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It’s a sign of the times that the fastest way to get the family together is to unplug the wifi. According to research by Gartner by 2020 there will be 20.4 billion devices connected to the internet.

This will be little surprise to those working in education, seeing students arrive with multiple devices expecting them all to connect seamlessly to the wifi and it has implications for the digital infrastructure of our Schools, Colleges and Universities. Students are certainly doing their bit to meet the Gartner projections.

When it comes to infrastructure, digital networks and connectivity are now as important as the bricks and the plumbing, and should clearly be granted the same status.

Stable and capable wifi is now an essential part of any organisation educating people, along with a robust wide area network. Without these foundations educators will find it increasingly difficult to grow and succeed. With stable and effective wifi comes new possibilities for collaborative learning and growth.

Fixed is the past. Flexible is the future.

 It is perhaps unreasonable to expect teachers to demonstrate innovative teaching practice and differentiated teaching styles if the computing equipment is fixed to a port in a wall around the edge of the classroom, a scenario very familiar to many educators and one hardly supportive of collaborative working. So if this is a familiar concept, it’s time to ensure the wifi is in place to enable mobile devices, and new approaches to teaching aligned to the commercial world, to be used.

As I travel around working with different educators across the UK and wider I get to see how some have approached this issue, and there is a clear emerging trend away from fixed computing ports that dictate where the computers must be, to flexible devices placed where the learning needs to be.

One institution I was visiting recently had a Chromebook trolley with a bank of the devices available for the students to use. They were ready to take, fully charged, and upon opening the students were learning ready in broadly five seconds.

The same devices, and approach, was also enabling a diversity of teaching practice to flourish, supporting engagement and success. Any Ofsted inspector would see, and appreciate, the same thing.

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Wifi in Schools and Colleges is currently somewhat patchy. The British Education Suppliers Association has conducted a survey looking into wifi capacity and whilst it is currently often not fit for the future, the survey concluded that by 2020 most IT support staff thought it would be sufficient to cope.

Students expect to be able to learn anywhere, at any time and on a device of their choosing, or at least one that enables flexible collaborative working supplementary to the elements of education that need to be more structured. Some Schools and Colleges are now looking to explore how wifi reach can be extended way beyond the conventional boundaries of indoor learning spaces.

I recently observed a great example of this in a College where the wifi reach had extended across its land to support learning in its outdoor spaces, making much better use of it’s estate and freeing up limited classroom space. As the online learning environment being used worked on any device, the students could use their phones or any wider device at their disposal. This can make a lot of sense.

For example in a large College if each student has one mobile device in their possession, it’s likely that College has several million pounds of technology walking through its doors each day.

The question is, what is the institution doing to exploit that for the purposes of learning?

Signs saying put away your mobile phones can say a lot more about the characteristics of an institution than the students entering it.

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Learning is also about to become personal.

As student records systems and associated online classroom spaces continue to evolve at speed, the learning process enabled by analytics technology and artificial intelligence, will increasingly become personalised.

Currently we are used to certain online spaces and facilities remembering us and our buying habits, but this personalisation is about to get dramatically more sophisticated and education providers should be asking how their systems support this.

Personalised tailored learning will resonate more with students, building engagement and enabling teaching and support staff to build differentiated learning plans and learner services better informed by data.

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 As we move deeper into the 4th Industrial Revolution digital should be embedded within the curriculum planning process and this is another emerging trend in education. Digital literacy will need to be a default part of the education process, covering everything from how to stay safe online, how to develop an effective online profile along with covering wider issues relating to cyberbullying, fake news and wider.

I recently met with a colleague who works in a large College and he was describing to me how he was setting up a collaborative learning initiative with two other Colleges, spread out across the UK, using the cloud based online learning platform they use.

This was inspiring and a brilliant example of the art of the possible if we deploy the right technology in the right way. Learning is borderless now as technology removes space as a barrier. Again in thinking about curriculum planning, leaders should be questioning what this means for their future plans in preparing their students for life outside of the classroom.

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Many leaders in education are currently working on the digital highway they see ahead of them, and it’s essential that systems are easy to use and make life better. The best technologies are rarely complicated, at least for the end user.

I am often working with leaders planning their digital roadmaps and I continually find myself bringing people back to these basic principles. It seems that when it comes to technology we often like to over-complicate things. Borrowing a principle from the military, the KISS approach (keep it simple, stupid!) applies when it comes to technology.

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As the world of education systems transitions from the campus to the cloud, new themes will become embedded in our technology enabled learning strategies. Personalisation, automation, collaboration, analytics, AI, cloud, mobile and digital literacy will all feature heavily.

Reflecting on what it means to be a teacher, someone once said that the future of the world is in a classroom.

In thinking about the technology we deploy in our Schools and Colleges, we must be able to say the same.

Jamie E Smith, Executive Chairman, C-Learning

Copyright © 2018 FE News

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