Not too long ago, the mere idea of a computer within a school was criticized by many. But since the very first desktop computer made its way into an educational institution, the idea of using technology to assist learning has developed into a full-blown revolution.
Old-fashioned views on it ‘never catching on’ are long since dead and buried, and schools and colleges are now embracing the fresh possibilities that technology presents every single day. iPads in the classroom are currently extremely in vogue, prompting eagerness and enthusiasm among students who may have been feeling uninspired by old-fashioned text books.
But it’s not all about the tablet: there are other exciting projects already underway that signal the start of an even more exciting era in technology-assisted learning.
School in the cloud
A professor at Newcastle University, Sugata Mitra, has conceived the idea of a ‘school in the cloud’. His innovative idea won him this year’s million-dollar TED prize, and is built around enquiry-based learning.
The idea will be tested in a physical building in India, where cloud-based self-directed learning will be developed and made available to young people in the most remote areas of the country.
With an online moderator present to oversee activity, students will be able to log in and organise their learning independently. The idea is to spark their curiosity, ask the right questions and then allow them to find their own way to the answers.
It’s an idea that was born from Dr Mitra’s own ‘hole in the wall’ computer experiment. He installed a computer within a wall, behind a plastic shield in a New Delhi slum. He fully expected it to have been trashed by the time he returned, but instead he came back eight hours later to find these young, disadvantaged children browsing the internet. What’s more, they were reading pages in English: a language they couldn’t even speak.
Dr Mitra’s technological experiments and ideas are truly ground-breaking, and they bring a wealth of opportunity to children for whom access to a physical classroom just isn’t a possibility.
After OFSTED reports across 167 schools showed that a worrying number of 14-16 year olds had woeful IT skills (Source: TheInformationDaily.com), teaching establishments across the country were forced to reassess their ICT teaching programmes.
One institution, the independently-run boys’ City of London School, has since embraced the idea of Bring Your Own Device, setting up a sophisticated wireless network that connects their older students, teachers and any visitors who link up to the network.
Whether the device is personally owned or part of school property, learners can join securely without compromising the network’s security.
Joe Matthews, the assistant IT manager, joined the school almost a decade ago, where the technological offerings of the school were limited to say the least. “We had limited access points from day one when I first came in but they didn’t perform well,” he said. “They were just not up to scratch for 20 or so boys to log on simultaneously back in 2003.” (Source: ComputerWeekly.com)
So the IT team at the school decided to test drive a new initiative, and use the more mature students to pioneer the idea. Using Xirrus access points and network access control to reduce the amount of support the team would have to deliver, they created a seamless solution that provided coverage to almost 100% of the school’s premises, without the need for constant assistance.
Since the network was set up in early 2012, the success of the project has been so noticeable that the school is now looking at spreading it across all grades at the school, even making it appropriately available to younger learners.
This is just a couple of the initiatives currently being brewed in a bid to boost the amount of technology employed in learning.
It’s certainly encouraging to see that traditional learning establishments are initiating new technological ideas and that fresh thinking is being brought to even the most disadvantaged corners of the world.
It’s further proof (if it were needed) that technology has the capacity to spark fresh enthusiasm for learning in students of all ages, capabilities and backgrounds.
Written by James Sheehan, a technology blogger interested in the use of technology in education.