablet on the desk and an HTC smartphone in his pocket. Ultimately what the school of the future will want to be able to provide is a single access point. Schools don’t necessarily want to have one level of products or specifications for students and then a secondary one for teachers because inevitably you will have teachers turning around and saying ‘Wow, I want to use what the kids are using’ because by the time it gets to the administration’s desk it will have turned into a headache.”
Lincoln goes on to say, “Personally, I believe that this challenge has every potential to get worse before it gets better. In terms of BYOD and mobility solutions, there is so much more that has yet to be defined and the more that gets rolls out, the better a school’s infrastructure should be able to support it because manufacturers, vendors and integrators won’t be doing the right thing by their customers if they are simply offering point solutions.”
Over the next few years, one of the big challenges that schools face in Australia, now with a new government in power, is funding. The question being asked at the moment is ‘where are we going to get money?’ Whilst funding is an important aspect to procurement of devices like tablets and laptops, what is the point of procuring it if you do not have a clear strategy for the way your school is going to integrate?
Paul from Lenovo says “Questions around funding can lead to the default position of BYOD where it’s all about bringing anything you like and when you start bringing devices of all different shapes, sizes and operating systems, it almost seems as though it would be near impossible for the teacher to deliver something that’s meaningful while trying to work cross-platform. For schools everywhere, it has been a really hard conversation to have. So as we start to look at best practice recommendations for integration, we can start to uncover the ways in which things like content deployment are handled among other challenges that come with BYOD.”
Lincoln Goldsmith adds “To schools, on the face of it, BYOD looks good to because they can dramatically reduce the cost of capital expenditure. How we look at BYOD and BYOE and how we manage that moving forward in terms of what can be stored, shared and accessed, it is key to look at how the school can do that without negatively impacting on those privacy concerns.”
Two of the overarching questions being asked by schools that are now on the journey toward becoming schools of the 21st Century are these: Will BYOD happen in our school as a reactive measure to address the school’s current budgetary position or are we chasing a more personalised learning model? Do the choices that schools make in this regard influence the way manufacturers develop for the market?
Kimbali Harding from Musica Viva adds, “These days, whatever we design for schools of the future needs to be flexible and it needs to be agile. It’s all about creating content cleverly so that it can be used in many different ways. I believe that in the short-term we will see an accelerated shift toward BYOD in the classroom so a lot of our future looking strategies are recognising the shift toward BYOD. Three or four years ago, much of our content delivery and deployment was focussed around IWB’s, whereas now with procurement patterns changing, we are definitely seeing more and more interaction with tablets and multi-platform BYODs.”
John Galvin, General Manager of World Ahead and Education at Intel offers, “The BYOD approach can create some interesting challenges. At the moment it is hard to find a stack that works across multiple operating systems. With an advancing shift toward HTML5, we will probably see things like content delivery getting a little easier, however I believe that while there is a lot that can be achieved through optimisation, developers are working through the first phase of this curve and we will see progress from this.”
Measuring Effectiveness of Use and Return on Investment
Post DER, some schools are perhaps learning the hard way how to treat procurement like the project that it really is. How do you measure your school’s return on investment? How can you evaluate and positively influence the use of your technology investments in the school?
David Saltmarsh says, “This is an interesting question because if you take a look at the polling or ‘clicker’ systems that were gaining popularity a few years ago, you will see something that is very interesting. These particular investments have been around for a while now and have been shown to go a long way towards really engaging students in the classroom. Not to mention the fact that you get the added bonus of assessment as you go – which is obviously a massive timesaver. A wider take up of this really useful technology failed, probably because of the perceived time it takes to set up for each lesson. The real tragedy here is these very useful learning and assessment tools are now collecting dust on the shelf.”
David goes on to say, “Let’s be honest. When was the last time you saw a classroom teacher walk into the IT department and announce, ‘oh by the way, this piece of technology we spent $4,000 on for my classroom – well, I’m sure it’s great but I’m not using it’ – it almost never happens! It is far more likely that several months (or years) after procuring that thing for all those thousands of dollars, you might check in with that teacher and be shocked to see it sitting in the corner and the teacher might say, ‘oh yeah, that thing? It’s not working.’ That is by far the more likely scenario”.
David continues, “On the other hand, I have worked with a teacher who wheeled in a cart stacked with fully charged iPads, and pull out just four of them in a classroom of 24 students. Why? Because they are bringing in as much technology with which they are comfortable. That’s actually really good because the teacher can lock five kids into one app and get these six other kids started up on another one, and so on. At the end of the day, when it comes to using learning technology in the classroom, it’s not about how many devices you can juggle, it’s about building technology into the classroom to free yourself from standing up at the front of the class and doing all of the talking. Building confidence is a process and, as with any technology, whether you are at home or deploying it in the classroom, it’s always going to be the same story. Comfort equals use. Not every teacher is going to lead from the cutting edge. At the same time, most teachers will not be comfortable putting their hand up for help to become more proficient at using iPad in the classroom, for example. Schools need to evaluate the use of their investment and aim for gradual improvement in the middle block of teachers who could be using the technology more effectively because that is where schools will be able to ensure the best return on investment.”
Paul from Lenovo adds to this, saying “It is also important for schools to ask: what are the guidelines and what are the goals we want to achieve through the use of technology? There was a great framework that was created in Queensland that was introduced by the Department of Education. It’s a 21-step program and it’s not until step 19 that we see procurement. In other words, without guidance and following a process similar to what this framework provides, schools can sometimes be in danger of jumping straight to procurement and having the conversation about funding after the fact and then maybe try to tie it all back into delivery of content.”
Open Systems and Formal Communications Integration
Without question, the communication needs of schools are changing as a learning, living and breathing organisation. At the end of the day, with the amount of collaboration and interaction required in the school environment, everything has to work together. Are these concerns being dealt with appropriately in the short-term? How will this be handled in the school of the future?
Peter West, Director of eLearning at Saint Stephens College says “Historically what has concerned me the most is that manufacturers were building some amazing products but they were building them to work in their own little systems. Take Learning Management Systems for example. If you have a central system with admin and other functions plugged in, you are going to want everything to report to the central system otherwise it’s going to be a real pain. Instead, what we are talking about is set up and maintenance that is already done for the teacher, so they can get on with teaching. Teachers won’t even have to upload content from external systems and manage that content. From here, all of the analytics can come straight into your grade book or whatever you need it to do, so in essence you won’t have 20 siloed, independent systems working separately. What you will have is 20 systems that integrate so all the data comes back to the one place so you can actually do something meaningful with it. That’s the future. It’s not far away.”
Governance and Compliance
Lincoln goes on to say, “In terms of security and the typical student’s use case of technology in the classroom, it is interesting to note that if the teacher doesn’t say ‘no’, oftentimes their thought process is such that they do things they shouldn’t because they haven’t been told not to. So when it comes to locking down what that student can do with their device in the school environment, the school needs to take a leadership role and be as prescriptive as possible. Expansion of BYOD needs to be blended onto one system because that will simplify things significantly for the IT Administrator. Ideally, what schools of the future will get is the simple, easy and effective use cases for everyone which can be maintained and controlled in the backend without having too much confusion or complexity around multiple product sets.”
Apps and Gamification
What is the real value of the movement toward the apps and gamification we are seeing as they begin to be featured as a big component in the future of technology in schools? How does the school of the present day go about clearly articulating what they want while staying true the school’s primary focus, which is the desired learning outcome designed for the students? Ultimately, schools will need more clarity around what they need to invest in on the road to becoming a school of the future.
Kimbali Harding says, “You get a really good view on where things can improve if you are able to keep a finger on the pulse of the apps and technologies that teachers are using in the classroom. In the music classroom, for example, you will come across apps like GarageBand and Soundcloud, ProTools and other consumer market ‘looping technologies’, however this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are being used optimally; and it’s pretty much the same across the entire curriculum – apps are becoming the norm. Again, looking at music, if you say ‘I want to learn how to identify pitch’ or ‘I want to learn how to play an instrument’, you can jump onto the AppStore or Google Play and, in most cases, there is going to be an app for that.”
Kimbali goes on to say, “If learning how to play an instrument is the bottom line, of course there are apps out there that may help. However even though these apps are readily available, if the school is actually after a learning outcome which is more focussed on student-centered learning through co-creation, collaboration, sharing and critiquing the compositions of peers, what the school really wants is obviously going to be something different entirely. The school of the future will be looking for project-based outcomes and looking for portfolio sharing functionality. Schools are going to need software that can help students do that.”
With formal classroom barriers being broken down everywhere you look, the traditional teacher-student model will change. The teacher will become more of a leader, more of a facilitator and essentially a co-learner, and technology will be poised to handle content delivery personalisation. This enables better engagement and more participation in the process of documenting, reflecting, sharing and critiquing a student’s own work as well as the work of others.
Paul Hutchings from Lenovo agrees, “In the next few years, through modeling, we will be able to redefine what we can do through technology. We can start to look at assessment not just after a task but soon we will be looking at assessment as it happens mid-activity. In other words, if you had an algorithm that could help you detect that a student was struggling with a specific assessment task and you could predict that the student will struggle again down the line, through associated data you would know that the student is great at English, so you could then customise the curriculum delivery as the student is doing the activity and provide a genuinely differentiated experience. This is where we start to break down that Industrial Revolution style of teaching, which is a fantastic opportunity.”
The school of the future for some of us is literally at the threshold and it is knocking on the door. The future as we are beginning to know it is already taking shape for some as early as next term. John Galvin from Intel says, “This is the most exciting, innovative and transformative time we have ever seen in education. The technology that students are seeing today is probably not going to be the same technology that they will be using 10 or 15 years in the future. I think that is the importance of 21st Century learning skills and training students to be life-long learners so that as technology continues to advance and develop that they are not afraid of it, they are embracing it. In the future, there will be all kinds of new career options available in the job market and it is possible that the jobs that students are thinking they might shoot for today might not exist tomorrow.”
Scott Patterson is the Assistant Editor of Education Technology Solutions Magazine. Scott brings his experience working at the forefront of creative design, web and application development, social interaction and engagement, and digital education platforms to the magazine and the ETS community.
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