Future-proofing learning environments with next-gen networking

A classroom of pupils

School-wide connectivity and networks that are scalable and secure has never been more important in education. Networks must support hybrid learning, immersive digital experiences and emerging EdTech – all whilst making the management of IT simpler and keeping students secure. As organisations, schools are gradually transitioning into ‘smart spaces’ where monitoring everything from room temperature and device tracking to port management and encryption updates must be in a centralised, agile dashboard. Whether to do with site management, or the quality of classrooms, one thing is clear about the future of learning; a space where education can thrive comes down to high performance networking.   Many schools are focusing on this digital transition, but without considering the foundations needed to underpin it successfully; it relies on more than just deploying the latest EdTech. Schools, colleges and MATs need networks that have anticipatory capacity and performance for tomorrow’s EdTech. These future-focused networks don’t just need to offer the highest levels of bandwidth and security, they also need to streamline monitoring and management to avoid IT teams growing at the same rate as networks themselves. Next-gen, cloud-based networks mean school IT teams can benefit from features that save time and resources, including automated network management, zero touch provisioning, and total network visibility in a single pane of glass.   Redway Networks are independent networking and wireless specialists to schools colleges and MATs, offering WiFi, switching, security and network support services that are tailored to future-proofing educational organisations. Web: http://www.redwaynetworks.com/

New WiFi for Future Proofing Your School

A pupil using a laptop with a teacher looking over his shoulder

Redway Networks is an independent networking specialist with expertise in the planning, design and installation of enterprise wireless networks that help education establishments improve the student experience through reliable network connectivity. We deliver complete cloud networking solutions using ‘best of breed’ products at the forefront of technology through our partnerships with the world’s leading wireless technology vendors. We can help you replace your school’s outdated, legacy equipment with next-generation WiFi that offers superior connectivity and security, so you have the bandwidth and capacity to support all your educational technology needs and total peace of mind for protecting your students and staff whilst they connect remotely.  If your school isn’t quite ready to take the leap to WiFi 6, we can help you improve the performance of your existing network and get the best from your existing solution with troubleshooting and remedial works until you are ready to upgrade to a more superior wireless network. WiFi surveys A WiFi survey is a vital part of planning and designing your new wireless network and can mean the difference between an average or outstanding performance. We specialise in Ekahau the leading accreditation and technology for enterprise wireless design and troubleshooting and all our engineers are Ekahau Certified.  We will guide you through the complete design process so you have an affordable, resilient solution that will support your school’s future network capacity for the next ten years. Our WiFi surveys include: Professional Onsite Surveys Predictive surveys New wireless design surveys Fault finding and remedial works Pre and post-deployment surveys WiFi 6/6E Solutions We are education wireless experts and provide WiFi 6 solutions that power new and improved user experiences.  Our WiFi 6 solutions offer faster speeds for enhanced access to learning applications and more density for classroom environments. We only partner with the leading wireless technology vendors that are fit for purpose so whether you are a small primary school or large university, you will benefit from seamless connectivity, more reliability, superior security and faster WiFi speeds, with complete network visibility and easy cloud-management.    Schools, colleges, and universities are seeing increased use of new learning technologies like immersive learning via augmented and virtual reality and with the cost of AR/VR reducing, we will see these technologies becoming more and more important for learning, hence the need for superior WiFi. Consistent data throughput in dense classroom environments Wider coverage range Increased reliability and reduced disconnections Additional frequency spectrum for future educational technology and IoT Power savings for wireless devices Improved outdoor performance Next generation Switching Network switches are the foundation of any school or college network and are expected to last anywhere from 5 to 10 years or more. In today’s modern networks, switches must be highly reliable, easy to manage at scale, and compatible with the latest technologies for the foreseeable future as your network grows. There are many components to installing and maintaining a healthy switching network, and each requires dedicated resources. At Redway Networks, we provide cloud networking technologies as these can drastically reduce the amount of time and effort necessary to maintain a modern school network, whilst still providing a secure, efficient, and reliable solution. We provide zero touch cloud provisioning solutions to schools and colleges that deliver low total cost of ownership as they reduce the costs associated with configuration and significantly recover the costs of a network refresh over the lifetime of the deployment. Visibility and control over a school’s entire edge network Ability to configure many stacked ports simultaneously with zero-touch provisioning Identifies and classifies traffic, applications and devices across the network Delivers complete network visibility and defends against threats Cloud Managed Firewalls Network security is a top priority in the education sector as with the number of connected devices increasing so does the threat, so your network protection needs to adapt in line with your network to safeguard your school or college against cyberattacks.  At Redway Networks, we know the importance of keeping your network safe so provide a range of threat management solutions that protect your network, from security and SD-WAN to cloud-managed firewalls and web filtering software.  All our solutions are from the world-leading security vendors and are cloud-managed meaning installation and remote management are simple.    Comprehensive suite of network services SD-WAN and auto VPN capabilities Application-based Firewalling Content and Web Filtering Intrusion detection and Malware protection Systems Management Our cloud-based systems management solutions enable you to manage the deployment of all your devices and applications.  Devices will connect securely to the cloud, enabling you to locate devices, deploy software and applications, deliver content, enforce security policies, and monitor all your devices through an intuitive and powerful web-based dashboard. You will be able to seamlessly manage and control thousands of iOS and Android devices, Macs, and PCs via a secure, browser-based dashboard. Network management from a single dashboard Complete visibility and control from the top of the network to the edge from WiFi, switches, Firewall to client devices New updates are delivered effortlessly to the dashboard via the cloud Intuitive dashboard enables IT to configure and deploy in minutes Full installation and support services Our certified network engineers provide the highest levels of technical product advice and go ‘above and beyond’ to deliver an exceptional service with a right first-time approach. From the start of your project, our focus is to deliver a strong design based on accurate data and our experience in the education sector, so your school, college or university gets optimum performance from its new network.  We always place superior customer service at the core of our business, which is why we are 100% client recommended. To find out more visit https://www.redwaynetworks.com/education-wifi

Schools are under cyber attack – here’s why

A man in a hoody sitting in front of several computer screens apparently hacking data

School leaders are being urged to make sure they are keeping their systems secure amid a growing amount of cyber attacks. Here’s why schools are being targeted and what can be done about it. Education is a unique sector, with tech savvy but perhaps naïve students having access to the internet with limited filtering, as well as the need to access a variety of sites for research purposes. Back in March 2021, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issued a warning to educational facilities, as a sharp increase on ransomware attacks were noted. This continued into May and June of 2021, with notable hacks such as that of Oxford University laboratories and Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust, which affected 50 schools for just under a week. Schools are under attack daily, but why, and how can the risk be reduced? Breach numbers by type of education Across the education sector, there’s higher risk of a data breach the older the students get. According to data from the government’s Cybersecurity Breaches Survey 2021, 26% of further education facilities reported a breach, 15% of secondary schools reported a breach and just 6% of primary schools reported breaches. This spread across the age categories shows that as pupils get older and get more unrestricted access to the internet, the rate of data breaches, which includes any cybercrime related ones, increases. Why do breaches and hacks affect the education sector? With a combination of naïve students, hundreds of users logging in to the same devices and long periods of inactivity during the summer months, it’s no wonder that schools can be seen as an easy target. Now that most secondary schools are no longer run by the government, instead through academy trusts, the central support network of resource has to be sourced by the trust, who may have less experience and the lack of a designated cyber expert who can assist in times of trouble. On the same tune, the budget to upgrade hardware, especially in state schools, is not there. Old computer systems, limited access to modern software and the extensive cost of firewalls all contribute to higher risks and easier targets. These, coupled with the number of financial transactions processed by one person or a small team, and the number of parent’s bank details that the school may hold. The data on each pupil, and the value that this data, as well as the detrimental impact that no access to computers has on the education of young people all contribute to the increased risks that schools face daily. How can you protect your school? As headteachers and senior leadership, there is a responsibility to provide training and education to both staff and pupils at your schools, and to ensure that there are people who are trained to understand cybersecurity and the risks it brings. Learn what a phishing email may look like Phishing emails, whereby an email that appears genuine is actually malicious, can be hard to detect to the untrained eye. By clicking on a phishing link, you can give a hacker access to details such as computer information, a route into your emails or worse, installing ransomware on your device. However, with some basic knowledge and training, your staff and pupils can begin to detect the phishing emails amongst the ones they actually need. Similarly, you should also have a reporting process for phishing attacks, and make sure everyone is aware of this process. Create passwords that are strong By having the same, or similar, passwords for everything in both your home and work life, you should instead have different passwords for everything. However, remembering these is tricky and can be hard when moving around computers all day, as is typical in schools. As well as writing them down in a notebook, which isn’t secure, you also shouldn’t save them to your browser where possible. Password managers such as Dashlane or Last Pass are highly secure ways of storing passwords, and both come with a mobile app, as well as browser extensions. Rather than using your mother’s maiden name and your first pet combined with the letter one, try and combine two random words together. Update devices regularly Whether you have staff who work on laptops around the school, or office staff who work part remote, it’s important that updates, especially security patches are done regularly. Your IT team should send round reminders when people need to install updates on staff computers and have a schedule for general use computers to ensure all receive updates at the same time.

Spellzone: The English Spelling Resource Created for Online Learning

Spellzone - a pupil using the system

What is Spellzone? Written by a dyslexia specialist, Spellzone is an online spelling resource that unlocks the mystery of English spelling and adapts to students of all abilities. Students can work on tailored learning pathways at their own pace and on any device. Time-saving reporting tools allow teachers to monitor progress and evaluate student activity with just the click of a button. Spelling Ability Test and Course Pathway  The Spelling Ability Test and Course Pathway provide students with a guided experience through Spellzone, keeping them on track with minimal teacher intervention. “The Course Pathway personalises learning for the children, saving the teacher hours of work in preparing individual resources,” says Anna Hughes, Head of English, St Hugh’s School Spellzone uses the Spelling Ability Test to identify any gaps in student knowledge and then calculates a Course Pathway indicating which units should be studied. Students are retested periodically, and their Course Pathways are updated to reflect new learning.  “The programme really can be tailored to suit individual needs,” says Pauline Guinan, Y5 and Y6 Teacher and SENCo, Sheering Church of England Primary School. “The resource allows every student to work at a level that has been set according to their individual strengths and needs. This means children whose spelling ability is strong don’t have to slow down and those with weaker spelling don’t struggle to keep up. They are all learning at the same time, at their own unique pace. Everyone is equal.” Spelling Courses The entry-level Starter Course consists of eight units and uses multi-sensory activities and tests to teach basic phonics rules.  The Main Course covers all the English spelling rules and their exceptions in 36 units made up of learning tips and multi-sensory spelling activities. Basic concepts taught include vowels, consonants, syllables, prefixes, and suffixes. Students are tested in different ways throughout the course. “The site is appealing and easy to navigate. The definitions, practise sessions (Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check), and the games reinforce the relevant spelling pattern superbly – it is everything I need in a busy classroom environment. “ Siobhan Moulding. Class Teacher Thomas A Becket Junior School Word Lists  Teachers and students can use over 1.8 million pre-loaded word lists in a variety of spelling activities, word games, and printable worksheets. Word lists can be translated into over 90 languages.  Teachers can adapt any word list to suit their specific needs or create their own word lists for different school subjects and spelling abilities.  Spellzone creates dynamic word lists for each student based on the words they spell incorrectly in spelling tests. Students can also create word lists for their own practice.  “Spellzone broadens their vocabulary significantly, improving comprehension and attainment across subjects.”  Anna Hughes, Head of English St Hugh’s School Classroom and Homework Tasks  Teachers can set the Spelling Ability Test, any Spellzone unit, and any Spellzone word list as a classroom or homework task for individual students, for a class, or for the whole school. Spellzone automatically marks all tasks and provides teachers with easy-to-analyse results.  “The ability to find specific content for individual students and tailor learning support accordingly is superb. We’re very keen to make sure that work is specifically targeted to relevant age groups, and Spellzone makes this very easy to do. Being able to set tasks is another great tool, as it allows staff to set and mark homework quickly and easily.” Alison Ridyard, Director of Literacy King’s Leadership Academy Results and Evaluation  Spellzone logs all student activity in real time and teachers can map student progress against National Curriculum requirements.  Teachers can download a variety of reports to evaluate student success – perfect for parents’ evening and review meetings! “His standardised score has risen from 99 to 131. This is a truly phenomenal result. I just wanted to share the best result I have ever seen.” Terrie Penrose-Toms Casterton College Training and Support  Spellzone is always happy to help with any queries or problems. Teachers can book free online training sessions at any point. “Thank goodness for Spellzone during this remote learning phase. The site is easy for students to navigate independently and they’re really enjoying the activities and spelling games. You get an awful lot for your money with Spellzone. Really reassuring is the very prompt response with helpdesk queries. I’ve very rarely needed the helpdesk, but when I have, the issue has been addressed and sorted within a very short time.” Sarah Taggart Oasis Academy Lord’s Hill Looking to boost student spelling? Keen to reduce teacher workload? Begin your Spellzone story today with a free 30-day trial for your school.

What Role Can Technology Play in Assessment?

Fiona Goddard talks about assessment

With the cancellation of exams in the summer, the subject of assessment has been brought to the fore.  The short-term exam preparation phenomenon of ‘teaching to the test’ will have temporarily disappeared and some will be thankful of that, but does this give us a unique chance to explore and adopt other methods of continuous assessment perhaps on a more permanent basis?   Continuous assessment offers the opportunity to improve teaching and learning for the benefit of the student by affording the ability to identify and address knowledge gaps in a timely manner.  It can remove the bias towards narrow teaching and cramming where exams are involved, therefore potentially improving long-term educational outcomes for all.   We also know high-stakes assessment has often been criticised for the anxiety it creates.  With the rise in mental health issues amongst young people, given all they have had to deal with in the past two years in relation to the Pandemic and lost opportunities for learning, should we be doing more to minimise situations which put children under any more stress such as assessment related anxiety?     Further, given the learning loss due to the disruption of COVID which still continues to interrupt classroom lessons on an ongoing basis, the challenge is for teachers to assess where individual pupils are now in relation to their knowledge and plan the best approach to help them move forwards.  While it is accepted that there has been learning loss and many students are possibly not where they should be or where we would like them to be, how this is assessed, presented and how it is addressed also needs to be carefully managed to ensure students don’t feel penalised for something that is not their fault and to ensure teachers do not become overwhelmed.   I’d like to suggest that technology can play a role here.  Moving forward needs to be about recalibrating the curriculum, reconnecting with students and building confidence.  Informal assessments which avoid further stress can identify gaps in learning to help secure firm foundations moving forwards with an emphasis on quality over quantity.  Tools such as virtual tutoring platforms can off additional support in terms of assessment and to scaffold learning.   A virtual tutor is an automated online system that simulates behaviours of a human tutor.  While not designed to replace one-to-one human interaction, virtual tutors can offer teachers and students additional support, providing content which adapts to different levels of attainment and pace of learning.   As a by-product of learning, a virtual tutor such as Whizz Education’s Maths-Whizz Tutor for example, constantly generates data analytics in real-time, providing continuous assessment data.  This has allowed teachers and Whizz to track learning progress and loss and identify where children need further support on different topics.  We have found that the Maths Ages of students determined over time by continuous assessment informs teachers where to focus the class teaching or where to focus the virtual tutor or face-to-face teaching.  This continuous assessment data can support formative assessment, reducing the burden for teachers and the anxiety over high stakes summative tests for students.      Jo Kerkham, Head of School and Snowy Owls Class Teacher, Brisley Church of England Primary Academy explains:  “Maths-Whizz keeps skills simmering and knowledge up-to-date across the board.  It’s also a great assessment tool as progress and knowledge gaps are easy to identify.  This feedback helps teachers understand which areas to focus on to develop further learning.” In this way technology, can be used to provide individualised support within different contexts, including assessment, identifying gaps, motivation and confidence building due to the fun, interactive nature of the solution.   Whatever our assessment mechanisms – formative or summative, low stakes or high – we must recognise there are always trade-offs to be made. When it comes to evaluating schools, informing teachers and motivating students, formative assessment is more than fit for purpose, without the stress inducing side effects!  Perhaps now is the perfect time to take advantage of the lessons learned during the COVID restrictions to see how exam alternatives could offer better options for students and support teachers with prioritising lesson planning for improved learning outcomes at the same time. Article by Fiona Goddard, Education Consultant, Whizz Education For further information please see:  www.whizz.com

Improving the learning experience through AV & IT

Karl Deady of Cinos, Improving the learning experience through AV & IT

Karl Deady, Executive Director at Cinos talks about the role of AV & IT across the higher education space and the steps that organisations can put in place to positively impact the learning experience for students. As the student user experience becomes more important than ever, so does the role of audio-visual (AV) technology. The coronavirus pandemic has led to the closure of many university campuses, and while the easing of restrictions has allowed them to reopen, AV and IT solutions hold a vital role in ensuring students and staff remain safe on campus in the months to come.  Creating the ideal learning space  Like many working environments, it’s often the small changes that go a long way to improving the overall experience. When it comes to learning, the key to success is ensuring spaces inspire and create an engaging experience. In order for students to be fully absorbed, they need to be able to see the content and hear the educator loud and clear. Universities and education institutions can ensure this by implementing high quality display technology and professional grade audio products. If students can’t view the content properly or hear the educator, there’s a risk they’ll lose interest and engagement levels will drop. When it comes to teaching, educators can engage with students in many ways whether that’s a live lecture, streamed or even on-demand. It is important to offer multiple ways for students to consume course content and offering choice will only enhance the learning experience. Whatever the choice, the systems must be easy to use for both educators and students. There’s nothing worse than a system that’s complicated and frustrating to navigate. Using feature-rich collaboration workspaces such as Microsoft Teams gives the ability to interact with students through chat, voice and video. Sessions can be recorded and learning resources shared through the platform’s secure file sharing functionality. This is a great tool for students, helping them access necessary information on demand. Creating efficient processes for the long term Within a learning space there are a number of considerations that need to be made when choosing video and audio solutions. It’s best to look for technologies that offer flexibility and AV devices that leverage the existing IT network (AV/IP) are a great way to achieve this. They are easier to scale when compared to traditional analogue systems. It means that you do not need to convert signal format across devices, reducing the complexity and costs considerably. This allows educators to push video or audio signals to multiple learning spaces or even directly into the students’ homes, helping to increase efficiency in the long run. Furthermore, AV/IP solutions can help organisations comply with social distancing guidelines. By delivering content across multiple lecture theatres and integrating into campus-wide streaming services the number of students in each physical space is greatly reduced. To maximise return on investment institutions should work with an integrator who truly understands the technology that will make a difference. Audio and visual technologies need to be reliable and stand the test of time, so look to robust solutions that can be easily maintained by onsite support teams. Bring your own device (BYOD) is a useful service that should be made available to the wider student population, as it allows students to consume course contents at their leisure and on their own devices. Not only is this particularly useful for students moving around campus between sessions, but it also ensures the content is easily available for students who cannot physically attend the session, for example, where self-isolation is required. As with any organisation, minimising the impact on the environment and reducing carbon footprint is key. This can be achieved by implementing energy efficient recyclable products and employing technologies such as motion sensors that can automatically shut down or start up classroom equipment, lighting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). In a similar vein, having a resource management system in place can provide insights on room and equipment utilisation allowing education institutions to adapt their practices accordingly. Unified communications to maximise learning experience As we’ve seen with the challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s key to have future proof systems in place, especially ones that enable remote learning. Choose video conferencing solutions that are familiar, easy to use, robust and well built. Platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Webex all have the capabilities to facilitate virtual learning sessions.  Through the installation of plugins, these solutions can integrate with virtual learning environments (VLEs) such as Blackboard and Moodle, allowing the student to move seamlessly from video collaboration to accessing learning resources via their learning platform. Integrators are best placed to provide onsite support for institutions and advice around on-going costs, both in terms of licencing and maintenance. This can help education institutions to budget effectively and choose the best option based on their needs. Remote learning capabilities are more important than ever. Having tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams in place can help universities to promote seamless collaboration and minimise some of the disruption caused for students by these very uncertain times. While the etiquettes of conferencing calling won’t be unfamiliar to educators, they might very well be to students. Familiarising students with remote learning practices is really important to ensure sessions remain productive and engaging for all. Steps such as muting when not talking and preventing all attendees from talking at the same time, must be made clear from the start. AV to solve the campus crisis Higher education has had to overcome many challenges over the last 12-15 months, from social distancing to safely navigating the return to campus learning. AV technology has a part to play in helping bring confidence to universities as they go about creating processes that are safe for both staff and students. For those who are learning onsite, AV also has a role to play in helping implement social distancing guidelines. Desk booking systems can be deployed to ensure the correct social distancing measures are in place throughout lecture halls

Edmentum: at the forefront of the edtech revolution

Children at school on PCs - Edmentum

Editor Victoria Galligan spoke to Gareth Bradwick, project manager at Edmentum International, about how the global edtech company is reducing workload for teachers thanks to its simplified assessment of personalised online learning… Edmentum is the global learning resource which offers platforms for learners from nursery age up to secondary and beyond – you may be familiar with their products such as Reading Eggs, Study Island or Education City.  The US-owned company has adapted its software to the UK curriculum and Gareth told me: “There have been a lot of changes in education over the past five years or so – the new curriculum in 2014 was an opportunity for Edmentum to fit its UK products around the learning which was required.”  Education City is a popular primary resource which covers maths, science, English and e-safety. Around 5,000 schools in the UK are subscribed, allowing teachers to use the cartoon-style question and answer snippets in lessons, to set work in class for children and also to encourage them to log on at home and complete homework.  Reading Eggs focuses on phonics in the foundation stages and, like Education City, is built around games where children select the right letter or word options to complete a task.  The emphasis is on the fun and Gareth said: “The games are user-friendly and can be played in any format – on a PC, iPads or laptops. There’s an app which is simple to log onto and the interface and illustrations are friendly so students don’t feel like they’re learning when using the games.” As with all Edmentum products, the emphasis is on personalised learning. Teachers can use differentiated games to ensure all children can access the lesson and to extend learning to push higher ability pupils. The assessment tools are both formative and summative, and the thousands of questions which pupils answer are recorded under their own user name for future reference. This allows the teacher to quickly spot gaps in learning and identify patterns across a whole class or work further with individual students on their weaker areas. Teachers can also set their own questions to fit particular areas of a topic and the existing content across all platforms is continually updated to ensure the games never get repetitive.  For older students, the company has already conquered the US market where schools place most schoolwork online and pupils work through modules to work towards a US diploma. This approach, Chris tells me, is making its way towards the UK and is something Edmentum is working on as the digital transformation of education continues.  The future is exciting and if such learning platforms engage students, make life easier for teachers and help improve attainment then we can’t wait to see what the edtech sector comes up with next…   EDMENTUM CASE STUDY:  Ulaanbaatar Elite International School, Mongolia Established in 2005, the school has approximately 500 students, of which 397 are international. The school has been using EducationCity for two years.  Mustafa Soydemir, Primary Principal, said: “For teachers, lesson planning right through to marking and assessment are visible in this website. Teachers simply search for the right content related to the topic recently discussed and they will be given options based on the level of the students.  “Teachers are also able to differentiate work for individual students, groups or classes, which exactly meets the needs of those specific students.  “Teachers can make revisions or add further content later on. If parents and students have any questions, they can easily help them. In other words, it’s very flexible and useful for the teachers. “Students find the website enjoyable and challenging. They always look forward to the classwork and homework given to them. The school allocates an hour every week for EducationCity and the students look forward to that hour. They enjoy the graphics, the design, the sounds and the way the site is user-friendly for everyone.  “For the parents, EducationCity’s been a very useful tool to make connections with their children. Parents help them, especially the younger ones, to find their homework. Furthermore, parents who need help with their own English learn with their kids; they enjoy the activities and find them challenging themselves.”

Building a bridge between schools and robotics

DFRobot - robotics teaching in action in a classroom

Edward Teng from DFRobot spoke to QA Education editor Victoria Galligan about how the Chinese company is plugging the gap between high-end technology and children who are eager to learn more about robotics… If you haven’t heard of DFRobot, it’s a Chinese company which creates affordable, easy-to-use hardware which can be used alongside micro:bit to create robotics projects in school. Starting out in 2008 as a robotic hardware manufacturer, the company has grown – it’s now a world-leader in robotics and open-source hardware. DFRobot created a real community for learners and educators following its launch of education resources in 2013. Back then, the words “coding” and “robotics” were enough to put most teachers into a spin, with the exception of the most tech-savvy educators – but Edward is keen to note that this is no longer the case.  “Teachers have grown their awareness of AI,” he tells me from the Bett edtech show in London. “Even from last year we’ve noticed a difference. Many teachers were not aware of our kind of technology at the 2019 show. This year, it’s been quite different – it’s amazing the difference a single year has made.” The increased awareness is down, no doubt, to a change in the 2014 computing curriculum where from KS2, children are expected to be taught the skill of “controlling or simulating physical systems”. After several years of upskilling ICT coordinators and investing in a variety of technology, it seems the dust has settled and more and more teachers – especially those in primary and across DT in secondary – have truly taken on board the language of coding and many have become proficient in the skills of teaching not just computing, but robotics. “How schools apply the curriculum is different,” says Edward. “For example, in China our Boson kit is being used by pupils of Y6 age. In the Asian market in general, children are using robotics earlier and both teachers and pupils are more familiar with AI and the Internet of Things from a younger age. It makes a big difference.” The Boson starter kit that Edward refers to consists of micro:bit equipment, which is described on the DFRobot website as a “pocket-sized microcontroller designed for kids and beginners to learn coding and electronics, letting them easily bring ideas into DIY digital games, interactive projects and robotics”. The kit has been awarded Five Stars in the 2018 Teach Primary Resource Awards. At £53 it’s an affordable option for schools looking to build up their stock of robotics equipment and the add-ons range from flashing heart-shapes pulse monitors to pH sensors and air quality monitors. Which is what let to the DFRobot “smart garden” at the 2020 Bett show. Edward says the high-tech garden measures everything you need to keep a plant healthy, such as light, temperature and humidity. Users can interact with the platform and, for example, click to engage the watering system. He adds: “The smart garden is a demonstration product designed for Bett. We wanted to show how critical thinking develops from AI and get children considering the opportunities the technology can bring – now you can measure the health of your plants in the backyard by sitting in your living room.” It’s this kind of thought-provoking work which Edward says is the key to improving technology skills in the UK. He adds: “Children have a big imagination and they love showing other people their creativity. We build a bridge between schools and robotics. DFRobot supplies to 8,000 schools around the world, including 2,000 across China.” To some extent, teachers need to teach technology to themselves and the Boson kits make this easier. They attach to Lego, cardboard, wood – whatever children need to be creative and achieve their robotic goals.  Edward added: “With micro:bit, children learn to work in algorithms and work with logic, They gradually learn coding languages, such as Python, as they create their robotic inventions. They can experience how technology is evolving to become more intelligent. With smart technology in the home they are already experiencing the Internet of Things.” As technology evolves at such a rapid pace, so too does the skills set of our pupils. The future is exciting – the future is robotic!    DFROBOT CASE STUDY    We need a new approach to STEM if we want to address the skills deficit    By Jennifer Morgan I am a teacher, a feminist, and a STEM coordinator – and if I may be a little bold, together, these qualities form a potent mix. I am an educator who is not only passionate about how STEM is integrated into our schools, but who is also driven to instil in young girls that they possess the agency to determine their own career, particularly through the discovery of male-dominated subjects. That said, while I would certainly like to see more young women participating in these subjects, the importance of effectively teaching STEM goes beyond the gender imbalance. During my schooling, I had to take home economics and woodwork. Imbued with gender, absolutely; however, the justification was clear: school was building the necessary skills to support us in the future. Today, though, the skills of the future emerge from studying science, technology, engineering, and maths – STEM is the new home-ec and woodwork. Despite my crusade to improve STEM learning, I, like many of my colleagues, am faced with routine challenges. How do we encourage greater enthusiasm for these subjects? How do we bridge the gap between theory and practical skills? How do I turn ideas into action? Whipping up enthusiasm in the classroom isn’t a foreign concept, but my experience has taught me that this can be more challenging in subjects like computer science and coding. This generation of students has grown up in the tech age, yet there is little understanding of how A leads to B – they are only familiar with the final output of products. Faced with blank stares when I embark on the curriculum with

Cypher Learning tailors learning to each student – wherever they are

A girl uses a laptop with help from mother – Cypher Learning

NEO, a product of Cypher Learning, is a platform that offers a solution for teachers who want to create content, assess learning and process results in one place. Used by schools and universities across the world, NEO offers flexibility and personalisation, so learning is tailored to each student. QA Education editor Victoria Galligan spoke to Graham Glass, founder and CEO of the e-learning company, about the role technology plays in the changing face of education… Cypher Learning adapts to the ever-changing needs of education Having grown up in England and completed his degree in computer science, Graham gained his masters in the same subject at the University of Texas at Dallas – and it was in the US that he started the Cypher Learning company back in 2009.  Graham had spent his early career working in education, teaching computer science at the University of Texas, and found there was a real need for a computerised learning management system (LMS) which could be used by learners across different schools, companies and even different countries. And this is what Cypher Learning has become – an e-learning company which not only serves education but also corporations and entrepreneurs. Cypher Learning has 3 products: NEO, an LMS for Schools and Universities, MATRIX, an LMS for Business, and INDIE, an LMS for Entrepreneurs.  NEO LMS is used by academic institutions K 12 to Higher Ed. Graham explains: “Teachers create a class within NEO, which is made up of a collection of lessons. The lessons use the competency-based learning approach and are linked to specific skills.” The students work through the lessons, submitting work via the cloud on documents they have created, in any format. Together with the teacher’s assessment of practical work, classroom-based tasks and a range of NEO assessments – there are 15 different kinds of assessments, from surveys to essays, debates, pop quizzes, team assignments, and more!– the teacher grades each lesson and eventually the whole unit.  Graham says: “The teacher can set automation rules, for example if a student is weaker in one area, they can change the difficulty of the module or automatically assign extra tasks. And if a student needs more challenge, the lessons can be differentiated to extend their learning and automatically release advanced modules.” It is thanks to this flexibility that personalised learning can truly take place. Graham tells me that some US schools are changing the way the school day is structured, with fewer teacher-input lessons and more independent study sessions when children work through their lessons on a device and ask for help when needed – much like a university schedule.  “Personalised learning means that the pass/fail approach is eradicated – students instead become masters of their subjects and they take as long as it’s needed to work through lessons. Traditional school timetables mean pupils must break up their day in segments and stop whatever they are doing at the end of each lesson to move on to the next subject.  “With the new approach to education which we’re seeing in the US, students don’t feel this pressure to hurry up and finish and to keep up with the rest of the class. They work at their own pace. There’s a real sense of accomplishment on finishing a class.” NEO LMS provides an easy way to create engaging courses which students can access anywhere. The platform also cuts down on teacher workload since after the initial set-up of the lessons, marking and feedback can be communicated instantly online and lessons can be reused in the future for new classes. So, what makes NEO better than other learning platforms? It’s clear that NEO is popular and as a brand Cypher Learning has millions of users across the globe, operating in over 40 languages. Graham says one advantage is that the Cypher Learning team make sure they stay ahead of the game: “We release features quite often faster than any other company. “For example, we’re introducing the use of AI technology so if students need to improve in a particular subject or one aspect of that subject, our recommendations engine would be able to assess their current level of skills and recommend resources such as courses, videos, learning paths, etc on how they can develop their skills and knowledge.” Another area which Cypher Learning is leading on is offline learning – the ability for students to continue their studies even when they don’t have access to the internet. This will particularly benefit pupils in countries where internet services are not yet widely available – and here in the UK it will help families living in deprivation. Graham said: “There are more and more people who demand an offline mode and we recently released the first version.” E-learning is a tide which is bringing change within schools, carrying teachers and students out of the classroom and pushing them deftly towards personalised learning. Having the ability to ride this technological wave made the lockdown period run much smoother. As schools face more home-learning challenges in the medium-term future, Cypher is well-placed to help them continue teaching children wherever they are. For more information on NEO LMS and Cypher Learning, visit neolms.com.