Interconnecting your IT and AV

With tablets and mobile devices becoming more popular, the importance of the audio visual (AV) element can easily be forgotten. BESA’s Mark Rosser offers advice to schools on integrating tablets effectively into the learning environment and optimising their benefits with other AV technologies.

While we have experienced ebbs and flows in the provision and use of ICT in schools it has continued to expand over the last few years. The introduction of mobile devices such as tablet computers has placed additional emphasis on the potential for new ways to teach and learn. BESA’s Tablets and Connectivity research suggests that by the end of 2016, in primary schools 35.8 per cent of all pupil-facing computers will be tablets, with 31.1 per cent in secondary schools.

To support this growth, in May 2016 the DfE announced its facilitation of further procurement through the “DfE Collective Buying Power” framework, to allow schools to buy tablets using ‘sector collective buying power’. The framework encompassed four suppliers, including two BESA members, Microsoft with its Surface Pro and Avantis with its LearnPad. So far so good. However, coupled with this good news we have various reports that suggest the full learning benefits may not be realised. As outlined in the BESA Tablets and Connectivity report (June 2015) only 38 per cent of primary schools and 21 per cent of secondary schools have successfully integrated tablets into lessons. This means a change in approach is needed if they are going to invest further in tablet technology.

There are sadly still examples of schools that may have been blinded by new and exciting technologies with no consideration of how the purchase fits into any vision or a broader coherent strategy.

Managing director of BESA member Think IT, Neil Watkins recognises the mistakes made: “We always recommend that before any technology investment is planned, a school starts by considering the outcomes that it wants for its students and staff. Once you know the outcomes, you can make the right technology and content choices.

“When it comes to hardware devices such as tablets, the technology (hardware) is only the interface between the student and the learning content, and therefore the two must be considered in combination. The content is important because if it’s not useful, relevant or interesting then students will not be engaged and learning outcomes will be minimal.”

Huw Williams from Avantis adds: “A focus on how the device will be used and how it integrates with existing technology is also a key contributor in schools with a successful technology infrastructure. They should ask a very simple question: will the technology support our objectives and work with our existing technology infrastructure?”

Classroom management
By using an effective classroom management system, the use of mobile devices can be controlled and their application to learning optimised by providing the link to other AV technologies. One of the few disadvantage of using mobile devices is that the teacher can feel a loss of control of the class. Taking a group of children in the corner of the class, huddled around a tablet as an example, how does the teacher know what they are doing? Some classroom management systems provide the teacher with a thumbnail sketch of each mobile device’s display. The teacher can remotely lock any specific mobile device or send an instant message to offer help or a warning.

The teacher can also select to push a specific mobile device’s display onto the classroom digital plasma screen or interactive whiteboard to share good learning practice with the rest of the class. By being able to connect each mobile device with other AV technologies, greater learning benefits can be achieved.

The use of technology must be integrated into teaching and learning, rather than the technology being an ‘add-on’. To achieve this requires experience, understanding and training.

What we hear time and time again is the fact that some schools sadly fail to recognise the importance of training with all ICT investments. Neil Watkins says: “I remember when interactive whiteboards were the new classroom technology. A government framework to encourage the investment of the technology in schools included training in terms of how to switch the technology on and link up the projector, but failed to address the importance of high quality end‑user learner application training. The result was that many interactive whiteboards were used as an expensive projector screen; an area of the classroom’s wall painted white, would have been equally effective.”

Hopefully over the years, lessons have been learned.

49 per cent of all schools surveyed by BESA last year (632 schools: 335 primary and 297 secondary) stated that aside from of funding constraints, sourcing high quality, appropriate training continues to be a very significant barrier for the adoption of the technology.

If we look at the DfE’s latest tablet framework, while it includes a number of associated add-on items to chose from including security marking, covers and charging stations, sadly training is not mentioned.

As Huw Williams explains: “Although the tablet initiative had great initial interest from schools across the country, a limited number of schools progressed with the opportunity to purchase, which further highlights that the format for purchasing tablet technology isn’t as simple as looking at a device in isolation. This is why during the summer term we are encouraging schools to consider the other elements to a successful implementation of tablets, including training and continuing professional development (CPD). As tablet technology unlocks a wealth of new teaching and learning opportunities, it’s vitally important that teachers have the support to integrate and adopt the technology correctly, enabling them to gain maximum value from the school’s investment.”

It is through this training and deeper understanding of the potential of collaborative technologies working together that a greater return on investment can be achieved, as Neil Watkins explains: “IT and AV products often fall into disuse as the latest new and shinier technology arrives. The well trained schools will be the ones that re-invent how the technology is applied to learning, re‑purpose it, link up new devices and content and re-train staff. If you follow the three ‘Rs’, you’ll not only save money, but you’ll achieve better teaching and learning.”

As John Graham of BESA member ICT Direct reminds us: “One route many schools across the UK have chosen to take is investing in refurbished computer equipment. By purchasing high quality business grade computers and servers at a fraction of their original cost, schools can then invest the money they have saved into tablet technology. In fact, in several cases the schools have used the remaining budget to invest in equipment throughout the coming year, replacing old or obsolete kits as and when required.”

Ultimately, it is about the students: if we are to prepare them for jobs that do not yet exist, we have to achieve the best with the technology we already have, invest in further appropriate technology, and of course, that all important training.

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