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Getting behind the scenes of learning technology T

he prevalence of mobile devices and increasing connectivity means that more and more, the boundaries between online and offline in the classroom are blurring. Soon, we will stop thinking about being ‘online’ as it will be ubiquitous. But how can schools ensure that this is a smooth transition, and that students and staff have constant, reliable access to everything they need? James Penny from technology solutions provider European Electronique, explores how schools can take steps towards maximising their classroom technology experience to support the learning process.

Walk into many a classroom now and what will you see? A class activity being conducted on tablets? A quiz being run through mobile phones? 1:1 device schemes and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) are rapidly becoming popular options for schools. Alongside this is the permeation of the internet into every space, the current generation of ‘digital native’ students having grown up with an expectation that information is available at the touch of a button. It’s fair to say that end user demands and expectations have grown as mobile devices and the internet have become more accessible; as such, high quality ICT is essential for any 21st century education environment. We are now seeing the creation of learning environment where the use of technology and access to the internet is not seen as something ‘special’ or separate anymore, but a background activity enabling other actions.

So how can schools ensure this access through personal devices so that it benefits learning outcomes, and what should they consider? The first major consideration is not the device in use itself, but rather the background support provided by the school’s IT infrastructure. Ever heard the saying that something is all gloss but no substance? There is little point in having the latest tablet for example, if you have no way of running apps or accessing emails due to poor internet connectivity.

For a typical school, its initial wireless infrastructure might be have been set up to support a maximum of around 50 devices. Now, with a 1:1 device scheme in place, this could easily be 10 times more than this!

If you imagine that every user is feasibly going to downloading documents or checking their emails every few minutes, it’s crucial that the network being relied upon has the capacity to cope with these demands, otherwise it will run very slowly. If you consider the bandwidth needed, a rough rule says that 10mbps of bandwidth per 100 users/devices gives a reasonable user experience. Schools should check with their suppliers that there is a synchronous circuit (i.e. that the server supports both uploading and downloading). Schools should also ensure that there are adequate security systems in place to protect against the threats of the internet, especially if students are using their portable devices at home. A full IT health check from experts will help identify any weaknesses within the IT infrastructure and the adaptations required. Once these considerations have been looked at, there is the ongoing management of device content, applications and digital storage to be addressed. One of the major challenges schools face is that networks age. As they get old, their performance starts to degrade until after five years, systems that are not actively upgraded start to become unusable. When you factor in potentially hundreds of mobile, personal devices, this can prove tricky in comparison to what many schools are used to. As such, more and more schools are turning towards cloud computing to help avoid this, which offers a flexible solution to fit every school. In education, a cloud-based solution enables a school’s ICT services to be delivered from and managed in the cloud, leading to increased flexibility, reduced cost and time. As every learning organisation is different, with an individual set of teaching and learning requirements, cloud computing means that an IT system can be easily tailored to suit.

Operating systems and information can now be stored in the cloud, meaning a single application could be used by hundreds of students and teachers across many devices. The need for physical infrastructure and cabling can also be removed if so desired, with the option for the solution to be completely free of servers. As well as removing the physical boundaries to extend lessons across rooms, school buildings or even outdoors, this also sees maintenance and support provided, freeing educators instead to focus on teaching and learning.

The ability to flex and scale services is crucial; systems or software can be easily turned on and off like a tap to allow for constant innovation, the ability to try new ideas, and the peace of mind that they are not paying for resources that they don’t currently need. Cloud systems such as Office 365 from Microsoft or Google Apps for education, offer a subscription model where the infrastructure is always kept up-to-date as part of this and key software is constantly updated. This reduces the total cost of ownership, and allows it to grow with a school’s requirement. This means that schools can effectively future-proof their IT systems. By taking steps to ensure that the IT infrastructure and network required to make learning technology a success is in place, schools can transform the educative process in an engaging and informative way.

Innovating in leaps and bounds

The role of innovation and technology in education was the main topic of discussion during the recent visit of the shadow secretary of state for education, Tristam Hunt, to the Innovation Qube in Stoke-on-Trent. Mr. Hunt congratulated the bITjAM and YMCA North Staffordshire teams for launching the new research and design centre and offered to support their work as much as possible. The Innovation Qube was officially opened at the beginning of March to provide young people in the region with future-proof skills, a better understanding of technology and the inspiration to use it creatively. The Innovation Qube will make use of cutting edge technologies to host workshops, seminars and hacklabs, to help young people, private companies and third sector organisations.

bITjAM encourages its customers and partners to approach technology with an open mind. Whether the project is based on introducing interactive technologies into the classroom, changing the way education is delivered, or creating data visualisation tools that help


companies monitor their marketing and management progress, bITjAM’s work encourages the creative interaction between people and technologies. “bITjAM has embarked on a very brave mission,”

explained Tristam Hunt, shadow secretary of state for education and Labour member of parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central. “The Innovation Qube can do more than equip young people with essential coding skills and a creative approach to technology; it can also strengthen the link between the education and the private sector. It offers young people further opportunities for personal and professional growth.”

“Mr. Hunt’s visit was the perfect occasion to discuss how local Government can support initiatives like the Innovation Qube and raise the profile of the region,” enthused Ben McManus, creative director and co-founder of bITjAM. “Stoke-on-Trent is not just as a great place for business investment, but also an excellent area for young people to build and consolidate their careers.”

May 2014

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