By Gavin Molloy
I was in a school yesterday to advise on a whole-school re-imagining of the IT setup. They have a new school build that will open its doors in September 2018 and are looking to start with solid foundations for ICT that they can build upon to facilitate 21st Century Learning in the years to come. Like most schools considering the ICT journey, it can seem a little overwhelming…perhaps even more so for this school as they are looking at whole-sale changes across the board!
I was asked a question that I get asked in the vast majority of schools I go to, whether it’s the 100 schools I helped develop ICT plans and train teachers in across south London, or the 40+ schools I have worked with in Dublin and surround counties – and that question is ‘what’s the best device to purchase for students?’ It’s a very common question, so much so that I even find myself answering it sometimes – but the reality is no one can answer this properly without knowing a little more about the school.
The conversation quickly gravitated toward iPads – but should it be iPads for schools, tablets for schools, Chromebooks for schools or Windows laptops for schools? Once again, there is no simple answer here, not without knowing more about the school. The starting point in the conversation always needs to be about teaching and learning. What do you want to achieve with the devices? What learning areas particularly interest your teachers? What device facilitates this learning in the best way while simultaneously fitting other needs such as budget?
There is a reason why iPads for schools is a popular option, particularly in primary school, and I can give that answer in two words – they work! Many teachers think of students using technology and they think of problems with logging in, computers updating during lessons, computers not turning on or taking an eternity to turn on, computers turning off during lessons – these headaches are not just headaches of yore, they still exist. They don’t, however, exist with iPads. iPads turn on in seconds, the battery lasts all day and pretty much everything you ask it to do will be instantaneous and trouble free. So are iPads the best option for schools? They are in many schools for a good reason. However, what if your school wants to focus on typing skills and traditional computer skills (which aren’t going away any time soon!) like being able to save and retrieve a file. Windows laptops will facilitate all traditional learning while also providing video and sound editing, coding and more. But if they aren’t treated exceptionally well and they aren’t high spec then they are likely to regress back to headaches of yore pretty quickly. Maybe you can’t afford Windows laptops, you want something reliable and you really only want to focus on computer skills, browsing and document creation – then maybe Chromebooks are for you.
With the school that I am helping to re-imagine their ICT setup (mentioned above) we have immediately removed all this noise and confusion from the process – and as soon as we got to this point of the conversation the smiles crept slowly across staff faces. The reason is because the support method we are going to use works – it has worked in over 100 schools to date and continues to work in them. We are going to start with a strategy meeting in January. At this meeting we will review what the school has achieved to date, what their ambitions, what is working well in other schools and we will start to create a draft plan. This plan will ultimately be contributed to by the English and Maths post holders (as well as others) as we build a plan that will drive teaching and learning in innovative new ways in their new school. As this conversation develops, and as we progress through teacher training and strategy meetings the school will begin to develop a clear picture of what hardware they want at the school – because they have dug deep into their own priorities, and that’s where the answer lies.