Collaborate and listen

How can you join up hardware and software so that all classroom technology functions together? Cecilia Forfitt finds out

With global spending on IT in schools estimated at £17.5bn every year, around 70% of schools in the UK using tablet computers in lessons and a recent Ofsted report claiming that 30% of UK schools operate with a BYOD (bring your own device) policy, technology underpins the entire concept of the modern classroom. Young people are more tech-savvy than ever before – but how can schools harness this knowledge, and keep up with the evolution of technology, in order to shape new ways of teaching? 

A higher level of interactive technology in the classroom not only enhances the learning process, but makes practical sense, since today’s student is already accustomed to using smart devices outside the educational sphere; interactive smart whiteboards are simply a natural extension to the social use of tablets in the home. 

Philip Woods, Director at KRCS Group, a premium reseller of Apple products and accessories, believes that although technology is more present than ever before, our focus needs to shift away from the technology itself. Instead, he suggests: “Technology’s use should be transparent, allowing staff and pupils to concentrate on enhancing (and even transforming) the way staff teach and the way pupils learn.” As we go to press, the iOS 9.3 update is due for release to iOS 9 users, and promises further integration between the hardware and software paradigms. “Apple’s new Classroom app will create a kind of symbiosis between a teacher’s iPad and their pupils’ devices,” says Philip. “A teacher will soon be able to peer into their students’ screens and see exactly what they see, point the device to whatever app or website is needed for the class ahead and even cast their students’ device on Apple TV.”

Educating beta

With phones already in pockets and students accustomed to using tablets and computers in their everyday lives, it makes perfect sense to not only use the same devices in the classroom, but to allow students to learn through creating for the digital spaces they are already involved with. After all, says Adriana Rose, Business Development at Wolfram Research, “it’s what they’re interested in, and it’s what they care about.” Software like Wolfram Programming Lab teaches the user how to programme, using example code to experiment with – it’s a learn-while-you-play model that’s engaging at all levels of education, and one that we’re exposed to from a young age, in one form or another. “In kindergarten through second grade, most students are accustomed to drawing, cutting, pasting, and creating things to showcase their understanding, explains Adriana. “Programming in the Wolfram language gives students an opportunity to create a whole host of useful things digitally.” 

And with gaming now recognised as having genuine educative value, it’s finding its way into classrooms, too. Kuato Studios, an edtech company building video games that teach kids to code, works with schools across the country, helping to drive coding initiatives into classrooms. The games look and feel like action adventure games, but focus on teaching code. Jessica Trybus, is Director of Edutainment for Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center, based in Pennsylvania, USA. She explains why this game-based learning is so effective: “When an interactive environment is offered that provides risk-free experimentation and consequences, we learn and apply that knowledge to real-world situations… Harness the power of well-designed games to achieve specific learning goals, and the result is a workforce of highly motivated learners who avidly engage with and practice applying problem-solving skills.”

Tried and tested tech

Despite mammoth advances in technology, tried and tested educative tools and methods aren’t being discarded, rather tweaked for the digital generation. Note taking will always be an essential part of being a student, but the process is evolving – many universities have registered themselves with online virtual world Second Life, which enables students to socialise online and share ideas, with teachers providing moderation. 

And although pen and paper is still a popular method of recording information, laptops and tablets are widely used on campus, too – can the two methods be combined, in the form of flexible OLED-based displays, so thin they can be rolled and folded like paper? 

For now, Educreations have created a unique screencasting tool that turns your tablet into a recordable whiteboard, with interactive text, audio and video giving the user the tools to make personal video lessons that can be shared online. 

The app expands on the traditional learning space, and allows teachers to view and use public lessons created by other teachers on various subjects, from science to art.

The best solutions will be those that will boost the current technological capabilities in the classroom while future-proofing the learning environment for years to come

Next gen products

Proving they are ahead of the curve when it comes to keeping up with tech, Promethean are helping to future-proof schools’ investment in edtech with the launch of the enhanced ActivPanel range. 

The range now offers a choice of full HD and 4K Ultra HD displays which are designed to enhance the classroom viewing experience and interaction amongst students. Building on the core capabilities of the ActivPanel, this next generation release has focused on creating a display solution which can keep pace with the rate of development in the computing world by specifically addressing the demand for Android functionality devices in classroom displays.

Ian Curtis, Head of Europe, Africa and Australasia, explains: “Many schools looking to invest in flat panels with internal computing devices have the expectation that the technology will not need to be refreshed for five to 10 years; however, the rate of innovation around computing processing power on average doubles every two years. This means there is a high likelihood that the processing power may be generations behind after a short period of time, leaving schools with dated technology and without options.” 

In direct response to this challenge, Promethean has developed a new external, upgradeable Android device that offers an innovative experience and intelligent design. Supporting up to 10 simultaneous touch points, a further enhancement to the ActivPanel user experience is the new Promethean digital pen. This enables teachers and students to write, annotate and hover in addition to performing typical touchscreen commands. The latest generation of ActivPanel will be available for purchase from May 2016. 

A critical role

Working with the knowledge and products that we have, continuously rethinking methods so that new and existing tech works in synergy – this is the route to creating functioning, adaptable classrooms. “Technology will continue to play a critical role in the learning environment,” says Martin Large, CEO of Steljes, adding: “The best solutions will be those that will boost the current technological capabilities in the classroom while future-proofing the learning environment for years to come.”

Teaching teachers 

Matt Goolding, Head of Digital Marketing at Ribbonfish, a London-based company that creates cloud enterprise apps, explains that technology need to be “one tool in the educator’s toolkit,” and that it must “empower and strengthen the role of the teacher.” In order for this to happen, he explains, not only must the devices and software offer new ways for teachers to “work the minds of their students,” but the educators themselves need to be confident and comfortable with the technology – a study by Steljes, the leading distributor of interactive technology, showed that there is a growing generation gap when it comes to technical know-how, with 75% of teachers admitting to feeling less tech-savvy than their students. 

The study also showed that, although schools are investing in inert active technology, less than a third of those included in the study said that their interactive technology suite was regularly updated and refreshed, and that despite the majority of teachers being offered training when the equipment was installed, 47% rated it as satisfactory, poor or very poor.

 

Clearly, it isn’t enough to fill a classroom with shiny new examples of today’s technology – training and support for teaching staff is essential. There are solutions, though – the new VTF series from VIVIDtouch by Steljes features next-generation interactive panels and a fully functioning Windows 10 device built into the front of class display, and are designed with ease of use in mind. 

And as the panels do not require a separate PC in order to function, cost is reduced, too. 

Co-creation and collaboration are essential in the world of work, and far from encouraging isolation, new technology is putting interaction at the centre of education. Group work is a must, says Warren Barkley, CTO of SMART, the developer of the Smart Board interactive whiteboard: “We need to encourage group work. When students are engaged, they will use technology as a tool, and they will manage these tools effectively. Group learning may seem chaotic, but chaos is sometimes necessary for students to succeed.” 

“We’ve come a long way since the days when one dusty old computer would occupy a corner of a classroom, wheeled out every once in a while to prove that a school was moving with the times – but we’re still a long way from rows of screens and teaching through machines.” 

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