Investing in infrastructure

Investing in infrastructure is essential in order to fully reap the rewards of flexible learning platforms, says Simon Harbridge

What do you think have been the key technological developments in the education sector this year?

2014 has been an exciting time with an increase in tablet deployment, however it’s not about replacing old with new, but extending opportunities for young people, and helping schools with already stretched budgets get the most out of historic investments.

Tablet devices

There has been a drive towards tablet devices in 2014, particularly in primary schools. However, there is a lack of understanding of the investment required in infrastructure in order to support their use in the classroom. At the end of the day, it’s about providing interactivity to deliver the curriculum and buying tablets is only a part of it. Investing in infrastructure is essential, in order to fully reap the rewards from the flexible learning platform it provides.

Schools seem more accepting now of Windows 8 tablets, which I think is as a direct result of the Microsoft platform offering native integration with a school’s existing network that will almost always be based on Microsoft technology.

AV technology

The education sector is moving away from interactive whiteboards, which sold like hotcakes 2-3 years ago, looking instead at large touchscreens. They provide better graphics and device compatibility, which could make them a seamless part of any lesson – they enable content to be put on the big screen with the swipe of a finger.

BYOD

BYOD is gaining some traction but not doing what everyone would expect. There is always going to be an issue with BYOD in schools. If it isn’t executed properly, you’re effectively letting someone onto your network with a potential virus, or perhaps worse, unsecured or unsuitable content to share. This can be easily dealt with if the school has a solid infrastructure and policies to support the environment, however this is not always considered and a school should look for the right professional advice before proceeding with a BYOD scheme.

What stops any BYOD momentum is much more practical issues. If a school needs to invest in its infrastructure to support BYOD, they may find it’s cheaper to invest in school-owned tablets for example, than provide secure access and ongoing support for hundreds of pupil-owned devices from different manufacturers. There is the reality that students will forget to bring their devices to lessons (todays “the dog ate my homework” excuse) therefore missing out can also be a more practical consideration.

What have we learned about edtech in 2014 that will help us develop next year and beyond?

We continue to re-learn that it’s about delivering the curriculum and not the technology itself, providing the right combination of technology for now and beyond. There are a number of issues to address, namely legacy and infrastructure; but it’s about making technology and the curriculum all work together to provide the best education. Technology should enable the teachers to do their job without worrying about IT.

Schools and colleges are now also beginning to recognise the importance of responsible IT asset disposal, not least for the security of its students and staff, but also the safe and legal disposal of potentially dangerous components. We saw further reports of illegal disposal by some organisations and the importance of choosing an IT recycling provider carefully. Refurbishing legacy devices is not only an obvious piece of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) but a good way of extending the life of past IT investments. We have seen a number of secondary schools do this in order to equip their feeder primary schools, for example.

Simon Harbridge is CEO, Stone Group

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