Roundtable: Does tech in schools always need to be new? Mark Anderson answers

In the last in our series, Steve Wright finds out if schools and universities always need to go after expensive new tech, or if they can learn to better harness what they already have?

Mark Anderson is also known as the ICT Evangelist.

Q. How can tightly budgeted schools and universities work with the tech they already have, to improve learning outcomes without spending more?

There are lots of ways you can look at working with the technology you already have. A large part often is that schools and universities don’t actually know what usage their kit is getting. This is where device management, or whole IT real estate solutions such as NetSupport DNA, can offer a site or campus-wide toolbox related to the effective management of student, staff and school technology. 

Another significant way of making the most of technology is to ensure that staff are sufficiently well trained in the use of technology to enhance learning (TEL). Features available in different ecosystems such as Apple, Microsoft and Google can bring efficiencies to improve productivity.

Q. Are there common examples out there of edtech that isn’t being used to its full capabilities? Are educators buying kit that they don’t need, not realising that they already possess the functionality on an existing device?

A common example of technology that isn’t being used to its full capacity is mobile devices. Often schools and colleges will have these available for students and teachers/lecturers, but they’re commonly just used for surfing the web. There are many features such as mirroring, screen recording, audio recording, augmented reality for modelling, and much more, that could be being used but aren’t. Again, training and support is essential for teachers and lecturers to make the most of the tools available to support learning and teaching. 

Q. The temptation will often be to view the latest generation of tech as the most effective. Should educators approach this notion with some scepticism?

Absolutely. A healthy dose of “so what?” is important. Teachers and lecturers should ask themselves some simple questions when it comes to thinking about using technology to support teaching and/or learning. Is the juice worth the squeeze? Just because you can do something with technology, doesn’t mean that you necessarily should do it.

Repurposing old machines into Chromebooks is a great, easy way to squeeze a few more years out of old and outdated kit.

Q. Where can schools and universities go (online?) to find advice and examples on how to repurpose, recycle and refurbish their edtech?

A great place to start here is the Edugeek forum. Filled with hundreds of technical support staff from schools, the forum is a wealth of experience and its members are very helpful. Another great place to get involved is the Association of Network Managers in Education (ANME). There is a great network of professionals here who are always ready to help and it’s free to join and free to attend their regular network meetings held across the UK. 

Q. Can you cite any key tricks for using existing edtech in new ways?

Get some CPD. Even at a basic level, learning a few decent keyboard shortcuts can make a huge difference to efficiency and productivity. Another great way of doing this is to repurpose old machines (particularly Windows machines) into Chromebooks. Tools or suites for doing this are available – and often free. It’s a great, easy way to squeeze a few more years out of old and outdated kit. If, at a basic level, you start moving some of your productivity suite activities to the cloud using Office 365 or Google Suite for Education, you will save money – and reduce the processing load on any outdated machines you have. 

Q. Can you give any examples of schools, colleges or universities using their ‘old’ tech in new or imaginative ways?

One thing we did at one of my old schools a few years ago was to repurpose our old Windows PCs and their monitors into digital signage around the school. The benefits of doing this meant we were more easily able to share messages, celebrate student successes and much more, with minimal cost.

When it comes to repurposing or using old tech in new ways, there are lots of things you can do too. Even using the old machines as an opportunity to learn about how technology works is a great way to make use of the old kit you have. I’ve taught students how to build PCs, or given old 3.5” floppy disks to students for them to pull apart and understand how disks work. There are even schemes where old hardware can be donated for use elsewhere, rather than just ending up in landfill. Before throwing anything away, some thinking should be done about what further purpose that hardware could serve before it lands in a skip.

Further reading

  Jisc: Building Digital Capability  –

  Amazing projects in Microsoft Excel –

  Learning to Code with Swift Playgrounds –

  Using Scriptable for shortcuts –

  ICT Evangelist blog: Is that edtech tool pedagogically valid?

  Stone Group: IT Recycling  –

  Information Commissioner’s Office: IT Asset Disposal for Organisations –

  Association of Network Managers in Education –

  Edtech Impact –

  Jisc 3D scanning service –

  De Montfort University Square Mile Project –

  Edugeek forum –