Demotivating and dull, a mess and irrelevant. These are just some of the words that have been thrown around in description of the current ICT curriculum. No wonder Michael Gove et al want to see an overhaul.
Information technology in the education sector is undoubtedly in need of a shake-up. Few will question the positivity of 11-year-olds being taught to write simple computer animations, 18-year-olds creating their own programming languages, or businesses and universities helping to develop new, real-world-relevant ICT courses and exams. But we need to look at schools’ use of technology in a holistic way too.
Teaching sophisticated skills and ease with computers can – and should – be supported by innovative, dynamic use of technology across all classrooms, not just the ICT suite.
Students should not simply experience technology in terms of lessons in programming, important as they are. Technology can be a complementary element to the learning experience across multiple subjects.
It already has a huge impact on communication and media consumption at home and in the workplace. Newspapers and magazines are read on tablets and laptops. Music and TV is consumed digitally, phone calls are enhanced with telepresence solutions, and answers to almost any question are sought online. It makes sense for this to be reflected in learning environments.
But then once we are talking about introducing new technologies to the learning environment, it is easy to focus on the fashionable and the flashy. SmartPhones and tablets are likely to be a massive part of our students’ working lives once they leave school – so the argument for embracing them now is simple. Everyone loves an iPad, right?
However, the really valuable ways of using classroom technologies start by examining content, not devices. Content, after all, is what enables learning.
It might be pleasant to read a well-optimised newspaper on a tablet. But it is the newspaper that is being read, consumed and remembered.
When content delivery is the primary driver behind technology investments, new systems and devices are implemented with the student experience prioritised. Technology becomes a method by which learning is made more colourful, more dynamic and more student-focused, rather than an end in itself.
Video is one content form that immediately springs to mind. Gone are the days when showing students a video meant wheeling a crackly television into a classroom for 30 teens to crane their necks to see. High-definition video streamed to an entire classroom of devices simultaneously can immerse students in a broad range of subjects. Working backwards, enabling this content does not mean blindly purchasing a classroom’s worth of tablets.
It could mean creating a virtual desktop environment. With applications and data run centrally from a server instead of the individual machine, video content that would otherwise slow the devices used by students can be delivered seamlessly.
It could mean enhancing wireless connectivity throughout the school, ensuring that deployment of video across the network is smooth and swift.
Similarly, high-definition images and graphics can bring inspirational and interactive content directly to students, supporting them across multiple disciplines. Those students looking to develop graphic or digital design skills can particularly benefit.
A common issue for schools looking to deploy images and graphics to their students’ machines is the time and lesson disruption this entails – so savvy schools will start with this problem and investigate the virtualisation techniques that might offer a solution.
By enabling image deployment centrally rather than on a machine-by-machine basis, virtualisation can bring those images and graphics to students more quickly and more efficiently.
Other content may not be a direct part of learning, but is still embedded in the student experience – and technology can help to deliver it. Administrative materials like overdue library book reminders, or details of coursework deadlines, can be time-consuming and complicated to distribute – a bespoke centralised network might be a simple answer. That word “bespoke” is the important one here. Technology should never be thrown at organisations as a “quick fix” or a one-size-fits-all solution, least of all in schools.
If a desire for a particular device is the start point for buying decisions, then it is all too easy to lose sight of those who matter most – the end users. In schools, that means students and staff, and their school experience is centred on learning.
By starting with a focus on content, the most appropriate, scalable technologies for the individual school – and individuals’ learning – can be chosen, whether virtual desktop infrastructures allowing images to be deployed across multiple machines simultaneously, or wireless networks helping students to quickly access centralised information.
Communicating exciting, inspiring content should be at the heart not just of technology, but of teaching itself.
Andrew Henderson is the managing director of Lanway, an IT solutions and data storage provider.