The use of technology in education has evolved rapidly in the last decade, with schools, colleges and universities striving to create high-quality learning experiences through its effective application.
In the 1990s, school invested in computer suites, and towards the end of the century began to use the internet. The turn of the century saw the development of wireless networks and, in many schools, a shift towards laptops as a means of increasing student access to computers. Schools and colleges invested heavily in virtual learning environments to provide anytime, anyplace, 24-7 learning for students, with mixed results.
Recently, the invention of SmartPhones and tablet devices have brought with them mobility, flexibility and even greater capacity to access learning materials anyplace, anytime. These devices also inherently lend themselves to collaboration and interaction, something that a room full of isolated desktop computers does not.
The interactive nature of SmartPhones and tablets appeals greatly to the modern teenager and when used correctly, it is this feature which engages them, and can lead to the deep understanding and engagement in learning that we as educators strive to create.
Keeping up with this technology is clearly impossible, and consequently creating sustainable, flexible and adaptable IT solutions that are both relevant and stimulating is a key challenge for schools.
Many schools are investing heavily in providing their students with a device each – with the iPod Touch, iPads and netbooks being popular options. The recent release of the iPad Mini will undoubtedly see a rush of schools flocking to introduce it with their students too.
A range of approaches to equip every student with a device is used across the country, from BYOD (bring your own device), to leasing agreements and subsidised purchase schemes.
The success of any 1-1 student device deployment is dependent on several critical issues which school leaders, IT technicians, network managers and classroom teachers need to be acutely aware of.
Establishing a pedagogical raison d’être for a 1-1 device programme is the most pivotal component. Simply relying on a device’s “sex appeal” will not stand up to the scrutiny of educators, who will see beyond the flashy technology.
Many will argue that arming each student with a tablet will be the “death of handwriting”, something that I would greatly contest. A student with a tablet holds in their hand an encyclopaedia, a calculator, a mountain of textbooks and instant access to learning materials, which can be used as the bedrock for literacy-based tasks.
The purpose of the tablet for many educators is as a consumption rather than production device, a flexible and far-reaching research tool, which can facilitate deep engagement within a subject that students can access at any time. Demonstrating the pedagogical rationale with parents, students and staff is absolutely crucial in the success of a 1-1 device scheme.
A significant increase in the number of devices used within a school will put a wireless network under severe pressure. Consequently, IT technicians and network managers need to be backed financially to establish a robust wireless network that can cope with this increased internet traffic. Any 1-1 device roll-out will fall at the first hurdle if the internet-dependent devices cannot access the internet at a speed that consumers (students and staff) expect and demand.
A significant amount of groundwork is required to convince governors, parents, staff and students that a 1-1 device scheme is the way forward. The students are easy – they expect to be able to use this technology in school and welcome any approach such as this with open arms.
Parents will generally be supportive as long as the financial contributions are reasonable and appropriate to the community a school serves. Parents will want to know the educational philosophy behind such a scheme and be assured that students “won’t just be playing games”. Significant consultation with parents is required to educate and reassure them.
Staff will need the same device as the students, in order to deliver curriculum content effectively. They will require training to ensure they have the skills to be able to deliver a high quality learning experience for students using the device, and they will need to be convinced of the pedagogical rationale behind the programme.
Schools in affluent areas could offer a VAT-free purchase for families, but this is unlikely to achieve 100 per cent take-up. Similarly, many schools offer the opportunity for students to bring their own devices to school. However, this can lead to an inconsistent approach, incompatibility issues and headaches for network managers with regard to viruses and internet-filtering.
There are a number of providers offering leasing agreements for schools and parents. Parents contribute a standard amount each month for a number of years and then pay a nominal fee at the end of the agreement to own the device. This spreads the cost for parents and enables schools to offer a consistent device and accompanying package, including insurance and warranty.
It is very expensive though, and at the end of the agreement, parents will be likely to have paid double the amount the device is worth, with it now being three-years-old.
Business managers and directors throughout the country are tasked with budgeting for continued investment in technology to ensure that their school does not get left behind. However, computers and laptops need replacing as technology advances, so why not look at a system where the school jointly invests in devices with parental contributions, with the student and their family holding responsibility for the device rather than the school?
The focus on the device belonging to the family rather than the school can go a long way to changing the perceptions of parents towards education, while demonstrating to them that the school is committed to offering the very best educational opportunities for their 21st century child.
What do you spend?
A significant amount of money can be saved by a school each year by streamlining many of the paper and labour intensive systems it may use, and that are likely to be out-of-date.
Consider the money a school invests in paper and printer ink. How about the cost of the printers, photocopiers and their maintenance. Account for the number of textbooks and paper-based resources departments purchase each year.
Think about the huge amount of hours members of staff spend on paper intensive tasks. Now consider the savings if a school did not have to purchase any more laptop trolleys.
All these efficiency savings can contribute to investment in tablet devices for staff and students, and combining this with Pupil Premium, parental contributions and an annual budgetary commitment for IT investment can deliver a financial package that is sustainable.
Ben Solly is vice-principal at Long Field Academy (@longfieldmelton) in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. You can follow him on Twitter @ben_solly.