Blended Hardware

How hardware is an essential component of blended learning and individualized instruction.

SMARTER SCHOOLS | by Michael Spencer

devicesBlended learning is a mix of not just online and offline instruction, but of several different necessary items including the right hardware, curriculum, instruction, and individualized instruction. This second column in a series specifically discusses ideas and considerations surrounding the subject of hardware for blended learning.

If blended learning is “a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home; and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience” (according to the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation), then for this discussion, let us consider “modalities” and “connections” to be the hardware, or devices, and the education networks that make it all possible.

This second column in a series specifically discusses ideas and considerations surrounding the subject of hardware for blended learning.

Whether self-paced online or classroom instruction, a student in a blended learning environment requires the correct device(s) and connections to assist them in a smooth, age-appropriate and academic level-appropriate user experience. This experience would of course be productive and result in measurable gains in comprehension along a given curriculum (used as a mainline resource), or minimally enhance certain points along a given curriculum (a supplemental resource). It would also be organized, orderly, and somewhat pleasurable if not simply for the high morale generated by student productivity.

Devices

From desktops and laptops to smartphones and tablets (not to mention interactive digital whiteboards), devices are a vital element in a blended learning environment. Major considerations here include:

-price point

-quality and reliability

-service / support & replacement plans and

-what will go on that device and how – i.e., curriculum content and some level of workflow operating system allowing sharing, filing, collaboration and even reporting mechanisms between teachers, students, administrators and parents.

This last point about what goes on the device and how somewhat straddles hardware and curriculum issues and will be covered in more depth in this series when we get to curriculum as a discussion area.

This is not an exhaustive list, but is meant to begin to get education technology leaders thinking in the direction of what to consider.

Connections

It would be nice to simply call up the local company and set up (or even better, have a service person set up) a wireless connection quickly and easily, just like you would at home, and in a single afternoon you would have your wireless connection. So what’s all the fuss when it comes to schools?

That approach just doesn’t work with a classroom full of students. There are a host of vital issues to take into consideration, including:

-bandwidth concerns

-capacity

-access points

-user authentication

-security

-privacy

-rogue users on your network

-settings for legal compliance.

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) is a good place to start in seeking guidelines for such matters. CoSN provides briefing sheets, whitepapers, guidelines and a host of other pertinent publications for school technologists and policy makers.

In Conclusion

Blended learning works and works well only when the basics are there. An education network designed to support a range of devices both tethered and mobile is the foundation for any successful blended learning program.

Following that, cost-effective, quality devices, whether through a school district-provided program, a Bring Your Own Technology/Device program or some hybrid of these — are the second layer on that foundation.

Even before that foundation, however, comes something else entirely, and something that you are doing right now in reading this series of columns, which is educating yourself on all of this – which is all a part of careful and strategic planning.

There’s a lot more to it, from Acceptable Use Policies to strategic buy-in from key stakeholders, but this is merely intended as a simple view of a complex issue. May this hardware broad view assist you — and your entire learning community — in moving down a path of better learning.

Michael Spencer is Senior Director of International Business Development at K12. He is past SVP at The American Education Corporation and past president of One2OneMate, with extensive experience building businesses, designing and manufacturing innovative consumer electronic products and successfully marketing them into the US, European and Latin American markets. He is a regular columnist writing the Smarter Schools column for EdTech Digest. Write to: mspencer52163@gmail.com

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