The silver lining of cloud-based learningDecember 2012
Cloud-based learning is transforming teaching and learning in New Zealand schools, with increasing support for BYOD initiatives and educational apps.
The proliferation of mobile devices and the Government’s push to bring ultrafast broadband to New Zealand schools has meant that ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) is an increasingly viable option for many schools.
The debate seems to have moved on from whether 1:1 device/student ratios are the way forwards or not, to whether schools should dictate what device students used, or if students can choose their own device.
Obviously, there are merits to both. Some have questioned the difficulties of a classroom full of different types of iPads, netbooks, and Android tablets. Many feel uniformity is the best approach – a classroom’s worth of identical netbooks could be obtained for around $400 each. This approach allows an even playing field for all students.
When introducing its 1:1 strategy, Queen Margaret College in Wellington decided on a uniform approach for students, selecting laptops on the basis of performance, price, weight, and battery life.
The ‘even playing field’ card is not to be underplayed – it is a strong argument for a standardised approach to student devices. Some schools have noted that the “tech envy” – the sort that eventuates when one student has the latest iPad and another has a second-hand netbook – is something that can hinder a BYOD initiative that allows students the flexibility to bring whatever device they like.
However, some critics liken the request for students to bring the same device to asking students to bring the same pen or exercise book – an unnecessary demand when the infrastructure at most schools allow for any hardware.
Although schools may still store some resources on a local server, most are moving towardcloud-based learning. It appears to be a matter of when, not if, schools are making the move to Google Apps or Microsoft’s Office 365 for Education for providing email, calendars, and blogging capabilities for students. Learning management systems like Moodle are becoming increasingly prolific. E-portfolios are seen to pave the way for lifelong learning. To access these requires a device, any device, and the feeling among many schools is that as lots of students now have their own device anyway, why make them purchase another, likely inferior, device for the sake of standardisation?
Epsom Girls Grammar is an example of a school that invites students to bring their personal internet capable devices to school, regardless of whether they are a smart phone, an iPad, or a netbook. The school offers advice, and a link to the Cyclone Online site for students to make the most suitable purchase to suit their needs.
Yet other schools, particularly those from low socio-economic communities, feel that asking families to provide their children with a device for school is placing undue pressure on them. A popular criticism of personal devices, and apps in general, is that they increase the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and some teachers have expressed their fears that this would become evident in schools if some students were able to bring devices and some were not.
However, the Manaiakalani Programme provides an impressive example of a cluster of decile 1 Auckland schools that have not allowedsocio-economic barriers to prevent each of its 1500 students from having their own device. The computers are gradually being paid off at around $15 per month. With the average income in Tamaki $19,000 a year, the most affordable repayment scheme was $3.50 a week for four years.
The Manaiakalani Programme uses Google Apps for Education, which is arguably the best known cloud-based solution for students and teachers at present. It gives every individual an online account with access to their own school-based email address, Google Docs, and calendar. Further modules can be added later.
The biggest attraction to Google Apps is that it is free and Google has promised it will remain this way for schools. It also fits the ‘anywhere, anytime, any device’ mantra touted by so many schools thesedays. The beauty of being in the ‘cloud’ is that you just need to be online.
There are some excellent examples of collaboration using Google Apps, with sharing occurring among groups of teachers, students, an entire class, or between individuals.
As a result, organisations like Watchdog, KiwiSchools, or Hapara, have positioned themselves to set schools up with Google Apps and provide ongoing management and technical support for schools’ accounts.
Of course, the term ‘apps’ isn’t confined to Googleworld. Apps with varying uses are being created daily and the education sector is rife with them.
The most topical is NCEA Eagle’s new app, which chief executive Rakesh Pandey claims to be “the best revision aid in the country”. Based on the fact that most secondary school students have their own smart phone or other personal internet capable device, the app was created with the end user clearly in mind. NCEA Eagle teamed up with KidsCan to make the study tool available to all New Zealand secondary school students.
Like NCEA Eagle, many apps are the product of experience, as is the case with Rubber Chicken Apps, created by Matthew Thomas, a classroom teacher and ICT integration specialist. Thomas started creating apps for iPad and iPhone devices to use with students in the classroom, including a Hundreds Board and a Tens Frame. It wasn’t long before colleagues were asking to use the apps as well, and consequently, Rubber Chicken Apps are now sold internationally.
Increasingly, app creation is beginning with the students themselves. Maraetai Beach School students created an app that allows their parents to access their learning in real time.
Start ‘em young^^^
While mainstream education appears to be embracing the bold new era of cloud-based learning, apps, and 1:1 personal devices in the classroom, there is more resistance in the early childhood education sector.
Despite this, iPads are increasingly being used in early childhood centres. Unsurprisingly, more and more apps have become available for early learners. Alphabet deluxe, Stories about me, and Letterschool are among those targeted at pre-schoolers, who will embark upon their e-education soon enough.
While there are conflicting studies and opinions as to whether this early interaction with technology is doing more good than harm, there appears to be acceptance that iPads are useful for aiding the learning of children with special needs, particularly autistic children.
It will be interesting to follow the track taken by the early childhood sector and see whether or not the ICT issue causes a divide among the centres.
With ultrafast broadband set to become a way of life, it is difficult to imagine the internet not featuring throughout a child’s entire education.
Certainly for schools who have upgraded their infrastructure via the Secondary Network Upgrade Project, the focus is no longer on preparing for the arrival of ultrafast broadband, but now on how to make the most of it.
The potential scope of the Government’s proposed Network for learning (N4L) is cause for excitement – its possibilities for education are huge.
Technology is an area of education that is moving so swiftly it is difficult to predict what stage things will be at a year from now. The key it seems is to embrace each new step and enjoy the ride.