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2014: a success for edtech?

Rebecca Paddick asks some of the sector's experts what they thought of the tech developments in schools and universities over the past 12 months

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | October 10, 2014 | Technology

CONTRIBUTORS:

George Burgess, CEO and founder of Gojimo
Shaun Eason, head of ICT at All Saints Secondary School, Dagenham
Martin Hamilton, futurist at Jisc
Simon Harbridge, CEO, Stone Group
James Penny, solutions director, European Electronique 
Jon Silvera, founder and managing director, Fuze Technologies
Shaun Wilkinson, managing director, UTAX (UK)

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

George Burgess: For me it's twofold, the first being the introduction of coding, which is obviously a massive change. A top-down, nationwide change like that impacts absolutely everyone. It has forced teachers and schools to learn about and implement coding classes much sooner than they would have done if it had been an optional subject. While this might cause some short-term difficulty, it's certainly better for the next generation in the long term. 

For me though, the more exciting development has to be the increasing role of mobile. We're seeing more and more schools introduce tablet programmes or allow their students to bring in their own mobile devices. At Gojimo, we’ve been producing mobile learning apps since 2009. Back then we were far too early. Students were hardly ready, let alone teachers and schools, but now things are changing and we're seeing the adoption rate rapidly pick up.

Shaun Eason: I think it’s definitely getting kids doing more in terms of coding. It’s been very much a neglected area in education which needs attention. Thankfully, the new Key Stage 3 curriculum has addressed this. We’ve already started this at All Saints and I was surprised at how much some students already knew. Kids ARE interested in this, it’s up to us as teachers to harness this enthusiasm and take it further. From a professional development point of view, it’s also a good development for teachers too and has definitely put something refreshing into the IT curriculum.

Martin Hamilton: This was the year of Code Club’s volunteer-led after-school clubs in coding, but also the year that schools prepared to teach the UK government’s new Computing curriculum. It was the year that Microsoft legitimised the iPad as a serious professional tool by releasing a version of Office for it, and the year that the Chromebook, Google’s Chrome browser-based 'appliance', started to make serious inroads into schools and colleges.

These changes are symptomatic of a faster societal pace of change driven by digital technology and the internet, and of the need for us to continuously update our technical skills to ensure that they remain relevant. 

Simon Harbridge: 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.

The education sector is moving away from interactive whiteboards, which sold like hotcakes two–three 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.

James Penny: A key development this year has been the growth of the Cloud. Both public Cloud, like Google and Microsoft offerings, and the ability to use private Cloud storage to build a school network offsite and therefore support the growth of BYOD. The government is pushing procurement through G Cloud and this will very quickly influence education. Add to this the digital by default approach from government where public services are being moved online, and we have an exciting set of developments for education. 

Jon Silvera: From our perspective it has to be programming. Having been involved in computing since the early eighties, it has been a real eye opener to find academia in the same position it was 30-something years ago. For the last 20 years, focus left teaching actual programming and moved on to using applications. It is criminal we now find ourselves with severe skill shortages in an area we were once jointly responsible for creating.

Shaun Wilkinson: Printing, scanning and copying have developed incredibly quickly this year, in many cases led by the BYOD trend. Students are demanding the ability to print directly from mobile devices and from the Cloud, as document sharing and online storage become the everyday norm. Print features such as follow-me printing, with ID or swipe card-protected print release security, have seen vigorous development in the last year, both in terms of technology and popularity. 

Will security issues threaten the development of BYOD in schools? 

George Burgess: Of course they will to an extent, but security issues can be overcome with proper governance and the implementation of certain technical safeguards. For instance, one way to ensure a certain level of security might be to insist all student devices are connected to a school Wi-Fi network, enabling the school to better control what they can connect to.

Shaun Eason: It depends on how far schools want to go in locking down their network. There comes a point when there is so much security it makes it very difficult for you to do anything on computers apart from Office documents. What’s on personal mobile devices is a concern but I doubt these could be significantly dangerous in a Wi-Fi environment. There’s always risk, and properly supervised, it shouldn’t be allowed to be an issue. I’ve long been an advocate of reducing the level of security so that sites such as Pinterest and Facebook can be used in schools as they carry a wealth of safe information which can be used to great effect in the classroom. 

Martin Hamilton: The key question here is whether we truly mean BYOD, or whether we are talking about a school-mandated or supplied technology. Even with compulsory enrolment in Mobile Device Management (MDM) systems and other security precautions such as separate wireless networks for teachers and pupils, a degree of control is surrendered when pupils bring their own devices into school. And once that school-supplied Android tablet goes home, it may well have had its boot loader unlocked, been rooted, and a custom ROM image installed. For many pupils this will be a badge of honour – equivalent to hacking the school’s Econet network in the BBC Micro era. And whether the device is provided by school or brought in from home (should that home be able to afford it), we have seen from numerous BYOD pilots that physical security of the device and the safety of the child carrying it can be jeopardised, from bullies in the playground to organised crime.

Jon Silvera: We were scared of calculators once. However the evolution from writing 8008135 to instantly available hardcore and extreme porn, unrated video, TV watching and gaming clearly demonstrates we have a long way to go, in my opinion, before we can truly welcome this advance.

Shaun Wilkinson: Security is clearly an issue, but at UTAX we see it as an opportunity rather than a threat. Any data leak could cause huge reputational damage to a school as well as personal damage to individuals. There are also financial threats. For example, contract information, payment details, bank details… on a daily basis, school printers handle a wealth of information that could be exploited, with printing directly from mobile devices a potential area of weakness. As a result, schools have every reason to ensure their IT infrastructure is up-to-date and fully protected from all cyber security and data leakage. By investing in the right hardware and software now, schools will be well placed to take advantage of efficiencies brought by new equipment, often saving money in the process, while opening up the opportunities surrounding interactive teaching methods, MOOC, Cloud-based learning environments and collaboration, safe in the knowledge that security will not be breached.

We’ve seen a rise in educational establishments looking for clear data security measures on new print and multifunctional device MFD hardware, alongside guarantees that print and scan data is safe. That’s why we’ve introduced security software on our machines that encrypts and overwrites the hard disk randomly to prevent data restoration. Extensive protection on network level is also included.

MOOC adoption has grown massively during 2014, do you think this type of learning is now more widely accepted as an educational tool? 

Shaun Eason: We use MOOC at All Saints for the teaching of certain parts of the ICT syllabus. It's proven great for differentiation and some students use it on their own initiative at home. It is more widely

accepted as an educational tool. Just look at the exam boards which are using this technology now as a resource for course delivery. It’s an alternative, an extra resource. You’d be mad not to use it, but it cannot replace the standard classroom teaching. 

James Penny: MOOCs are making an impact in further and higher education. The recent FELTAG report from the government is aiming to get at 10% of all learning content in FE online. This will push ahead the adoption of digital content and MOOCs will play a part.

Jon Silvera: Anything that helps to simplify the selection of course material has to be a good thing. At the same time, being presented by such a varied and comprehensive selection in any one field of interest is a great way to inspire and maximise self-enrichment and improvement.

Shaun Wilkinson: Without doubt MOOCs have immense potential and utilise modern technology very well. They are becoming increasingly acceptable as educational tools but, just as with virtual learning environments, MOOC teaching is only as good as the tutors behind the course and the community of learners involved. If tutors are well motivated, lead the course well and manage to stimulate learners, the technology is there to allow MOOCs to flourish. The flexibility will no doubt appeal too. 

Has the UK kept up with the rest of the world on 2014’s developments? Are there any key nations out in front?

George Burgess: Not at all. The US is much further ahead – just look at where all those MOOC companies are based! Many countries in Asia and the Middle East are also beginning to leapfrog the UK by handing all their students tablets and forcing publishing companies to digitise their content. But the fact that the UK is (only slightly) behind, is not necessarily a bad thing. The countries who are leapfrogging tend to be smaller, where the government has an easier time intervening. Trying to pull off similar policies in the UK would almost undoubtedly end badly – we’re better used to slow, measured change, rather than quick, overnight alterations – and I think that approach can actually benefit us in the long run. Being a little further back provides the benefit of being able to learn from others' mistakes.

Martin Hamilton: It goes against the grain (and popular perception) to say this, but the UK is actually a world leader in many aspects of edtech and online/blended learning. As an assessor for the Technology Strategy Board’s recent Learning Technologies R&D funding call, I have seen some brilliant ideas originating from UK firms, tapping into the vast body of expertise that exists in our universities and colleges. The UK government’s Education Technology Action Group has been receiving evidence from educators across the country about effective use of technology in education, and is busy creating a road map for sympathetic and constructive use of edtech to enhance teaching and learning. A particular challenge for us is how to best help young people who are not in employment, education or training (the so-called NEETs) to pick up the digital skills that are increasingly crucial in the modern workplace. 

James Penny: The UK continues to lead the world. We have a broader understanding of how technology supports outstanding schools. Our teachers are leading a rapid reform movement and embedding technology into the learning proceeds. 

Shaun Wilkinson: Developments in education technology tend to be global collaborations so it’s just a question of when and not if each nation’s educational establishments adopt the latest technologies. That said, the UK education sector is certainly not shy when it comes to investment in education technology.

UK consumers are some of the world’s fastest adopters of new technology – the rate of tablet take-up is a good example – and with BYOD blurring the boundaries between consumer tech and ICT in education, this definitely helps the UK to be a front runner. The UK also has some of the most knowledgeable school IT managers in the world, which allows new technology to be adopted quickly. At UTAX we have the advantage of being able to offer the latest solutions from our Japanese-based parent company which is at the forefront of global development in educational and business technology. Our unique HyPas system that is resident on all of our MFPs and printers, enables numerous education-specific apps to be installed. All of these apps are designed to save time, enhance security and make life easier for pupils and teachers.

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

George Burgess: Preparedness is essential. Having spoken to many schools over the past 12 months, one of the things we've seen is that schools who dive into an edtech project unprepared (say, rolling out a 1:1 device scheme) encounter all sorts of problems. Those schools that take a fully researched and thought out approach tend to do much better. We're seeing an incredible community of teachers evolve around some of these topics and they are all sharing best practices and learning from one another. 

Shaun Eason: When you go to educational shows such as BETT you get an idea about what the next big thing might be in edtech. I thought it was computing and the use of devices such as Raspberry Pis to develop the learning of programming languages. I wonder whether we may move away from the Microsoft environment when teaching computing in years to come. The market for educational information resources is massive and growing. In terms of development, programming will have a significant impact next year and beyond.

Martin Hamilton: We have two real choices for edtech in schools – locked down products that essentially function as black boxes, or hackable devices that will bring out the best in our enthusiastic and capable pupils. The latter takes us back to the spirit of the computer revolution of the 1980s, giving pupils the opportunity to get ‘under the hood’ and be hackers in the truest sense of the word rather than simply users of office automation products. This approach can apply to many classes of device, from Android to Arduino, and Raspberry Pi to Chromebooks – once the blue pill is taken and the developer mode switch is flipped. Happy hacking!

Simon Harbridge: 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.

James Penny: The Technology in Education report that the government endorsed in 2014 laid out the challenges and progress we have made. There are barriers around connectivity and funding but they can be solved, and a push by government will move this ahead very quickly. The ETAG group is now looking at the wider landscape and will report to ministers on how to move the technology agenda forwards. 

Jon Silvera: Our main realisation is that there is a definite lack of cohesive support and reference materials to help teachers introduce actual programming, that’s text-based programming, throughout all key stages. We have refined the FUZE programming platform to deliver in this area and clearly demonstrate it is easily achievable to bring real programming to the classroom. 

Shaun Wilkinson: Edtech has come a long way in 2014 and, with the trends in BYOD, document sharing and print/scan functionality moving on, it points to schools requiring a much more integrated, all-encompassing IT infrastructure that includes total network security. Document management will develop quickly over the coming months and years, both because of the high volume of electronic documents in use and the need to drive further efficiencies in schools. There will be a need to securely file and easily access classroom notes, reports, lesson plans and hand-outs, as well as paperwork related to school management such as invoices, contracts and records. Therefore, UTAX expects to see much more integration between hardware and software in order to provide wide-reaching solutions that bring multiple benefits.

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