Getting smart with education technology
While there is much to recommend the old methods of pencils, paper and chalkboards, there is little question that the world has moved on. Computing is ubiquitous in society today, with businesses reliant on them, and people running their lives with devices and gadgets designed to make getting through the day that much easier. It, therefore, makes good sense that schoolchildren should be introduced to and learn with and on devices slightly more advanced than the foolscap pad. But the devil, as they say, is in the detail. With expert assistance and support, technology becomes a useful and productive tool in the classroom, complementing rather than replacing traditional educational approaches.
That’s according to Tony Gilbert, New Era Technology Sales Director. “Technology is a tool which when coupled with the right support, environment and training, can be powerful in accelerating and enriching teaching and learning,” he points out.
And though New Era Technology specialises in the delivery of computing and communications solutions for schools, Gilbert makes an important point: ““It is no replacement for relationships, core skills and behaviours, but can and does add depth to the learning experience while preparing children for a bright and productive future.”
Special – and surprisingly sophisticated – requirements
Like all tools, the crucial factor isn’t the tool itself, but how it is used. That’s where New Era comes into the picture; anyone dipping a toe into the technology space quickly appreciates how expansive, varied, complex and yes, downright mind-boggling it gets. For example, what starts as a simple smartphone and a ‘hey Google’ or ‘hey Siri’ rapidly becomes part of a global network, accessing massive data centres and intricate artificial intelligence algorithms across oceans.
That’s just one device. When equipping teams with IT, the challenges quickly multiply – and that’s as true for schools as it is for businesses, with the added complication of special security and access measures that must protect children and teachers from the darker sides of technology and internet usage.
Which is why Gilbert stresses the unique and varied character of the education environment when it comes to tech. “The requirements are about as diverse as it gets. Education is a microcosm of the technologies that are used in society and industry, so we see a full spectrum of requests and deployments, some of which might undoubtedly surprise you.”
Yes, it is a lot more than tablets and laptops (though as in business, these are a cornerstone in schools). “We supply anything from laser cutters to 3D printers, advanced analytic software, design programmes and all the associated hardware and supporting infrastructure. When you start considering the range and extent of the technology products many schools are equipping their learners with, you start getting a better appreciation of just how extensive the preparation for the real world gets,” adds Gilbert.
The power of a partner
Did we mention how complex even a seemingly simple device like a smartphone becomes? There are literally millions of hardware and software products available on the market today making it all somehow work; ‘spoilt for choice’ doesn’t even begin to explain it.
The trouble is that not all the available options are suitable, desirable, or even valuable. The world is awash with stories of technology purchases gone awry, and most folk will have more than a few personal experiences of money down the drain on what seemed like a good tech idea at the time.
Gilbert therefore says a key part of what New Era does is helping schools make good decisions that deliver lasting value. “It is almost impossible for any one person to keep up with everything going on in the technology space, let alone have enough time to evaluate the needs for the complex school environment. In short, that’s our job. We help choose technology that’s the right fit, and we make sure it works in the way that you expect it to, too.”
Making things ‘work right’ often comes down to configuration and support. Gilbert says there are a few layers where support is targeted: “Mostly it is towards the kids, or in our environment, the teachers. Most of the help we provide involves familiarising people with the environment, and there are sometimes bespoke needs like software development. And of course, the busiest times are the start of the year with set up.”
The sharp end of technology in schools is inevitably the devices in the hands of learners and teachers alike, so Gilbert explains which are most suitable. “The best devices are one that are built for the commercial environment, and we see some of the major well-known brands like HP producing devices specifically for education,” he says.
Start with quality (and purpose-design)
Noting that schools can be tough on technology, with multiple users and changing environments, Gilbert says additional considerations include looking to the future to ensure capacity for emerging innovations and new developments. “What that basically means is you want tough devices with decent components so they can handle new software and services as these come out.”
One of the preferred choices New Era guides schools towards is HP’s Fortis for Education range. Produced specifically for schools, HP Fortis includes Windows laptops, Chromebooks, Desktops, Workstations, Displays and Printers, all built within four guiding principles:
- Durability – Designed and built tough and tested to higher standards.
- Clean and sanitise: Chassis, keyboard and display can be sanitized with commonly used household wipes.
- Collaborative learning: Multi-modal for classroom collaboration and learning everywhere.
- Connectivity: Bring your classroom with you and connect from almost anywhere.
With this range, HP’s education technology solutions are designed to deliver meaningful outcomes for students, schools and communities, helping today’s learners become tomorrow’s leaders. And Gilbert says a long track record in New Zealand’s schools means he recommends Fortis for Education with confidence.
In terms of software, as he’s already mentioned, the needs are wide and varied. “It’s everything, really. From Adobe CCS to sports analysis, CAD systems, music composition software. It’s much more than your typical office applications, with a huge and diverse number of needs. With the right hardware, like HP Fortis, software choices are made on the basis of what’s best, not what’s compatible or capable of running on the computers.”
New Era itself helps advise on software and hardware choices, with some applications subsidized or funded by the Ministry of Education. “We evaluate and provide guidance on devices and software based on our own experience and that of hundreds of schools. Basically, when we get involved, the focus is on understanding the specific needs of each school, then helping navigate to optimal value,” Gilbert concludes.