To properly incorporate technology into their classes, schools must first do their homework. Devices such as smartphones, tablets, e-readers, laptops, and smart-boards are providing access to a growing body of digital content. These tools and the functionality they provide are opening up exciting new options for delivering information and engaging students.
The ten considerations below can be used as a framework to help any school craft an educational environment where students are excited to learn using the technology they will encounter – and must master – in the real world.
1: Technical Infrastructure
Technical infrastructure is the foundation for technology deployment. Most schools were not built with provision for classrooms filled with power hungry, Internet-connected electronic devices or tech savvy users. An assessment of the infrastructure requirements is an important first step and should be based on defined technology goals. These goals then drive decisions and budgets on infrastructure components such as network cabling, location of power outlets, provision for backup power, wireless access points, security measures, and hardware and software requirements.
2: Broadband Internet Access
When large numbers of devices, such as laptops and smartphones, simultaneously access text, audio and video content on your school's network, insufficient bandwidth can become a major constraint. Tech-enhanced learning requires speedy, reliable broadband Internet access to ensure a productive user experience. To provide effective access to online services for students and staff, your school must make an investment in a high-capacity, broadband Internet connection.
3: Technical Support
The greater the deployment of technology services, the greater the need for technical support. Schools can have a mix of in-house and outsourced technical support capacity. Service-level agreements with your technology service providers can provide access to professional tech support and guarantee network uptime and service response times. Internal support can come from faculty as well as students. In fact, student support provides excellent opportunity for real-world tech training and mentorship. Also remember problems can be addressed more efficiently when your systems are properly documented and support roles well defined.
Security threats on networks can take many forms, from virus-laden USB sticks to rogue Wi-Fi hotspots. Without the right security policies and systems, users can be exposed to malware, spam, data theft, inappropriate content or hacks. Throw in the fact that students are often too young or immature to properly comprehend the risks they take; or, that they may believe their age protects them from the legal consequences of inappropriate actions, and things get really interesting.
Schools can invest in a combination of security hardware and software to block spam, stop viruses, kill rogue connections and prevent access to inappropriate web sites. Avoid tools that can only provide simple keyword scoring and URL blacklisting. These are not effective. Instead, consider content filtering solutions that dynamically analyze online content. Also look for tools that allow for easy administration of content, device and user access.
5: Usage Policy
A well-documented usage policy also provides an opportunity to educate everyone about good technology practices. It can include general guidelines for safe computing and responsible use of technology resources. Your technology usage policy can cover areas such as internet access, network services, device usage, data privacy, security and electronic content misuse.
The usage policy should be clearly written and easily accessible. Teachers, parents and students should all be required to agree to it as a prerequisite to accessing any technology services. Awareness of the policy can be maintained through posters and slogans.
6: Device Management
From laptops and tablets to multimedia projectors and smart-boards, schools have to invest in and manage a growing number of devices. Whether acquired through direct purchases, donations or a "bring your own device" program, these devices all need to be inventoried, physically secured and carefully managed.
7: Content Management
Content management in academic environments should help you coordinate the use of digital content across subject areas. This goes beyond simply publishing and maintenance of information. Choose a content management solution that can allow staff and students to easily and securely create, tag, publish, store, search and reuse digital content with flexible options for content authoring and delivery to desktop and mobile devices. Your solution should also allow content to be tailored to meet individual student needs.
Increased use of technology in any environment can have unintended effect of creating new information silos. Departments, classes or even individual teachers can end up with technology or content that is disconnected from or incompatible with central systems. To avoid the headache and costs of maintaining disparate systems, schools should coordinate the selection and implementation of technologies and systems. Where possible deploy solutions that can be integrated or are standards compliant.
9: Staff and Student Training
Staff training is critical to the success of any classroom technology deployment. After all, teachers are the ones with primary responsibility to deliver tech-enabled education to students. Beyond how to use devices, staff training should help teachers understand how best to integrate technology into everyday teaching.
As tech savvy as students may be, they too can benefit from structured training. Programs that address technical competencies as well as appropriate use of technology should be designed for students. This can greatly help with the adoption of learning technologies. Training can also be a catalyst for greater staff and student experimentation with their own tech-enabled classroom innovations.
10: Monitoring and Evaluation
Monitoring and evaluation is a critical aspect of integrating technology into any educational environment. It allows schools to better understand the impact of technology on the process of teaching and learning. It also provides a basis for aligning the use of technology to the curriculum. Design of the monitoring and evaluation process should begin before implementing your education technology initiative. Measurement of the impact on the learning process should occur before (providing baseline data), during (real-time tracking) and after (post-implementation assessment) technology-enhanced learning.
These ten areas provide a good basis for planning your technology implementation. The most important requirement for incorporating technology in the classroom, however, is for school leaders to clearly define and articulate a vision and core goals education in their institution. Only then can technology be used to effectively to guide policy, planning and implementation for the connected classroom.