Interoperability in the modern classroom

Ian Curtis

Ian Curtis is head of Western Europe, Africa & ANZ at global education technology company Promethean. With a thirst for supporting the needs of teachers and schools, Ian feels extremely fortunate in his role at Promethean to move beyond the technology realm and truly immerse himself in a sector where technology doesn’t just improve efficiency – it genuinely helps to improve young people’s futures and prospects.

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Originally published on 16th September 2015 Originally published on 16th September 2015

The integration of edtech into the everyday school environment has resulted in a diverse range of technologies being present in any one classroom – never mind across an entire school. More recently we’ve seen a steady move away from IWBs towards a variety of technology that encompasses personal devices such as tablets and smartphones, through to front-of-classroom teaching technologies, with a strong shift towards interactive flat panels.

While this is a hugely positive step, school leaders now face the challenge of developing an IT strategy that examines not only how these technologies will be used to support teaching, learning and assessment; but how they will connect on a practical level. Essentially schools now need to consider the ‘interoperability’ of their devices and edtech teaching strategies.

What does interoperability mean to you?

Interoperability is two-fold – technical and pedagogical. From the technical side, if not considered properly, the range of technology being used has the potential to cause a bit of a headache for IT managers. The basic foundations of any IT strategy needs to be the IT infrastructure, and more specifically as we move towards handheld devices in the classroom, ensuring that the Wi-Fi network is fit-for-purpose and security levels are robust. Other seemingly ‘straightforward’ considerations "The basic foundations of any IT strategy needs to be the IT infrastructure."also need to be taken into account, such as the number of log-ins required, and the compatibility of all of the devices and accompanying software. For example, can you use the same content on 1:1 devices as on the front-of-class displays? Do they all interconnect seamlessly? Is the software supported across the board? Does any training need to be delivered to staff and students so they can use the technology effectively?

Following on from the technical aspects, it’s vital to consider the pedagogical value of how the technology works; the success of using classroom technology is likely to be measured from the pedagogical value it presents. There are a variety of technologies to support the range of teaching approaches used in schools today, so it’s important that teachers know how to move from one to another within any one lesson or scheme of work.

Needless to say, one of the main consequences of a less robust IT strategy is losing valuable lesson time on trying to make edtech work. This can then have a negative impact on teacher advocacy towards technology in the classroom, which could lead to edtech investments sitting idle, as teachers will assume more traditional methods are less interruptive, which isn’t the case.

This also leads on to looking at the ineffective use of technology when an IT strategy doesn’t address interoperability. Technology can offer a unique learning experience to each individual in any one classroom. However, without teachers or students having a clear understanding of how it is expected to be used, it can present itself as a burden and offer no real advantages to learning outcomes.

"Simply asking students to complete a task online is not truly integrating technology."

Instead of having technology for technology’s sake, teachers need to consider instructional strategies to have in place. Simply asking students to complete a task online is not truly integrating technology into teaching and learning or using it to maximum effect. This brings us on to the investment involved in technology. It’s no secret that school budgets are stretched, and if schools are spending money on tablet devices that simply sit in a cupboard, or interactive panels that are only used for a small portion of the school day, then it’s not cost-effective. Likewise, if the school invests in new technology that doesn’t support or isn’t supported by the current technology – or IT infrastructure – it is essentially a redundant investment and one that would be hard to justify at leadership level.

Software as a solution

So, aside from having an effective IT strategy laid bare, is there a tangible way of managing interoperability effectively in schools? In short, yes. The most obvious is the range of software that is emerging which addresses interoperability head-on. There are solutions available which work cross platform – allowing teachers to transfer from 1:1 or group learning on handheld devices to whole-class, front-of-class instruction at the click of a button.

More recently we’re seeing software for schools migrate from the traditional networked approached, to being cloud-based. Which can not only lead to a less ‘clunky’ transition between lesson discussions, but also has additional benefits such as students being able to access information from home, which encourages the continuation of learning outside of teaching time. The overall result is that staff and students are more motivated to embrace emerging technologies, which improves students learning outcomes, all of which can be measured using software.

How do you tackle these issues? Let us know in the comments!

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