How to make schools mobile ready

Lessons from the classroom by Rupert Mills, Managing Director of Krome writing for Education Technology Online.

“Today’s generation of pupils is among the first to take mobile technology for granted. As email, instant-messaging and wireless internet become a daily part of students’ lives, a digital revolution is taking place in education. From junior schools to colleges, students today expect to be connected in the playground, the classroom and across campus.

As school administrators try to keep pace with the expectations of students who have grown up using the internet, they’re transforming the school campus into a wireless environment that integrates mobile technologies into student life. Some of the changes simply enhance pupils’ lifestyles; others strike at the very heart of traditional notions about how learning should take place in education institutions.

Whether you visit a junior school or a university campus, you’ll notice the traditional computer lab is expanding. No longer are computer devices restricted to one centralised hub, they are now everywhere. According to recent research, 69% of UK schools are using tablets in teaching – with 42% seriously considering introducing them in the next year. As tablets, laptops and smartphones increase in computing power, they are becoming increasingly instrumental – and therefore prevalent – in the learning environment.

Students can use tablets and smartphones to research facts, use learning apps and take notes. But it doesn’t stop there. Visually-impaired young people are using tablets to capture lessons on whiteboards and enlarge the text, enhance the colours and modify the brightness enabling them to learn without needing to ask for help. These may sound like small changes but the impact can be huge. So right across the board mobiles are helping young people develop their capacity for self-directed learning. But there are some challenges.

Right now, schools and universities are more divided than ever with a generational split between how teachers teach and how pupils learn.

Students today are digital natives and often “speak the language” of technology fluently and spontaneously. Equally comfortable text messaging questions to a friend across the country as turning to the person sitting next to them in class, pupils are increasingly thinking digital first.

On the other hand, most teachers and school administrators are digital migrants. They may be familiar with email, Google and browsing online – but they are often one step behind when it comes to advances in apps, messaging and, crucially, coding.

Some students have always pushed the boundaries. But in the digital age, there are new rules to be broken. Schools have to ensure their networks are protected from break-ins – not only from outside intruders but from students themselves. As students become more familiar with code, schools’ wireless environments need to use a security system that protects against attacks across the whole network, including devices brought from home.

However, it’s not just the virtual that needs protecting. Physical security is often overlooked but is, in reality, just as important. Implementing wireless security protocols, such as 802.1x authentication (with guest access for non-authorised devices), should be considered to control access from devices brought from home.

Boosting broadband access and capabilities is another major obstacle. The current IT infrastructure in some school districts isn’t prepared to handle the greater load of having every student connected to the internet throughout the day.

69% of UK schools are using tablets in teaching – with 42% seriously considering introducing them in the next year

With portable devices in classrooms, common areas, canteens and even outdoor areas, schools and colleges often extend network coverage by strategically placing access points around campus. But to do this you need enough bandwidth for every student. To avoid reaching a saturation point in areas with a large student footprint, planning is key. The plan should make sure all areas where people connect to the network receive sufficient coverage and have capacity for the number of students who need access.

Another challenge is cost. While technology is helping schools thrive in the digital age, most operate on a budget. So how can schools buy technology wisely – and avoid buying into the latest trends?

One of the most important steps a school can take is to adopt a forward-looking acquisition strategy to ensure new technology purchases offer real value for money. The school can then deploy what the staff and students need to make learning as productive as possible – while avoiding technology fads.

The good news is that over time mobile devices actually have the potential to lower costs. A recent U.S. study showed that widespread tablet adoption would lower per-student costs by cutting expenses for paperwork, student assessment and lab space.

Schools need to prepare their pupils for a world where being a digital expert means becoming a mobile expert. In 2015, mobiles overtook desktops in terms of Google searches. Our education system needs to make sure our students and young people do not fall behind. That means teaching them best practices across all devices – because it’s not just having a mobile that matters but what pupils do with them.

The notion of investing in wireless infrastructure may not sound revolutionary. Yet without it, mobile devices lose their potential to transform how students learn. While there’s no app for good teaching, smartphones and tablets can really help bring a classroom to life. Students can learn in a way that is relevant to their world and develop the skills to succeed in the workplace of the future.

With educational goals as the starting point, schools can evolve to better take advantage of the unique talents of these multitasking, multitalented young minds. Now we just need to give them the tools.”

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