No classroom required?

Everything changes – no more so than in the world of technology. As tablets and mobile devices outsell laptops and desktops the opportunities for education abound. Students and teachers have access to a bewildering array of devices and software applications are rapidly moving from a device based model to

cloud based models. James Penny.jpg

Remember when you used to buy your office software on a CD and install it? Not now – you download it or simply point your cursor at a link. So, armed with a browser on their trusty smartphone or tablet, learners and teachers are freed up in ways they never dreamt of five years ago. Forget Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) – the new acronym is UMODD (Using My Own Device and Data)! James Penny, solutions director at European Electronique, shares his insight into how cloud computing can have a positive impact on education.

Better learning

Schools are about learning. All schools want to provide the best quality learning opportunities for the young people they serve. ICT is clearly an essential part of the learning environment in the 21st Century. But what we want is technology that sits seamlessly in the background, is ready to use when needed, always on and always up to date.

It needs to be simple but powerful yet easy to use. In fact, exactly what we get when we use our personal mobile devices. So why can’t we bring that simplicity to the infrastructure of our schools? Well that’s exactly what cloud technologies can do. Put simply – Cloud technology can support more powerful learning.

Cloud use and adoption

What is driving cloud adoption? Well it’s quite simple really. When devices were big boxes that were fixed by a wire to a network point, things were somewhat limited. But as mobile phone networks grew in power and smartphones became less ‘phone’ and more ‘smart’, accessing data services from anywhere became a necessity. But where do you store data, applications and everything else if the device and the user are constantly wondering from place to place?

Well it’s obvious…and so the ‘Cloud’ was born as a convenient way of explaining where your stuff was stored. In reality of course it sits in a physical data centre on servers. It is the access that has changed. With wearable technology set to become mainstream in the next couple of years, mobility will be the watchword.

Embracing the cloud

The most powerful model for education is the idea of a Hybrid Cloud. The hybrid approach looks at where best to store data based on how the data will be used. Bringing together the best of what is available for free on the web with what is best hosted in a private data centre or left on the physical site enables the creation of a flexible and very cost effective approach. Cloud infrastructure is of course based on a pay as you go model so you can move away from the endless issues of infrastructure that keeps going out of date. In the traditional approach as soon as you install your infrastructure it starts to age.

With a cloud model, you pay for a service so whatever is needed to keep the service at the same level is covered in the costs you pay. The cloud service provider updates the hardware and software as part of the costs you pay. This means that you can reduce the costs of supporting your infrastructure and just concentrate on the learning. You also only pay for what you use.

Classrooms Required?

With the range of services available via a web browser growing every day, combined with the proliferation of mobile personal devices, the opportunities for using cloud solutions in education are staggering. It is not fanciful to imagine that the role of the classroom will significantly change over the next five years. From being the place where facts are dispensed by a teacher at the front of the class, to a place where learners and teachers gather to debate and discuss, where facts and ideas can be explored and collated.

Learning will spill beyond the boundaries of the school and beyond the normal times, all powered and supported by cloud technologies that are cost effective and reliable. We’ll never do away with schools and classrooms, however  the use of spaces in schools will change as well as the way we educate, as we prepare our young people for a world where the jobs they will do may not even have been thought of yet.

If you want to see what a mobile approach to technology can achieve, where classrooms have evolved and learning is liberated, then I would recommend looking at what the students and staff are doing at an academy on the Isle of Portland on the South Coast of England. The Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy, or IPACA to its friends, is a stunning example of how mobile devices and cloud technologies can be fully and successfully integrated into the everyday working life of students and staff.

They support BYOD and UMODD and have an enlightened view about making the most of free web based resources. Even their teachers are different. They have experts in cloud tools and they have a Director of Digital Learning and Innovation, Gary Spracklen, who is pushing the boundaries. As their Patron, the world renowned Stephen Heppell (www.heppell.net) says: “We don’t know how good our learners can be”. By giving students the tools and the power of cloud technologies, IPACA are starting to see just what is possible. You’ll see a future where learners push ahead at their own pace, developing the knowledge and skills that will set them up for a successful future. After all – it’s all about learning!

Check out www.ipaca.org.uk for more on what the future of learning really should be.

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