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Dreams of Education, Afforded and Achieved Through Technology

By Ed Gilbreath, Technology Director, United Nations International School Hanoi


Ed Gilbreath, Technology Director, United Nations International School Hanoi

I have served as the Director of Technology for American schools and international schools for much of my career, prior to my current contract I served for 10 years as Director of Technology for Singapore American School.  Currently, I am in my fifth year as the Director of Technology for United Nations International School of Hanoi. In each of my professional engagements I have been in charge of  technology infrastructure, operations and learning. 

My experience tells me that for our systems to be used effectively for learning we must be able to achieve a level of reliability such that  everything is “always on” in a manner similar to lights and air conditioning.  System reliability requires a level of commitment from senior management to provide resources including but not limited to time, money and staff capacity building.

Local vendors often regard “always on” reliability as an unnecessary expense. I have been faced with the concept of  “its good enough” in many south-east Asian schools. Therefore when I say capacity building, I am not simply referring to the capacity of my team but also to the capacity of the vendors I have hired to support my team. Much of my early efforts in each institution were simply replacing wires and boxes and testing. Testing to the point that vendors began providing test results at the start of any and all meetings in order to demonstrate that they are doing more to provide a “good enough” environment.

"Major vendors often create a cool new  toy for the educational community with out determining whether it brings value to teaching and learning"   

Local vendors don’t always understand that an outage due to their system failure has an opportunity cost in an educational environment. We estimate that each minute a key service is not available to support learning, our opportunity cost is USD 300.00. Service Level Agreements have been created with local vendors that included penalty clauses based on potential lost opportunity costs.  A penalty clause forces the local vendor to improve their services over time.

Major vendors often create a cool new toy for the educational community without determining whether it brings value to teaching and learning. Video conferencing is a perfect example where a vendor thinks that a $10,000 video conferencing system (note the vendor also believes it is affordable because it is less than their older $100,000 system) will provide a significant return on investment in an educational environment. Many low cost/no cost systems exist that will better meet the needs of educational institutions.

Vendors should spend time in classrooms to understand teacher and student pain points. We wish to see our teachers roaming the classroom and not standing at the front as if they are delivering a sermon. In order to make that happen we have provided notebook computers with a tablet function. However, in order to use a projector to project content from the internet a teacher must be connected via a VGA or HDMI cable to the projector. We wish to see simple wireless connections to the projector that allow for simultaneous wireless internet access and for the teacher to be able to choose which classroom device (from a list of 25 to 50 will have wireless access to the projector at any time.

Education is on the cusp of achieving dreams afforded by the use of technology. We can consider the current climate to be a perfect storm, all the pieces (learning theories, technology, classroom management, classroom design, evaluation processes) have reached a state such that they can unite to create an educational environment that will positively impact our students in a manner that we could have only dreamed 10 years ago.

We are moving to an “in the cloud” environment where our systems are platform agnostic. Students and teachers must be able to have choice regarding the systems they use whether it be a PC, Mac, Chrome book, or Smart phone. There fore, every thing we have in place must be accessible from a variety of platforms. Many of our older market leaders are not agile enough to move into this space. It shouldn’t   be necessary to join the domain in order to print and perform other learning tasks.

Education is changing from a well-recognized format that has been accepted for hundreds of years to a new format that puts students more in control of their learning. Education must become a form of learning that occurs any time,  any place, and any thing. Teachers are no longer expected to stand in the front  of  classrooms and serve as a single source of information. As students move through our system we want  them to be able to identify what  they know, what  they need to know and how they will acquire that knowledge. Because of this, the role of teaching is changing. We are beginning to use data visualization tools to identify student strengths, patterns of growth and areas that will require intervention. The modern view is that a teacher is a learning coach interacting with students in a manner that allows the student to develop as a life long learner.

Every one of our students wants to succeed. They look to us to provide them with tools to achieve that success. In order to meet  the needs of our students we often have to be contrary to the methods that worked for their parents, Most of our parents are "successful schoolers". Traditional schools worked well for them, they are successful and they expect us to provide traditional schooling for their children even though traditional methods often serve to destroy a love for learning in our students. We can provide successful learning opportunities for all of our students if we are willing to spend the time it  takes to under stand their needs and to help them gain resilience for the times they do encounter failure. Much of the best learning occurs in times of failure.

Our students represent our most valuable resource and failure to invest in them is a failure to invest in society's future. 

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