One of the major obstacles to teaching through technology is resources. Schools are on a tightened budget and many continue to rely on a few old PC's or laptops which struggle at the start of each lesson. Unfortunately, there's no easy way around this. Schools need to invest in their technology if they are to keep up with modern education and the requirements of the Digital Competency Framework. Gone are the days of booking the ICT suite once every fortnight for your sole 'Technology lesson'. That's not to say you need to invest tens of thousands tomorrow, but there must at least be a plan in place for the next few years to ensure your school has adequate technology resources.
So in what technology should you invest? There's always a risk of diving in and buying the latest expensive all-singing-all-dancing piece of technology, only to have it languishing in the corner as nobody knows how to use it! Well, there are four main options:
The ICT Suite
The good old ICT suite has been a feature of most middle-to-large schools for a decade or more. 30 or so PC's crammed next to each other, ready for your weekly technology lesson. Whilst ICT suites are still popular, many schools have gotten rid of them over the past few years. The reason for this (other than freeing up valuable space) is that having an ICT Suite still encourages the idea that technology is a separate subject that you teach once a week or so in your allotted suite session. The Framework is encouraging schools to think of technology as a regular part of teaching and learning in every class, not just a specific subject with its own allotted time. For that to be possible, you need technology that can be brought into the classroom at any time. Which brings us to our second option...
Laptop trolleys are a simple way to bring technology into the classroom itself. It makes technology slightly less of an 'event' and more of a regular part of the learning. That's not to say that they offer all the answers. You need to constantly keep batteries charged, they are easily misplaced as they are collected and wheeled from class to class and they are far from cheap. It's also clear that if you only have one set of laptops then you'll fall into the ICT Suite trap of the laptops only being in your class for that one allotted time slot each week.
Primary schools in Wales have bought into iPads as much, if not more, than any other part of the Western world. Unfortunately, many schools continue to use their iPads in ways that have very little positive effect on learning. iPads are often just used as ways to surf the web, take the occasional photo and play time tables games. However, when used correctly they can be extremely effective tools for learning. You will have noticed that a lot of our activities make use of iPads for videoing, coding, animating, editing and much more. We would recommend them to every school...but with one important caveat. iPads are not in any way a replacement for computers. Typing on an iPad is awkward, and the small screen space and lack of mouse makes it hard to develop presentation and word processing skills.
Did you know that the majority of machines bought by American schools last year were Google Chromebooks? That can be a surprise, especially as most UK teachers may not know what exactly a Chromebook is. Having said that, it is growing quickly in popularity in schools in Wales, especially over the past year. So what is it? At it's simplest, a Chromebook is a laptop that can only access the internet. You can't install software on it, you don't save work on the device itself and needs to be connected to the wifi to work properly. So why is it so popular?
- Thanks to Office 365 (in Hwb) or Google Apps, it's not a problem that you can't install Word or Powerpoint directly on the computer. The same goes for J2E and Purple Mash.
- Their batteries usually last 10-12 hours, enough for a full school day's use.
- They switch on and are ready to go in 10 seconds. No waiting around for laptops to boot up.
- They cost under £200. That's half the price of most school laptops.
- They update themselves automatically and are a lot less likely to crash or stop working.
So what do we recommend? Well, the best option is a bit of this and a bit of that. We would recommend Chromebooks as the main set of devices in your classrooms. As long as your school is ready to start working in the cloud (and you should be) then a few trolleys filled with Chromebooks will answer most of your technology needs. Don't forget those iPads however, they are still very useful for creative work or ultra-quick internet access. Also, make sure you have a collection of computer mice to use with the Chromebooks. Too many pupils have never learnt to use computer mice due to their school only using touchpads or touchscreens. Finally, your teachers are still likely to need a regular laptop. Having said all that, we must acknowledge that every school is different and our preference may not work for everyone. But make sure you give this issue some serious thought before investing, because the technology you buy today needs to serve your school for a good few years!