The U.K.’s Perspective
Making technology available to all students is key.
IN AN EFFORT TO better understand how other countries are tackling educational technology challenges, EdTech recently spoke with John Dowd, information and communication coordinator at High Storrs School in Sheffield, England. Established in the late 1800s and rebuilt in the 1930s, High Storrs is typical of many British schools — old buildings and facilities exist side by side with the latest in education practice and technology.
Dowd started as a science teacher in 1974, and in the intervening 32 years he’s seen educational technology at the school progress from simple PCs and programming languages to online learning modules and wireless notebook systems.
His teaching role gradually took a backseat as his technology responsibilities grew. Now, he works full time maintaining the school’s network infrastructure.
EDTECH: How has the technology in-frastructure of the school evolved over the years?
DOWD: One of the school’s first computer networks provided printing and e-mail services to just five computers in one room. In 1999, with the help of a charitable sponsorship, I was able to expand the network to provide a Category 5 point to every classroom in the school. The network now provides more than 450 desktop computers and two trolleys with 16 notebooks to the school’s 1,800 pupils.
Now, the school’s administrative and curriculum networks are connected via two network cards to a Linux proxy server to provide Internet and e-mail access. All pupils have e-mail addresses and home directories and can access schoolwork from anywhere in the school. High Storrs also has a videoconferencing link with a school in Germany. The Linux server is to be replaced shortly for e-mail, and a local authority broadband system provides whole-school Internet access.
EDTECH: What is your most pressing technology goal?
DOWD: What you often find in schools is a small amount of special, cutting-edge technology that’s available to some students, sometimes. In education, however, the technology you use does not have to be cutting edge. Rather, it needs to be effective and, most important, ubiquitous. So, the most important goal for us is making effective technology available across the board to all students rather than special technology available only to a few.
EDTECH: What is the most important emerging technology trend?
DOWD: In the United Kingdom, the most important trend we are seeing is the movement toward virtual learning environments (VLEs) — online-based technologies that enable teachers and students to stay connected both inside and outside normal school hours. Probably the most important benefit VLEs bring to students is the sense of getting immediate and personalized attention. We use some of this technology in our school, but it’s not ubiquitous.
EDTECH: Of your professional accomplishments, which have given you the most satisfaction?
DOWD: My proudest moments have all come from what the students have achieved rather than from the technology itself. In the 1980s, using the simple PCs of the time, a group of final-year students created a virtual model of the school that enabled users to take a tour of school buildings. To see that group achieve such a comparatively high level of technology competence was very satisfying.
EDTECH: What is the biggest challenge?
DOWD: Budgets. Costs are separated into capital expenditures and running costs. Capital expenditures are expected to last forever, but that’s not feasible with technology. What’s needed is an improved method for accounting for turnover in technology equipment. This problem is not confined to High Storrs.
EDTECH: What is your worst technology habit?
DOWD: That would the be the game “Pretty Good Solitaire.” I might intend to take a break for 10 minutes to do something a little mindless, but if I’m not careful, that 10-minute break can become two hours.