Avoiding the tech trap
Currently, there is a global movement in education to become smarter. Businesses have been competing to be more digitally intelligent and energy efficient for some time and schools are becoming no different. This shouldn't mean a tablet computer for every pupil. Instead it means using existing data in new ways: intelligent ways. Here Carl Plant, CEO of digital technology expert bITjAM gives best practice advice for schools looking to become digital leaders.
In a study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in September 2015, doubts were raised as to the benefit of increased technology in schools. The report stated that students who used computers frequently in school were attaining poorer results than those who used computers infrequently - once or twice a week.
The reality is schools can become better at using digital tools even without a considerable investment in new machines or advanced technologies. Instead, the shift requires looking at current issues and implementing simple digital solutions.
Using tech in schools should do three things: solve problems (not create them), engage pupils and aid communication.
So what current problems do schools face?
Save paper, go digital
A couple of years ago it was recorded that the average school consumed the equivalent of 74 trees worth of paper a year. When you combine this knowledge with the latest government statistics that state there are just under 25,000 schools in the UK, that's a considerable effect on the environment and an unnecessary expenditure.
Students are largely required to work on paper and will be for the foreseeable future. However, ways to minimise carbon consumption and become more efficient can be sought elsewhere.
In secondary schools and colleges, for example, timetables are invaluable to pupils and yet faculties hand them out on pieces of paper - destined to be lost, binned or succumb to wear. By using existing databases in a more intelligent way and tapping into the rising number of tablets and smart phones, schools and colleges can cut down on carbon consumption by taking advantage of technology.
bITjAM recently worked with Stoke-on-Trent College to create a timetable app students could access on their smart phones. The app, called Logga, is a smart approach to the traditional problems schools face with paper timetables.
Logga allows schools to minimise the amount of paper used, while also engaging students. The app also negates any excuses of pupils claiming to have lost their timetable.
In addition, Logga opens up another means of communication between teachers and pupils. Task management features allow notes to be made regarding attendance and achievements, providing pupils, teachers and parents with historical information at the touch of a button.
The great news is this app doesn't require radical technical changes to a school's IT infrastructure. All the information is currently available, it's just a matter of using it in a more intelligent way. It sounds obvious, but technology in schools needs to have a practical use and make logical sense. There's no use kitting out the IT lab with expensive iMacs simply because a budget exists.
Track work experience
When talking to schools and colleges we've come across another common problem to which we've created a digital solution. Although no longer compulsory, students are often encouraged to take part in work experience. Unfortunately, few schools have a reliable tracking system for work experience, and even fewer actually give students the tools to put together a relevant and clear CV even before they leave school.
With competition for university places and jobs as high as it's ever been, it's become just as important to record out of school activities as it is curricular ones. Again, what schools need is a smarter framework in place to keep track of students' extra-curricular activities, like work experience, Duke of Edinburgh, volunteering and other skills development.
bITjAM was recently involved in an EU-funded project conducting research into the core skills gap. What became brutally obvious during this research is that students and businesses alike don't seem to know what they want when it comes to work experience.
To help, we're developing an app on which students can record all their extracurricular activity. They can then use their digital CV towards employment or UCAS as an accurate portrayal of skills and experience. Businesses can look at this record and make informed decisions when taking on young people for work experience and apprenticeships. This way, technology can open up another means of communication, this time between businesses and potential employees.
Using technology in an educational environment doesn't have to be more of a distraction than a benefit, so long as there are clearly defined goals. By simply looking at existing data in a smarter way, schools and colleges can make a conscious effort to reduce their effect on the environment, minimise costs and increase engagement. Uncoincidentally, these are the same goals driving hospitals, factories, shops and a number of other businesses to become smarter too. It's really not a matter of whether you take the steps, but when.
bITjAM would like to invite schools and colleges to get in touch with their challenges and see how the company can help to implement digital solutions. To get in touch, go to www.bitjam.org.uk.