Today's blended learning approach of remote and in-class teaching means that now more than ever, education is reliant on technology. So now is the time to consider if your IT infrastructure is working well for your school, staff and students, writes Victoria Temple, National Centre for Computing Education
Is your school’s IT infrastructure working well for your school, staff and students? High quality tech and connectivity is playing an increasingly important role in schools and, while children have returned to the classroom, it looks like a blend of remote and classroom teaching is set to continue.
Good equipment, the right online platforms, support and training for teachers and students, along with digital skills and connectivity all now play a vital role in education at all stages. In this article, we offer some thoughts on how to make good choices and get the best out of the technology.
PCs, tablets, and computer suites
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the ‘digital divide’ with many children unable to access remote education at home. While most children are now back in classrooms, good access will remain vital for accessing learning at home and any future periods of self-isolation. Duncan Maidens, Director of Computer Science Education at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, recommends starting with looking at devices and access to computer equipment at your school.
“Think about what the equipment capacity is in your school community,” he says. He suggests looking closely at dedicated computer suites, any banks of devices and even opportunities to embrace “Bring Your Own Device”, so that devices are available for timetabled Computing lessons as well as for other subjects.
With regards to devices, Duncan says; “Laptop loan schemes can be useful but look carefully at ensuring these are adequately insured and that acceptable use policies are in place as part of a home-school agreement’.
“Think about using Raspberry Pi desktop kits / All in 1 Pi400. These are a lower cost alternative and simply require an additional screen and headset to become a fully functioning device.”
“Bear in mind that tablets and iPads are not a complete answer. Children need access to PCs to develop a full range of skills and access opportunities.”
Government-led initiatives are available, offering funding to improve access. In England, there’s the Department for Education’s get help with technology scheme with over £400m invested, the provision of 1.3m laptops and 54,000 4G wireless routers for pupils. In Scotland, there is help to get online and a specific £25m investment to support digital inclusion amongst learners. Wales has Stay safe. stay learning and Northern Ireland has loan scheme plans to help with devices, internet access and support to provide remote education.
When it comes to connectivity, Duncan offers a few more useful pointers. “Look at your wireless coverage. Are your Meshed networks able to cope with multiple colocated users? Good internet access speeds are crucial to IT infrastructure and there’s a real need for a fibre connection. Look at installing FTTP - Fibre to the Premises. Ensure any old infrastructure such as hubs are replaced with switches and core connectivity has sufficient capacity.”
The right platforms
It’s important to take a consistent, school-wide approach to adopting an education platform in order to gain the maximum benefit. “Look at using a Learning Management System,” said Duncan. “This needs a school-wide approach to ensure it is embraced by all staff with common ways of working and accessing centralised resources.”
Supporting teachers and IT support staff to understand and use technology is also vital part of digital investment. Duncan suggests a look at the wide range of courses available through the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE), from ones for newcomers, such as “How Computers Work : Demystifying Computation” through various pedagogy and programming courses, as well as “Teaching Computing in Schools: Creating a Curriculum for Ages 11-16“.
Connect with other teachers
Sharing ideas and experiences with other teachers and schools through networking can be a great way of ensuring that you are making the most of your technology, and can help you to make well-informed decisions about platforms, devices and infrastructure.
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