Tag Archives: ICT

What a difference three years makes…

By David Angwin, Director of Marketing, EMEA for Wyse

Thin client computers are very much the future of digital classrooms.  Low power consumption, automatically updated and centrally managed, thin clients are enabling schools and colleges to install more computers per student while keeping down operational costs with improved reliability.

But, the argument for more thin computing in education is often blunted by a strongly held belief that thin clients can’t match powerful PCs for running the latest curriculum software and peripherals.

The reality is very different.  The latest steaming and virtualisation software (e.g. WSM and TCX) support rich multimedia including full Adobe Flash, high quality audio and full connectivity to every kind of educational peripheral from white boards to cameras to scanners.

Teachers and students who switch from PCs to thin clients report no difference in their experience except the thin clients start up much faster, are quieter and are personalised to their settings even when they log onto different machines in other classrooms.

Given the growing number of schools and colleges replacing PCS with thin clients in the classroom, why does this the myth that thin clients fall short on running educational applications persist?

The reason is the 2006 study by BECTA that did considerable good in promoting thin clients but also set out reservations about both multimedia and peripherals. The problem is BECTA hasn’t revised these concerns in the light of the latest technology nor the experience of teachers and children who are using thin computing infrastructure every day.

Given it is four years old next year, can we expect BECTA to do a formal review of thin computing? At the very least, the 2006 report should come with some gentle warning about how much it has passed its sell by date.

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Quiet Zero Clients Ideal for Special Education Needs Department at Wimbledon School

Classroom teaching at Ursuline High School is now benefitting from a marked reduction in noise as newly deployed zero clients that contain no moving parts such as fans and hard drives have been installed. This has been particularly well received in the school’s Special Education Needs department where a calming environment is especially beneficial to the students’ concentration and progress.

The new IT infrastructure, based on zero clients and WSM streaming software, is delivering improved reliability and significantly reducing pressure on technical resources. Less time will be spent on managing computer images, software installations and large changes to computer configurations such as deploying new operating systems.

Ursuline is a Business and Enterprise specialist school.

For more details please visit: http://tinyurl.com/yzwbrel

For more information on what Wyse is doing the education space please visit: http://tinyurl.com/ygcelcg

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Education Guarantees

Following the Queen’s speech earlier this week it looks like the government plans to offer “guarantees” to pupils and parents when it comes to education.

This announcement has not been well received by the education marketplace; being labelled “absurd” by one newspaper and described as a “whingers charter” by another (A summary of the proposed guarantees is included at the end of this post).

While the idea of guarantees for education is undoubtedly an interesting move by the government it seems that what they have proposed is very general. For example it is hard to argue with the statement that “every pupil will go to a school where they are taught a broad, balanced and flexible curriculum including skills for learning and life” but how we define if this is happening is a whole different ball game.

We are all keen to see improvements in education and whether that comes from improved learning techniques, increased ICT provision or closer alignment between the requirements of the working world and the education process it definitely needs to be addressed.

Setting general guarantees that are open to wide interpretation has the potential to cloud the major issues. With organisations like Futurelab, Naace and Building Schools for the Future working hard to ensure that the use of Information Communication Technologies (ICT)  in schools is becoming an integral part of the education process, it was surprising to find no reference to ICT in these guarantees.

We should be focussing on what percentage of students have access to ICT, how many parents can access information on their children’s education over the Internet and ensuring that students are acquiring the necessary skills to help them in the workplace of the future. These guarantees seem to represent a set of common sense statements rather than a set of policies that can drive education reform.

For more details on the Children, Schools and Families Bill please visit http://tinyurl.com/y9pv6qa

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Bored with Boards

By Sheyne Lucock, ICT Director for Building Schools for the Future (Barking and Dagenham LEA)

The introduction of interactive whiteboards into schools across the UK has been rapid, but many moan that teachers are using them just as projection screens, making them expensive white elephants. This could be because there was never any serious attempt to match technology to pedagogical needs, rather an expectation that teachers would adapt their teaching to use the technology, regardless of how appropriate it happened to be.

‘Traditional’ teaching technology such as blackboards and more recently dry-wipe whiteboards enable teachers to do the following: writing and re-writing; drawing and re-drawing; highlighting, and annotating. However they have always been a backward facing technology in that the teacher and pupil has to keep turning to face the board in order to write or draw on it. The class has always suffered from interrupted sight lines due to the teacher keeping moving in front of the board, and the restricted visible area because the user has to reach all of it. In this latter respect the dry-wipe whiteboard was a poor replacement, in some respects, for the roller blackboard where the ‘active display’ could be rolled up for everyone to have a clear view.

Many innovative teachers, prior to the onslaught of computers, switched to using an overhead projector (OHP). This had the same benefits as the white and blackboards in that the teacher and pupil could write and re-write, draw and re-draw, highlight, and annotate, and had the added benefit of being able to re-use the content as the acetate sheets could be saved. However, it had some significant advantages that made it a much better match to effective pedagogy. It was a ‘forward facing’ technology in that the teacher and pupils could use it while facing the class. It was easier to ensure uninterrupted sight lines as the teacher and pupils remained static instead of moving around in front of the screen, and there was a large visible area on a projection screen that was usually mounted high enough for those at the back to see all of it. In the light of these advantages, few of the teachers using one regularly would have seen any reasons to give it up and go back to using the traditional boards, other than issues with power leads (which shouldn’t be underestimated).

The interactive whiteboard was only a partial improvement upon the OHP in pedagogical terms in that it re-introduced many of the undesirable characteristics that the OHP had eliminated. We saw a return to interrupted sight lines due to the ‘backward facing’ technology, a restricted display size and poor visibility of the lower part of the board (unlike the old fashioned roller blackboard). It even managed to introduce a number of new disadvantages when compared to the OHP, in that there were health and safety concerns around the projector beam (Becta whiteboard health and safety guidance), accessibility issues for disabled users and a high price tag. It would be reasonable to ask why, in the light of all these negative characteristics, whiteboards should have been adopted in schools at all.

Partly this is due to the ‘wow’ factor of what could be described as an illusion that teachers and pupils can actually write on the board and move objects around as a result of some special technology, creating the impression of a ‘magic’ surface. In reality the interactive whiteboard is merely a larger version of the tablets or slates that had been used for computer graphics for many years. The interactivity is a property of the software running on the attached computer, which would update the display in the same way in response to a wide range of input devices. The ‘magic’ effect is produced by doubling up the touch sensitive surface as a projection screen, but this leads to both of them being unsuitable for the task of teaching.

A far more pedagogically appropriate solution would be to keep the touch sensitive surface and the projection screen separate, allowing both to be fine tuned to the needs of teachers and pupils in a classroom. By using large projection screens and wireless slates, the teacher could remain forward-facing, the display area could be much bigger and positioned where all of it is clearly visible from the back of the classroom, and there would be fewer interrupted sight lines as the slate can be used anywhere in the classroom, not just by standing in front of the display. The interactivity remains the same in both cases, the cost becomes substantially lower, wheelchair users (for example) can use the technology with ease, and there is less chance of anyone entering the path of the projector beam. Not only that, but the slate can be passed easily and quickly around the class, enabling more pupils to take part in moving the lesson forward.

You will find that interactive whiteboard manufacturers will offer a wireless slate as an additional extra option, once you have already spent a lot of money on the board, but rarely will they offer the slate as an alternative in the first place. If they do, then they will charge a considerable extra premium on the price. Teachers should challenge the suppliers to come up with the best solutions for the everyday problems in the classroom, not just the ones that make the most money.

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The Three “R”s of ICT in Education are Reliability, Reliability & Reliability

In-depth focus groups of teachers finds consistent performance, faster boot up and quicker access to apps and data are top ICT priorities for educators

In the summer break Wyse Technology brought teachers, head teachers and school technicians from schools across the UK together to gain a better understanding of how educators view the role of ICT in the classroom. By talking directly to the people at the coal face of the education sector these focus groups provided a valuable insight into the real life challenges and experiences of the modern educator. More details are included in a new white paper “ICT in the classroom – Listening to the Teachers” published by Wyse Technology on Digital Classroom Digest and on the Wyse website  

The focus groups showed that while investment in classroom ICT has been going on for over 10 years the results are not always fit for purpose. While the benefits of effective ICT were widely acknowledged, teachers expressed concern about how classroom ICT unreliability and misuse of technology by students were considered a major barrier to the effective use of ICT in education.

One clear demand expressed by focus group attendees was for better and increased guidance from local authorities when it comes to making ICT purchasing decisions. With a desire to further embed ICT into the learning process moving forward also being discussed ensuring that educators have the best level of knowledge and support possible is something that needs to be addressed.

Iain Gunn, head teacher at St Peter’s Primary School in South weald, Essex, commented, “Ensuring we bought the best ICT for our children was a key decision for me. I’m not an IT expert, so finding the right people to advise us was a real challenge. It was a significant investment for the school and we got it right by listening to the class teachers and personal contacts. It would be great to have a more structured support system at a local or regional level.”

On the general topic of ICT in education it was agreed that it makes learning more interesting and helps to motivate children. There was an underlying theme of frustration with ICT going wrong and a need to establish ICT as a way to sustain the learning process rather than as a flashy gimmick. ICT is currently positioned as a ‘treat’ within many schools according to the majority of the teachers who attended the groups.

David Angwin, Wyse Technology, commented, “Reliability seems to be what classroom ICT is all about these days. Teachers, understandably, want to be reassured that if ICT is to play a major role in the education sector that it will perform consistently. While PCs deliver the functionality that is needed in the classroom, unreliability and the ease with which PC software can be accidentally or deliberately ‘broken’ means they are far from the best fit for the classroom.”

“Wyse has a long history of working with schools in the UK and around the world to introduce classroom ICT that is fit for purpose. A range of technologies are now available that let schools deploy small, silent and energy efficient thin computers in the classroom. These support the full range of curriculum software including advanced multimedia and the computer peripherals needed in language and science labs. Teachers find that they have a better learning environment and avoid the reliability issues they experienced with PCs – and the associated classroom disruption. The next stage for us is to take this message and the findings from our focus groups to the local authorities that the schools look to for advice and guidance.”

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ICT in the Classroom – Listening to the Teachers

The class of 2010 will be the first year to graduate from an education journey that started without much ICT and finished with students carrying more memory on their phones than was used in the Apollo landing.

So what’s the state of ICT provision in classrooms today? Understandably, it has grown organically, so solutions may be piecemeal or partial at best. As we turn another decade, we could choose to invest in ICT infrastructure as we are in school building, to ensure we equip the class of 2020 with great foresight, as well as perfect hindsight.

Wyse Technology explored the state of ICT in the classrooms and the vision for the future with two focus groups of teachers and ICT technicians from primary and secondary schools and further education colleges.

There were a number of interesting issues and observations following on from the focus groups, which for ease of reference we have clustered into three sections: teaching and technology, schools and technology, and solutions and technology. We then consider the future, and conclude with a classroom ICT wish-list for the class of 2020.

Teaching and Technology

1. Reliability

Teacher’s schedules throughout the school day have become increasingly pressured, and disruption to the planned schedule has a direct impact on learning outcomes.  Day-to-day experience of classroom ICT has created very real concerns over whether the technology – designed to enhance the learning process – will work.  As a result, there is a real risk that even the thought of using technology becomes stressful. Whatever the cause of the unreliability, blank screens in the classroom will lead to blank faces. Facing rows of unengaged students while frantically hitting ‘control-alt-delete’, does nothing for the learning process, class control or anyone’s faith in technology. So the most important criteria for classroom ICT is that it is absolutely reliable. It needs to work every time, on time, and any trouble-shooting solution must be both swift and simple.

This is particularly important as ICT in the home becomes more prevalent and less expensive. Today’s teenagers run their lives through their iPhones, social networking sites and iTunes, so the key challenge is to harness that interest and creativity into the classroom environment. Not that access alone provides engagement and a guaranteed learning outcome. The teachers we spoke to confirmed that classroom ICT can open possibilities for personalised learning and can trigger intellectual curiosity. If classroom computers are unreliable, slow and too old to support interesting applications those learning outcomes will be compromised.

We asked our teachers to rank the assets they would like to see in their classroom ICT – and their top ten was:

  1. Always Works
  2. Faster Boot up
  3. Quick Access
  4. Multimedia
  5. Access anywhere
  6. Longer life span
  7. Fewer calls to help desk
  8. Personalisation
  9. Quiet
  10. Small

However it was clear that ‘always works’ was by far the most important criteria – it was the top priority by a significant margin.

2. Cost

Some teachers expressed concerns over the cost of maintenance for all of the ICT equipment – noting that laptops are most easily broken, and the expensive to replace. Moreover significant additional costs are incurred through license fees for software. Many technicians made the point that the initial outlay to provide the hardware is only the initial spend – the cost of licenses is significant. Head teachers in the focus groups reported being challenged to provide all the schools ICT requirements on the current budgets.

3. Layout

The rush to deploy laptop computers in classrooms was not generally welcomed by the teachers. While their flexibility was appreciated, they were generally thought to be less reliable than desktop PCs especially when charging was done through a laptop trolley.  The inability of the teacher to see the laptop screen from the front of the class was a concern as it made it impossible to quickly check who was, or was not, on-task.  A preferred layout was for desktop computers around the walls, with a limited number of laptops available for group work in or out of the classroom.

4. Relevance

Some teachers feel a real pressure to integrate ICT into their lessons, only they are not quite sure how or why. This pressure is sometimes driven from external sources such as the personalised learning agenda. For some teachers it is easier to use ICT to dazzle students through flash gimmicks then to fully integrate classroom ICT into the learning experience. So in this scenario ICT equipment is working, but more for class control and box ticking than to enhance the learning experience within the classroom.

There was a consensus in the group that for OFSTED to grade a lesson as ‘outstanding’ they would be looking for every child to be engaged and have hands on experience of the ICT during the lesson. Many teachers thought that this was the next step for schools, suggesting that they are not quite there yet.

5. Limited use/access

Teachers in the focus groups claimed that the reverse of this is also happening in schools up and down the country where some (perhaps older) teachers are hesitant about using computers in the classroom. So either they don’t or they position computers as a treat. In this knowledge economy, society cannot afford for tomorrow’s workforce to be anything other than completely comfortable with ICT – so limited ICT or ICT as a treat are both unhelpful options.

Some students experience computers in the classroom once the laptop trolley has been rolled into the room, and each student has taken a laptop, booted it up and waited for the system to kick in. This happens to students more than once a day, according to the focus groups. Estimates vary over how much time is lost in this set up process each time. Whatever it is, over the duration of a school career, it will be a significant amount of time.

Schools and Technology

1. Deciding what to buy – whose responsibility is it anyway?

Deciding what ICT provision to buy and install in schools is, of course, a significant decision. However it seems that the process schools conduct to make these strategically significant choices is ad hoc and opportunistic. One head teacher from Essex suggested that he made his purchase decision through a combination of listening to his staff, and a chat with a friend who runs his own IT business. Fortunately, the friend did know what he was talking about and the advice given was sound. However ‘mates rates’ and friendly advice is an inappropriate way, as there is potentially no quality control and no holistic view for schools to decide what ICT to buy.

This was echoed by the technicians in the groups who spoke of budgets to spend on whatever ICT equipment they thought necessary, rather than submitting to any process. There was a strong request for much more proactive support from the local authorities on procurement:

One head teacher commented, “Ensuring we bought the best ICT for our children was a key decision for me. I’m not an IT expert, so finding the right people to advise us was a real challenge. It was a significant investment for the school and we got it right by listening to the class teachers and personal contacts. It would be great to have a more structured support system at a local or regional level.“

2. Teacher training

One issue that came up repeatedly was about training teachers on new applications and techniques offered by the ICT provision in schools. One teacher commented that the training happens at most once a year – then if the member of staff who was really good at this leaves all that knowledge goes with them. There was a real appetite for more regular training to ensure teachers were comfortable and confident in front of the class. This seemed to indicate a willingness amongst those present to embrace ICT in the classroom, but only if they were fully confident of the technology and the learning outcomes.

3. Embracing everyday technology

When asked what they would like to start doing with ICT in the classroom, all of the teachers were interested in harnessing the technology the students are already using to deliver learning outcomes. Whether this is through the use of mobile phones, cameras or iPods, this is the way many students relate to the world, so using them to teach with will make education more relevant and engaging.

Solutions and Technology

The teachers that attended the focus groups were unaware of alternatives to personal computers that could be more reliable and productive in classroom.  Thin computing technology with its reliability benefits and cost savings were unknown to the classroom teachers. Some of the school technicians were aware of thin clients and were actively pursuing these options, but even then their knowledge was not current and they lacked awareness of the current potential of these solutions. Of course if teachers and heads are unaware of the options available to them and are not getting the appropriate advice from local authorities or BECTA it is not surprising that expensive decisions are being made – and the cost is being paid by our children.

Classroom ICT and the future

We asked teachers to consider what the ICT requirements of future classroom would be – although they couldn’t agree on a top ten, they could agree on the top 14 considerations:

  • Everything networked – touch screens – same screen to all students – tasks are timed
  • More controlled system walled garden – keep students on task
  • IT more accessible to students – hands on – access wherever they want to
  • Not initiative fatigue – don’t need more ‘new ideas’
  • Virtual Learning Environments
  • Ring fencing on funding that schools get for ICT – currently use money that can use for building or IT
  • Non agenda-driven advice from councils
  • Ongoing regular and meaningful training – share best practice
  • Personalised learning – e.g. thinking about using phones in lessons to embrace the technology the children already have
  • Simplified access for teachers
  • Every child with broadband access at home – not necessarily own laptop
  • After school ICT clubs
  • Get parents involved
  • IT support needs to be more effective and cheaper – especially when outsourcing to a managed service provider – which is increasingly common especially in Building Schools for the Future projects.

Finally given all of this information we asked the teachers to develop their wish-lists. They told us:

Technical Issues

  • Reliable and simple ICT systems
  • Networked IT
  • Every child with broadband access

Individual Learning

  • Accessible ICT – for students to access whenever they want
  • Personalised learning – home and school working together
  • Using mobiles as an education device
  • Virtual Learning Environment

Advice

  • Independent ICT advisors for school

Funding

  • Ring fenced funding for ICT

Training

  • Meaningful, regular training

Conclusion

Of course, anything to do with education is likely to be emotive and the combination of education and computers is even more so. Key things we have learnt and that we could fix are as follows:

  1. Teachers are not aware of all the ICT options available to them, and are making ill-informed decisions about classroom provision, because they lack the support and advice infrastructure. This could be rectified through local authority support. Linked to this, budgets for ICT should be ring-fenced
  2. Secondly teachers need on-going and engaging training to ensure they are using the ICT to support learning outcomes rather than for crowd control
  3. Finally and most importantly the future of ICT is dependent on reliability in the classroom. Reliability is king – and providers will either embrace this and flourish or reject it at their expense

About Wyse in Education

Wyse provides educational institutions with advanced technology tools that enable them to create a quality learning environment. Schools with widespread thin-computing implementations have found that students who have access to a digital learning environment are more stimulated, more motivated, and perform better academically. Wyse makes learning and teaching enjoyable and affordable with smart, low-maintenance solutions to get students up to speed on their computer skills, help teachers deliver their curriculums in exciting new ways, and provide staff with easy access to centralised information.

  • Networked learning centres, computer labs and libraries can be equipped with more workstations at a lower cost
  • Secure, safe, durable, and student-proof because desktop controls and icons can be locked down, no floppy drives, no way to introduce viruses that could compromise a system, and no breakable moving parts
  • Quick initial installation and software upgrades
  • Lower energy usage than PCs means additional cost savings

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