How wireless encourages collaborative learning in schools

The development of wireless technology has undoubtedly paved the way for greater collaborative learning.

As renowned educationalist Sir Ken Robinson once pointed out, education has traditionally been wary of technology in a way that is strangely at odds with the wider world. Children, he said, are taught from an early age not to copy each other’s ideas; yet in the workplace, this would be called teamwork, and is widely encouraged.

Thankfully, that is changing, and technology is playing a key role. Collaborative learning is not a new idea – group work has always taken place in classrooms (when students are given permission), and peer learning, which explicitly encourages pupils to learn from each other through discussion and demonstration, is a staple part of teacher training.

New technology, new impetus

Since the onset of wireless technology, collaborative learning has gained a new momentum. As long as they have a mobile device and a WiFi connection, students do not even have to be in the same place to share their learning. Social platforms mean they can share ideas wherever they are, conferencing technology means they can all sit in on the same virtual tutorial, and cloud productivity software means they can watch the same video and share written notes in real time.

All of this has come about in the last decade or so, thanks primarily to the simultaneous development of two technologies, wireless grids and devices which can use these grids to connect people (i.e. any mobile device with a camera, microphone and screen share facility). The deluge of software (or, if you prefer, apps) which has followed essentially enrich this basic functionality.

Initially, collaborative learning using wireless technology was something which emerged in colleges and universities, with tech-savvy students pushing their own learning on their new devices. But as young children have taken a bigger and bigger share of the mobile technology market – and have indeed become the first ‘digital natives’ – schools down to primary level have started to grasp the potential of letting children learn together through devices they intuitively understand.

Working together

Indeed, with younger pupils, where it can be harder for teachers to let go of the instructional role, wireless technology allows a good balance to be struck between teacher-led activities and pupil-centred collaboration. Some of the ways WiFi in schools is allowing collaborative learning to flourish includes:

  • Collective note-taking: Instead of teachers leading a lesson by writing notes on a topic on a board at the front of the class, every pupil has ownership because lesson notes appear on the device in front of them. Micro-blogging sites make this interactive, so students can add their own notes or ask questions which are shared with a group or the whole class.
  • Collaborative projects: Wiki technology was created to allow any user to add their knowledge to a collective whole, simply and quickly. This is a powerful way to encourage children to share their learning towards creating a collaborative whole. It also hands over ownership of key higher-level skills such as selecting or rejecting content, and organising lay-out. This can be used to encourage collaboration in writing as much as project work, with many apps and websites offering platforms to collaborate on writing stories and books and allowing ideas to be shared in real time.
  • Social learning: More and more schools are adopting Virtual Learning Platforms, which by their very nature make learning a shared, social activity rather than something distinct to each individual. VLPs break down the barriers between school and home, as students can carry on their learning after the school day ends and discuss it together through messenger platforms. Commercial VLPs, often subject specific, come with interactive lessons and collaborative games and puzzles as standard.

The key to all of this, of course, is having a robust, scalable WiFi network which can handle high volumes of data traffic, and having the devices available. The rest is limited only by the imaginations of students, teachers and the app makers.

For more information about setting up or updating the WiFi networks in your school to meet the demands of hi-tech education, get in touch with Simpli-Fi for a no-obligation discussion about your requirements.

The importance of creating a robust WiFi network in schools

When considering WiFi networks for schools, it is important to get the infrastructure right so that the potential benefits of WiFi can follow.

Hands up if you remember chalk and blackboards in your primary school. How things have changed, with nothing more obvious than the use of technology. Nowadays, most teachers cannot even take the register without internet access, with every classroom, from Reception to Year 12, jampacked full of gadgetry intended to enhance and enliven the education experience.

But as technology in schools has bloomed, the demands on keeping everything connected has increased. Just as in business, hooking devices up to a network provides flexibility to share, to work in different places and at different times. It means the teacher does not have to sit on a particular PC to check all students’ work, that pupils can save a piece in one place and return to complete it in another. The quality of that connection can have a big impact on how smoothly a school runs.

WiFi vs Wired

Schools seem to have been slower than the business world to cast off wired connections and go wireless, but there are a few good reasons why WiFi makes better sense.

One is safety. Wired connections require lots of, you guessed it, wires, which is not always the best idea with lots of busy little feet buzzing around. Want to just move that laptop to a different desk to browse via an ethernet connection? You have just created a trip hazard.

Which leads on to the next benefit of WiFi – mobility. Wired connections are location-dependent; with WiFi, you are free to move wherever you like. And that ties in with point three – mobile technology. Tablets and smartphones have transformed how people use the internet. They are the devices children are most familiar with and, thanks to their ease of use and the number of educational apps available, have been warmly embraced in schools. They also need WiFi to operate.

Keeping connected

Like any organisation, schools are only as good as the tools they have to teach with. We all remember lessons when a teacher spent 15 minutes trying to get the video player to work. Today’s teachers stream their video clips from the internet, so rely on the quality of the internet connection to avoid that excruciating experience.

The same applies to children’s learning. One of the great educational benefits of the internet age is the freedom it has given children to find things out for themselves, rather than always rely on instruction from the teacher. Schools are embracing this by providing more and more internet-ready devices, with many aiming to achieve a one-per-child policy, or running BYO initiatives so children can be online as much as possible.

But having hundreds of eager learners all surfing and researching in one place at once poses a problem – it puts enormous strain on the WiFi network. Sadly, many schools are investing heavily in fantastic hardware like iPads without considering their WiFi needs. What they get left with is a lot of frustrated children whose devices can’t get online.

At Simpli-Fi we provide schools with state of the art wireless networks, and make sure they are fast, secure and kept up to date. We then manage the technical side with remote monitoring and support, all for an affordable annual cost. We are currently supporting over 250 schools within London and the surrounding areas, giving teachers and students all the benefits of wireless networking without headaches.

The importance of technology in education

Before technology, getting an education meant hours of face-to-face lectures. During these lectures, students would need to take handwritten notes in order to study later down the road. Books were also an important tool that provided information to students, as were printed handouts. Students would also be required to complete assignments, which usually meant answering questions about what they had read in their books or heard during the teacher’s lecture.

Without a teacher, receiving an education during this time was nearly impossible. With the advancements in technology, an entirely new world of education was born. Having new flexibilities when it comes to teaching is just one of the benefits of technology in education.

What role does technology play?

Traditional education came with many flaws. For starters, it never took into consideration that every student is different. This means that everyone will learn at their own speed. There are also several learning styles that students can use to gain the amount of education that they need the most. This was also not typically considered with traditional education.

Instead, students were forced to learn at the same speed as their peers or they would fall behind. They also had to adapt to the teacher’s teaching style, which may not have been conducive to their specific learning style. Today, technology has improved the way that students are able to learn in these areas. Students are able to learn at their own pace and use whichever learning style allows them to learn the best.

Now, students have access to teaching tools other than just their teachers and books. Teachers are able to use DVDs, videos and even web-based tools to teach students more about how things work and operate.

What causes students to learn better?

Due to the importance of education, a substantial amount of research has been conducted over the years. One of the main areas that this research focuses on is the ways students are best engaged. It was discovered that with technology, students are able to be more active when it comes to participating in class and with their education goals.

Students are also able to place more trust in their teachers because technology allows teachers to build credibility with what they are teaching. When teachers are able to use web-based items to demonstrate examples and ideas, more credence is placed on what they are teaching.

What are the benefits of technology in education?

One of the biggest benefits that students receive from education is that they are able to learn from a distance. Because of technology, it is no longer necessary for students to gather in one location in order to receive the same education. Instead, classrooms can be virtual, where they take place in the homes or offices of the students.

Another benefit of technology is that students are able to learn together. This is important because they are now able to collaborate with one another to discover new and exciting ideas and methods. Students also have access to the knowledge of many people through online chat rooms and online communities.

Finally, technology is something that businesses and learning institutions can rely upon to cut down on training costs and to increase productivity. Since students are able to learn quickly and reach a great deal of valuable information, delivering lessons to students will be much more cost-effective.

When technology is used properly within the education process, students will be able to become more engaged and challenged throughout their learning journey. This can help enhance the experience that the student has and will increase their perception of what can be completed. For these reasons, it is evident that technology is extremely valuable and important as part of the education process.

How reliable WiFi supports personalised learning in schools

The days of classrooms full of children all sat learning the same thing by rote are long behind us in education. These days, the individual child is at the centre of learning, and teachers are expected to adapt how and what they teach to meet each child’s individual needs.

Personalised learning is both an expectation and a holy grail. Schools have a duty to enable every child to meet their full potential, and are judged in inspections and league tables accordingly. To achieve that, you have to understand individual strengths and weaknesses, maximising the former and working to overcome the latter.

On the other hand, there is a recognition that delivering personalised learning in its fullest sense is extremely challenging. How can one teacher adapt every lesson, both in planning and delivery, so that 30 individual children get the exact blend of instruction, support and challenge they need to be continuously moving forward at every point of every day?

How can you account for and spot every misconception, every conceptual breakthrough that opens up the next level? How can you gear lessons to suit all interests?

It sounds impossible. But then we always have technology, and technology can do wonderful things.

How technology can support personalised learning

Much of education depends on access to information. In a traditional classroom, the main source of information would be the teacher, followed by books – mostly the same books for the whole class. In the digital age, the options are far greater. The internet gives any learner access to huge swathes of available information. With the right guidance, even young children can plot their way through it in their own way, at their own pace.

Providing every learner with suitable internet access opens up all sorts of possibilities for personalised learning. It promotes independence, allowing children to discover and research things for themselves. It also accommodates different learning styles and promotes choice – children can choose to learn things from text, pictures or video to suit, and the multimedia devices they use to access the internet also allow them to demonstrate their learning in all sorts of different ways.

But embracing technology in education is not all about handing over responsibility to the internet. Networking and cloud technologies also have a key role in distributing software applications which structure learning, but in a personalised way.

Learning platforms are like the digital equivalent to textbooks, except users do not have to progress through them in a linear fashion. Using algorithms, learning platforms will decide on next steps for a child based on their input and answers to questions – put very simply, if they struggle they will get more practice, if they fly through they will be presented with more of a challenge. The software can evaluate individual areas of strengths and weaknesses and tailor content to suit, all automatically.

Infrastructure to support personalised learning

All of the above requires two key things – reliable access to the internet so all students can get on to learning platforms and access web based resources as they need them, and their own device to do so. Sharing laptops or tablets means the learning is not fully personalised.

A lot of discussion goes into the resourcing implications of providing every child in a school with a digital device, whether shared pools of endpoints are suitable or whether Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is the best way forward. But equal attention should also be paid to how the broadband network is accessed.

WiFi makes the most sense for supporting personalised learning because it supports mobility in school. A PC on a wired internet connection means a child has to be in a certain place at a certain time, and providing ethernet to a device for every child is just impractical from a set up and maintenance perspective.

With WiFi, a child can take their device with them – it follows them in their learning and they have the choice to dip in and out of projects when they like. This encourages children to take ownership of what they do. The younger generation are also being brought up using mobile devices rather than laptops, and WiFi and smart mobile devices go hand in hand.

To fully support personalised learning through technology, schools need to pay attention to the reliability and agility of their WiFi system. Too many WiFi networks in schools are out of date; they cannot support the data traffic created by whole classes of children going online at once. If half a class cannot get online, the lesson falls apart.

Similarly, older WiFi networks face issues of moving between access points (APs) – each AP only has a limited range, and switching the transmission of data packets from one to another can lead to pages freezing or crashing. This restricts the mobility WiFi should be able to offer.

These issues are easy to solve with the latest WLAN technologies available. Network capacity can be upgraded to easily accommodate a school full of users, and the latest WiFi protocols address issues of mobility.

If you would like to learn more about setting up or upgrading a WiFi network in your school, please contact Simpli-Fi today. We provide a managed WiFi service to the education, construction, leisure and public sectors, delivering robust and affordable WiFi connections with remote management, service desk and support.

How can using WiFi in schools benefit students?

Just like every other aspect of life, technology is changing education before our very eyes. New ways of communicating, of finding information, of working together and of playing are emerging constantly, drawing up new paradigms for how children and young people learn, think, share and express themselves.

For education professionals, the challenge is keeping up.

But whatever the new technology is that offers to improve children’s education, be it the latest tablets, a coding programme or interactive software which tracks progress in a subject as children learn, none of it works in isolation. The true power of technology is realised when it all links up together in a network. Enter WiFi.

Educating the digital natives

First of all, let’s think about the role technology can play in education. Today’s youngsters grow up in a digital world. An education which does not reflect that immersion in digital technology neither reflects the world they know nor prepares them for life as adults.

Google chief Eric Schmidt famously criticised UK education for letting its ICT curriculum fall badly behind the times. But as well as having a curriculum for learning about technology, technology is itself a powerful tool for learning. Schools are indeed now required to teach a robust new computing curriculum about digital technology, such as safe and responsible use of the internet and social media, and basic coding skills. But more and more learning is taking place through technology, in opportunities to make every lesson more engaging, more relevant and more student-led.

Increasing access to technology

While the technology-as-a-subject model can still be fulfilled with the old model of having stand-alone lessons in a dedicated ICT suite, using technology as a tool for learning cannot. Using interactive presentations on a whiteboard for a whole class to watch has been a possibility for the past decade. Having every child engage themselves on their own laptop or tablet is a new possibility.

For this to work, every student needs their own device, and every device needs to be connected to a network. Cable connections are clearly not practical for 30 laptops in a classroom, and not possible for iPads and tablets. WiFi is what makes it possible for every child in a lesson to learn through technology.

Schools at the cutting edge of exploring these possibilities are using Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) to plan and deliver lessons, and then collect and mark work. They are either budgeting to provide enough devices for every child, or running BYO schemes. Clearly every child needs to be on the network so the teacher can control the lesson, and WiFi is the cheapest and most user-friendly option.

Learning anytime, anywhere

Aside from the logistical advantages in the classroom of avoiding wired connections to a network, WiFi offers one more big advantage to the modern student – flexibility. Say a student needs an extra ten minutes to finish a piece of work while the rest of the class moves on. With WiFi, they can take their device somewhere quiet and carry on.

Or the potential for interactive, user-led learning on the move – recording ideas by going around the classroom or school recording replies to questions, taking video clips of work in progress in practical lessons to compile and annotate later, even getting outdoors for PE or science lessons to photograph examples and upload straight into a working document.

WiFi allows for complete mobility in using technology, so learning can take place anytime, anywhere within a school. It is breaking patterns of classroom-based learning in ways which increase engagement and motivation.

Find out how WiFi is increasing opportunities for students to collaborate effectively in their learning.

At Simpli-Fi we provide schools with state of the art wireless networks, making sure they are fast, secure and kept up to date. We then manage the technical side with remote monitoring and support all for an affordable annual cost. We are currently supporting over 250 schools within London and the surrounding areas giving teachers and students all the benefits of wireless networking without headaches.

Why reliable WiFi matters for your leisure centre

Nowadays, wherever people are, they expect to be able to get online. Mobile internet has become the dominant means people use to access the web, with more people browsing on mobile devices than on desktops.

For businesses and providers of public utilities, that presents both an opportunity and a challenge. Yes, mobile devices can access the internet using their 3G and 4G data connections. But mobile users are always aware of using up their data allowance, if not unlimited, and welcome opportunities to get online for free. Good quality WiFi provides an added value service to customers.

There are numerous reasons why providing public WiFi makes sense to leisure centre operators. One is the demographic of their customers, who are often young, ‘native’ users of mobile who will view free WiFi as a must when making decisions about where to go. Another is the way that mobile technology has taken off in health and fitness, with the arrival of wearable trackers, fitness apps and more, meaning many gym goers now view their mobile as an indispensable part of their workout.

The challenge to leisure centres is to get the WiFi right. Public WiFi is now often viewed with suspicion and frustration, as low bandwidth, poor configuration and non-existent security protocols make many systems not fit for purpose for modern browsing needs. WiFi provides an invaluable service many customers look for – but if you are going to offer it, it has to be done properly.

What do visitors use WiFi for?

There are 9.7 million gym and leisure centre members in the UK. A growing number use wearable trackers like FitBit and Garmin to monitor their workout, sending data to apps on their mobile which then configure performance assessments and plans. These apps can make suggestions about which routines to do next, compare performance with previous visits and build up an overall picture of health and fitness in the long term. But to work to their fullest, they need an internet connection.

Apart from that, gym goers like to listen to music or watch videos as a distraction and motivation during workouts. With good WiFi, they can stream content rather than having to preload it onto their devices. And then there is the social side – whether they are in the gym or sitting in the cafe, people want to be able to get onto social media or their favourite messaging apps.

Providing reliable WiFi

The main challenge for providing fit for purpose WiFi at a leisure centre is size. Leisure centres tend to be large buildings with numerous different sections – gymnasiums, sports halls, indoor courts, swimming pools, spectator areas, spa and sauna, and then cafe and bars too.

The first thing to consider is bandwidth. Leisure centres can be busy places, and the more people there are trying to get online at once, the more bandwidth you need. Specialist commercial ISPs can provide high bandwidth fibre connections to give you ultrafast connections in all circumstances.

The next issue is network configuration. To make WiFi available throughout a leisure centre, you will need to use good quality WLAN Access Points (APs) – signal distributors connected to your main router which make wireless signal available over a certain area. These need to be located according to demand – in busier areas like a cafe, you may need more APs to meet demand, whereas in a swimming pool demand is likely to be much lower.

If you would like to learn more about setting up or upgrading a WiFi network in your organisation, please contact Simpli-Fi today. We provide a managed WiFi service to the education, construction, leisure and public sectors, delivering robust and affordable WiFi connections with remote management, service desk and support.