Regular investment the key to e-learning
Despite recent investment in technology in the classroom, Ireland is in danger of falling behind other European countries if the level of spending is not maintained
THE USE of technology in education has come a long way from the days when a single Apple computer was pushed around the classrooms.
These days, schools have access to broadband, interactive whiteboards and digital projectors. Smartphones are a way of life and laptops with always-on broadband connections are the norm.
Textbooks are available in e-book format now, eliminating much of the heavy lifting for students as they are replaced with a single e-reader.
Teachers can record attendance on an online system that also contains all the information about a student.
“You can’t get away from technology, no matter who you are as a teacher,” says Vincent McCarvill, ICT co-ordinator at St Macartan’s College in Monaghan. “There is not a teacher in our school who doesn’t use computers in their class for teaching.”
However, it is an ongoing project that takes commitment, a shift in thinking and, ultimately, cold hard cash to implement an environment where learning and technology sit side by side.
Despite recent investment announced by successive Governments – €150 million was promised in 2009 – Ireland is in danger of falling behind other European countries if the level of spending is not maintained.
Some of that funding has already been disbursed to schools, allowing them to upgrade the existing IT equipment and, most importantly, to ensure the technical support is available.
“Our big problem was always back-up, keeping the computers going,” says McCarvill. “If there isn’t an investment every year to keep this going, it will grind back down again.”
The push to integrate ICT into classrooms has been taken seriously, with bodies such as the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) working on not only getting the hardware into schools, but also software and services. New technologies offer the chance to cut costs, yet still maintain a proper learning environment.
One important element in that is the cloud, presenting an opportunity for schools and other educational institutions to implement new ways of learning and working together .
“It’s a very exciting time for e-learning in schools,” says Tom Lonergan of NCTE. “Cloud-based educational applications are supporting and enhancing e-learning and can be accessed both from within and outside of schools for anytime-anywhere learning.”
The concept of the technology itself isn’t new to schools, he says, with cloud-based email and applications in use for a number of years.
However, these days schools can rely on free cloud-based services to host applications or for file storage.
“These don’t require local technical support and so allow schools staff to focus more on educational applications and integration of ICT for learning rather than on supporting the technology itself,” Lonergan says.
There is one essential requirement for use of the cloud – decent broadband infrastructure.