Five factors to consider

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Five factors to consider when schools introduce new mobile computers

Technology can provide the means for teachers to transform the way subjects and classes are taught. Of course, it can never replace teachers, or substitute for skills, knowledge or experience. However, it can advance and refine their approach to their profession. Great things are possible, and wonderful outcomes have been achieved at many schools.

Technology can also be good for staff morale. It has the potential to reduce the time wasted on mundane tasks and enable teachers to multiply their effectiveness and achieve higher levels of performance and personal satisfaction.

The effect on students is paramount. Children growing up in this digital age quickly grow accustomed to using technology at school. It becomes an integral part of every day, every project and every interaction, enabling and encouraging self-directed learning, collaboration and cross-disciplinary approaches.

That said, a technology program needs to be aligned with the philosophy, culture, vision and values of each school, and carefully integrated into the school’s life in order to ensure it achieves its objectives.

Introducing new technology creates a multi-dimensional educational environment that presents both opportunities and challenges. The process needs to be driven from the top, but should also involve the input and thoughtful consideration of all stakeholders so that the challenges – and the opportunities – are thoroughly understood and everyone is aligned towards a common goal.

With 20 years experience in education, Toshiba is well aware of the challenges of this process. To increase the likelihood of a completely successful program that delivers the desired educational outcomes, we’ve identified five main areas that need to be thoroughly considered.

We hope these guidelines help you on your journey.

Hardware

Schools are one of the most demanding environments for mobile computers. Educational outcomes are the priority and equipment failures can cause significant disruption, so it’s vital that the technology you select is durable and engineered to survive the day-to-day knocks and drops that will be dealt out by students.

Think, too, about the role of the technology in the classroom – there are opportunities beyond the traditional keyboard and screen. Consider the potential of the interactive classroom, and the well-established benefits of integrating Tablet PCs with wireless connectivity to provide the best of next-generation multi-media interactivity, as well as all of the capabilities of traditional approaches.

Recommendations

Review the mobile computers on your shortlist and ensure they are designed specifically for the physical demands of the school environment.

Investigate Tablet PC technology and assess whether it provides a platform that aligns with your vision for your school and your educational objectives.

Review network options and weigh up the benefits of a wireless system versus a traditional wired approach. Wireless simplifies network access, eliminates the need for cable connections within classrooms and allows students and teachers to move freely within the class and within the school and still have access to all their resources, encouraging interaction and collaboration.

Hardware

Content

Mobile computers open up new ways for teachers to deliver material and for students to learn. Tablet PCs, in particular, enable rich digital content to be integrated in real time from a multitude of sources and media, creating the opportunity for extremely dynamic learning environments. Note that this requires a wireless network to realise its full potential.

Many schools in Australia and New Zealand have explored these methods and the lessons are clear. Once teachers acquire the skills to use the new tools, ideas and opportunities will blossom, and positive educational outcomes will be clear to all.

Recommendations

To realise the full potential of the technology, it is necessary for schools to invest in an infrastructure that supports a robust wireless environment. This provides anywhere, anytime access to resources and tools.

Schools also need to invest in new content development tools for teachers to take full advantage of the new technology.

Finally, it is vital to invest in professional development courses to help teachers refine their skills and take advantage of the opportunities offered by this interactive and connected environment.

Content

Educational Professionals

Introducing new technology is a significant project. It is one thing to purchase the hardware, and quite another to yield superior educational outcomes.

It is best to allow at least a year for the project, from inception to implementation. It’s critically important at the outset to assemble a task force that will be responsible for championing the cause, planning the process and driving the initiative.

In particular, the benefits of the new way of teaching and learning need to be clearly communicated throughout the school and to all external stakeholders, so that the entire school community embraces the program. Without clear and strong leadership, the process can lose focus and momentum.

Recommendations

The task force should be led by the principal and include representatives from all key stakeholder groups. It should also include strong representation from teachers who will champion the cause and focus on superior educational outcomes.

As an integral part of the process, schools need to commit to a professional development program prior to implementation to enable teachers to make the transition from traditional methods to modern technology-driven teaching and learning styles.

This commitment to professional development needs to continue after the launch of the program to ensure that staff continue to evolve and develop their skills and the use of the new tools.

Educational Professionals

Support

You can’t have students without notebooks for extended periods of time – it can have a significant impact on their learning outcomes.

Similarly, teachers’ devices are essential to their ability to perform their duties, and one problem can disrupt entire classes. For this reason, establishing a support system that is geared to the needs of your school is essential. There are many options, including onsite service, same day service, return to base, swapping from a pool and more.

Backup and data storage are also essential. Students will forget to back up, so a formal system of remotely hosted backup will protect everyone against accidental data loss. The same system will benefit teaching staff, enabling them to keep lesson plans and other material on the school server, rather than locally on their hard drive. Then, if there is a problem with their personal machine, they still have access to all of their resources and can work via another device.

Recommendations

Planning your support system is just as important as any other part of the process. You need to implement a system that enables your school to meet its objectives, maintain your students’ and teachers’ performance and deliver on the expectations of parents and other stakeholders.

Technical back-up is critical to the success of the plan. Problems with parts, or service delays, will have flow-on effects that can disrupt teachers and students. Check that the vendors you’re considering have local spare parts inventories and the technical ability to perform high-level service in-country. You don’t want to hear that a student's device needs to be sent offshore for a repair!

In addition, the emphasis should be on enabling students and teachers to continue working, so systems that focus on speed of service or that provide swap machines may be best.

Implementing a robust server, network and a suitable backup system will make the most of this. As long as a student or teacher has access to their work via the network, the particular device they use becomes less important.

Support

Implementation Partners

You should aim for a strategic, long-term partnership between the school, the vendor and the company responsible for implementation. The best partnerships are built on mutual trust, not a one-off box drop.

To achieve this, it is important to find partners who understand education, and can demonstrate this, rather than companies that just sell computers. Schools are specialised environments with specific and distinct needs – it takes experience and understanding for partners to meet them effectively and deliver the agreed outcomes.

A focus purely on price can lead to problems after delivery. The key to success is the selection of an education-centred vendor, supported by an implementation partner who understands what schools need and knows how to set up the complete computing environment (including infrastructure, networks and education software) – and provide project management and effective training.

Recommendations

Check the credentials of both the vendor and the systems integrator and ensure they have experience in schools. Ask to speak to other schools they’ve worked with and check their claims.

Once you have a shortlist, discuss your objectives in detail and ensure they understand what you want to achieve. Seek their input and ask for their thoughts – this will enable you to assess the quality and relevance of their experience and their ability to understand your needs.

Finally, develop a clear checklist to assess and compare their responses and provide the process with an empirical foundation.

Implementation Partners

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