This article was originally published in Band of Brothers – The Southport School Magazine.
Richard Jones, Director of eLearning
It is no secret that the world is changing fast and the pace of change is itself accelerating. The graph below uses one measure (transistor count) to show that we are now at a point where the constant doubling of computer power every 18 months (according to Moore’s Law) is beginning to have a massive impact.
Within two years, personal computers and mobile devices will exceed the computational power of the human brain. Computational power is not, of course, the whole story of our amazing brains but this fact gives good reason to believe that some current trends in software will lead to devices of great power and flexibility.
Graph: Numbers of transistors in various microprocessors, 1971 – 2011. Source Wikipedia.
The implications for TSS boys are that the world of work or further study that they will enter may well be very different to the one we see now. We have seen spectacular growth in the use of mobile devices both for leisure, personal organisation and work since the release of the iPad in April 2010 and the iPhone before that. Mobile devices today are as powerful as the desktops of 2 years ago. This is a trend that will continue for at least the next 8-10 years.
Boys in Year 8 now can expect to have devices four times more powerful than those of today when they leave TSS and that also implies that the devices available then will be perhaps twice as powerful as the brain.
The trends in voice recognition, location-based services, augmented reality and language translation are clear and, with devices four times more powerful, will have reached greater reliability. Tools such as Siri, Wolfram Alpha and Google Translate are still fairly primitive but becoming more impressive as the technology develops. Who would have expected that we would be able to point a smart phone camera at Chinese characters and have them translated into English on the spot?
The goal of education today is not so much information retention and recall; it is to promote higher order thinking in boys: evaluating information, synthesizing from multiple sources and generating new ideas. It remains largely true that formal examination assessment methods are slow to adapt to this trend – so we must still teach boys how to write properly with pen and paper for now.
To support this model of education TSS is adopting a BYOD program from 2013 for boys in year 8 – 11. Every boy in these years must bring a device to school so that it can be used in the classroom.
If boys prefer, they may take a device from the school against a refundable deposit. The school currently owns approximately 400 devices (iPads and netbooks) as a result of funding under the Rudd government’s DER program.
The primary purposes of the BYOD program are to:
- Enhance access to school resources (especially Learning@TSS)
- Encourage student use of Higher Order Thinking skills such as synthesis, analysis, and creativity
- Foster student autonomy in learning
BYOD can assist in these processes by providing, for example, tools for web-based research, access to school databases, note-taking, mind-mapping software and to creative tools such as audio, video and image editors and similar applications.
Secondary benefits include
- The student can select a device appropriate to their learning styles and needs
- Every student has organisational tools at their disposal (calendars, planners, diaries)
- Group activities can be mediated, recorded and reflected upon by participants
Research also indicates the importance of autonomy to student engagement and deeper learning, we are teaching for tomorrow as well as for today. Therefore, at TSS, we believe that boys should have a device of their own choosing – other schools have taken the view that it is easier to manage a specified device, such as an iPad. However, such a decision may lead to teaching to the device and its applications and thus focussing more on the technology than the learning.
A recent survey of students at TSS indicated that they very much value Learning@TSS and the current device policies which have been implemented. Over 75% of 150 students responding to the survey used Learning@TSS at least once per day using one of 10 different devices they bring to school (or in some cases, using the school supplied mobile devices). Just 20% of students said that they would prefer to have a school-supplied device.
With the powerful combination of mobile devices and access to TSS teaching materials and interactive activities online available via Learning@TSS the traditional model of classroom teaching will change over the coming year. There will less need for lecture-style activities and at least some of this material can be accessed by boys wherever they are. Teachers will spend more time working with pupils and organising pupils into teams and groups.
We will reduce some of our fixed computer labs since the mobile devices will allow students to access the internet and our library databases for research as well as allow them to present the results of their learning in a range of different styles and media.
Our teachers will need considerable support to adapt to a new style of teaching and this will be provided by a greater emphasis on professional learning opportunities where best practice is shared. We will introduce new forms of professional learning based on our research projects into eLearning which have been funded by grants from the Australian Government Quality Teaching program and Independent Schools Queensland in each of the past three years.
In order to ensure that the devices are suitable for classroom use, we have specified some aspects that all devise should have and some that are recommended:
- The device screen needs to be at least 7 inches (measured diagonally by convention)
- The device must be capable of connecting to our Remote Desktop Services. Please ask our IT Department for advice, if you are not sure about this, contact information is given below.
- The device must have office software such as a word processor (Word, Pages), a spreadsheet (Excel Numbers) and presentation software (PowerPoint, Keynote).
- Microphone and still/video camera.
- File transfer software that works either with Dropbox or Remote Desktop Services.
The following devices are all suitable:
- A modern Windows laptop or netbook (2 years old or less) with Vista or Windows 7 or 8.
- Apple Macbook Pro or Mac Air with OSX.
- An iPad (2 or 3) or similar Android tablet.
- A Microsoft Surface tablet
Some pros and cons of various devices can be found on our website:
For the school, there are very significant financial implications. It is expensive to install, maintain and constantly upgrade our wireless coverage across such a large area. However, without the investment in this, our BYOD program simply won’t work efficiently or effectively.
We have installed high density wireless devices and upgraded our fibre optic backbone and more investment will be made in these areas for 2013 as well.
While we can recover some of the spending by reducing the number of fixed computer labs we still need to maintain those used for specialist teaching in technology, the arts and music, for example.
We also need to invest in more sophisticated virus and firewall software with such a large number of student-owned devices on campus.