Do you remember students going to IT class with a room full of grey machines and completing their typing tests on green and black screens? What about the shared computer in the library with dial-up internet and a copy of Encarta on CD-ROM?
It’s actually been ten years since the introduction of tablets in schools, but technology adoption in the education sector has been slower than most. This isn’t just because of the scale at which the technology is needed, but a traditional lack of prioritisation on IT investment.
Today, thankfully, school IT departments are increasingly concerned with the risk of cyber threats and how best to protect their students, staff and reputation. In a digital learning environment, school leadership teams understand the need for greater IT investment.
Here are just 5 ways we’ve seen the landscape change in education technology over the past decades.
1. The Rise of Student Devices
In the 1980s, most families had one personal computer per household weighing in at anywhere from 10 to 20 kgs. Now it’s common practice for school-aged students to tote their own laptop or another school-issued device from class to class. Many students also have their own mobile phones and instant access to a universe of information on the internet. An ongoing concern for parents and schools is how we keep children safe from harmful content, and how we can direct them to trustworthy sources. The internet is notorious for misinformation and a minefield for predators.
Censorship and filtering applications can be implemented on school-issued devices, but BYOD devices are almost impossible to monitor. This is why best practice is to create a rigorous BYOD policy for students that includes when they are allowed to use their devices and what is acceptable for online communication. Obviously, schools also now face the issue of cyberbullying, so they create dedicated awareness programs that support a zero-tolerance approach. Parents and teachers can’t monitor devices 24/7, but there are tools that schools can utilise to minimise exposure to harmful content and reduce cyberbullying.
2. Moving to the Cloud
Before the common public use of the internet, school computer networks were usually located within the school grounds. The danger of this is that if there was a disaster or the internal network was corrupted without offsite backup, the data could be irretrievable. In just the last decade, school data has shifted from being exclusively housed on-premises within local servers to being relocated to the cloud.
Now, the school network includes everyone on or off campus that is logging into the system. Systems and data have moved from being in one place to multiple locations. That network could even include users that are interstate or overseas. From a security perspective, it has become a much more challenging environment to protect. To keep this spread of data secured, schools must have good digital security hygiene such as password policies, data encryption and data mapping as part of a robust cyber defence strategy.
3. Document Digitisation
Schools have always had the lion’s share of paperwork. There are thousands if not millions of kilometres worth of physical documents such as enrolment forms, report cards and student records that have been banked up by education institutions. Even today, schools have a lot of physical paper archives that have not yet been digitised. There are also plenty of forms that go home to parents needing a return signature. Moving completely to a paperless environment is still some time away for most school administrations. Given the mountain of processing undertaken by school staff on any given day, finding the time to digitise all incoming physical documents is challenging.
Part of the issue with physical data retention is that it isn’t cost-effective in terms of the space needed for data storage, nor is it ideal as far as data compliance is concerned. Schools can reference official record-keeping guidelines to ensure best practice regarding documentation, and consider partnering with a certified digitisation provider to migrate old and current files. This can increase data security and free up physical storage space.
4. The Online Classroom
Before COVID, virtual learning was thought to be a phenomenon for the ‘school of the future’. But, when the pandemic hit, schools had to pivot overnight to a viable virtual learning environment. While online classes and exams existed, these were mainly in the realm of tertiary or mature-aged education.
Primary and secondary school-aged students still require the leadership and guidance of a teacher to learn effectively. This is why virtual classrooms had to be facilitated quickly. As any student, parent (or IT department worker) will tell you, sudden online learning had its challenges. From teachers struggling to monitor attendance and tracking progression, to students grappling with unreliable home internet, the transition was far from smooth.
The virtual classroom has also normalised online collaboration for students and teachers. While having easy access to teachers is helpful for students, it does make more work for teachers if they feel they need to be constantly accessible. Even though we’re all back at school, setting definitive parameters around online teacher access for students is always advisable.
5. Artificial Intelligence
In more recent news, the prevalence of AI applications has been making headlines. The accessibility of information through online channels has always been a concern for educators worried about students cheating. Essays often need to be checked for plagiarism against online sources, but AI has posed a brand new problem. Offering the ability to generate extremely specific long-form content with very little input from the user, educators have identified AI as a way to cheat in strict exam situations.
Some universities have reverted to pen-and-paper exams until they can find a solution to the problem. Not only is using an AI platform to generate an exam response an issue of cheating, but AI gathers existing content from different sources and regurgitates it, meaning the content isn’t original in the first place. Schools are right now developing policies around these platforms and looking at methods to detect the signatures of AI-generated content.
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