By Andy Hill, Commercial Director EMEA at Legrand’s Data Communications division
From the apps that are changing how we shop, eat and communicate, to cloud computing that can make anywhere a place of work, technology is moving quickly, and society is having to adapt just as fast.
The sector must modernise and adapt, in order to provide children and students with the skills they will need as part of a modern workforce
We have come a long way since the days of chalkboards, but the UK’s educational sector is arguably lagging behind when it comes to building a connected learning environment suited for today’s “digital natives”. The sector must modernise and adapt, in order to provide children and students with the skills they will need as part of a modern workforce.
Thankfully, new hardware and software are emerging constantly to provide teachers with the tools they need to engage their students. Knowing what these technologies are is half the battle, so here’s a quick guide:
Tablets & smartphones
According to a 2016 report by Ofcom, 41% of 5 to 15-year-olds own a smartphone, while 44% of 5 to 15-year-olds own a tablet. This number increases to around 90% for people aged 16 to 24.
For this reason, many schools and universities are now using portable devices as a learning tool. According to a study commissioned by education technology charity Tablets for Schools, which looked at a representative sample of 671 state and independent establishments, nearly 70% of primary and secondary schools in the UK now use tablet computers.
How these devices are used can vary from classroom to classroom, but further research has indicated that the use of tablets is particularly helpful for boys and children who are struggling academically. A possible reason for this is a move away from the more “traditional” styles of learning, to a platform that is already familiar to the student.
Wi-Fi and connectivity
The internet is a powerful learning tool that provides unprecedented access to information around the world in a variety of formats, such as video, online games, blogs and even archived material. Equipping schools with Wi-Fi that is fast, secure and safe will help teachers to maximise the value of the internet in their own classrooms. It also provides students with an opportunity to approach a task more creatively, to enhance their understanding of the material.
Gamification: making the classroom the new playground
Gamification allows schools to build a competitive environment around a certain policy or objective, by using a computer game-style, cross-device platform to monitor progress and, in some cases, provide rewards. It is particularly popular with target-driven enterprises, but some educators are now also taking a “gamification” approach to how they control their classrooms.
Although this technology is relatively new to the education sector, new platforms are emerging, with more set to follow as the concept of gamification becomes more widespread. One currently available is Classcraft, a World of Warcraft-inspired platform that encourages students to comply with the school’s behaviour policy by gifting those that do with special “powers”.
Virtual reality and the immersive learning experience
Virtual reality, or VR, was the hot topic of 2016, with brands such as Oculus, Samsung and Google taking the stage to bring virtual reality to life. Its benefits for gaming are clear, but it is also being heralded as an innovative learning resource, capable of immersing students in their chosen subject.
Virtual language labs could allow students to have a conversation with a native speaker without leaving the country
Technology such as Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR only require a phone and a special app to work, making VR more accessible to schools. Virtual science labs, for example, could allow students to experiment without open flames or dangerous chemicals, while virtual language labs could allow students to have a conversation with a native speaker without leaving the country.
Some schools are going a step further. Boston Pioneers Academy in Lincolnshire has developed a state-of-the-art 4D room. Equipped with floor-to-ceiling screens displaying projected video footage, as well as surround sound, lighting and an interactive floor space, the room engages students in a complete sensory experience.
Collaboration and flexibility
Once defined by four walls, desks, chairs, boards and the occasional red apple, the classroom has now evolved from a location to an experience. Digital, wireless technology, powered by the Cloud, means that learning doesn’t have to stop when the bell rings.
Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive, among others, can make vital documents available to students and teachers in seconds, making dog-related homework incidents a thing of the past
Platforms such as Google Docs facilitate student-to-student, as well as student-to-teacher, collaboration providing instant feedback while reducing paper waste. Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive, among others, can make vital documents available to students and teachers in seconds, making dog-related homework incidents a thing of the past.
Video platforms such as Skype are also enabling students, teachers and even parents to work together outside of the classroom. Live video streaming and posting can also help teachers to reach students who are absent, or who may need to review the lesson.
Preparing for the future
Knowing the potential of the technology available is half the battle. The other half is deciding how best to apply these technologies in a classroom setting. However teachers decide to make use of these tools, the education sector must be prepared to meet the increasing power and data requirements in a way that is both cost-effective and environmentally sound.
A connected infrastructure that uses accessible power and data points, smart cabling systems and high-powered connections is vital. The opportunities for creativity and collaboration in the digital space are endless, but the ability to do so is reliant on a solid and connected infrastructure. It’s important, therefore, to ask your supplier/installer for a system that can support the level of performance you require by making sure that it is designed to allow for any future changes as technology evolves.
The technology evolution may seem like a daunting task but, by using high-quality equipment backed by industry expertise, you can ensure that your classroom experience inspires every child to realise their full potential
Another useful tip in education is to simplify the networks and wiring systems. Wireless HDMI, for example, such as Miracast or WiDi, can be added to classrooms or lecture theatres, enabling the presenter to wirelessly connect with a screen or projector, rather than hunt around for cables, which is a great time-saver. For those looking for a more traditional approach, there is also the option for table boxes and raceways, ensuring cables are always where they are needed.
The technology evolution may seem like a daunting task but, by using high-quality equipment backed by industry expertise, you can ensure that your classroom experience inspires every child to realise their full potential.