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Hardware Settings

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Basic Knowledge, Devices, Maintenance Operations

1. General considerations

When we talk about digital education, one of the main components is represented by hardware, which is considered to be the infrastructure for the digital learning environment.

Technology provides access to information and resources for teachers as well as for students, it helps them find and also create content. It gives them the opportunity to connect with people all around the world, so they can share ideas and knowledge or collaborate for various projects.

The tools and resources made available for the learning activities should be reliable and accessible for every teacher and student in every learning environment.


That is why we need to search the best way to design, fund, acquire and maintain the necessary infrastructure which would enable the students to receive the adequate digital education they need to flourish in a globally connected world.

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HECC Concept

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‘2nd Survey of Schools: ICT in Education’, a study prepared for the European Commission- DG Communications Networks, Content & Technology by Deloitte and Ipsos Mori in 2019) has as its second objective “to develop a model for a highly equipped and connected classroom [HECC], presenting three scenarios to describe different levels of a HECC and to estimate the overall costs to equip and connect an average EU classroom with advanced components of the HECC model”.
The study identified three levels of HECC, namely an entry-level, an advanced level and a cutting-edge level. The model developed for HECC is therefore progressive, as it allows any school to start with an entry level scenario and then upgrade to the advanced level one or even to the cutting-edge level if the budget and technical requirements are met.
A brief overview of the content for the three mentioned HECC levels is presented in the figure below, considering the four components for each level, namely digital technology equipment, network requirements, professional development of teachers and access to content. The full study prepared by Deloitte and Ipsos Mori can be read here. (Credits for the figure below also to Deloitte, Ipsos Mori, ‘2nd Survey of Schools: ICT in Education’.) 

Infrastructure

The infrastructure needed at the starting point comprises:

Internet connection
 Network
Devices

1

 Internet connection may be of several types:  

- Cable internet - Internet over cable, using the cables from cable TV networks> Nowadays it could allow a download speed of around 300 Mbps, depending on local infrastructure.
- Fibre internet - Internet over fibre
Fibre-optic cable (fibre) consists of a thin cylinder of glass encased in a protective cover. The data transmission is ensured through light rather than electrical pulses. Each strand of the cable can pass a signal in only one direction; therefore, fibre optic cable must have at least two strands: one for sending and one for receiving data. The fibreoptic cables are not subject to interference, therefore the transmission distance is greatly increased.
- Fixed wireless
Fixed wireless is an alternative to cable and can deliver data, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and Internet Protocol Television (IPTV). It requires the use of towers and wireless transmission/receiver platforms which need a clear line of sight, to carry the signal from place to place. Fixed wireless comes in two forms: mobile-which connects buildings to user devices - and fixed- which connects buildings together.
- Mobile Internet
Mobile broadband is wireless Internet access from cell towers via a mobile phone, tablet, or portable modem. Mobile broadband, also called 4G, can provide high-speed connection for downloading and uploading over the same network infrastructure wireless carriers.
- Satellite Internet
Satellite Internet can provide fixed, portable and mobile Internet access, and it can partly fit in the 'ultra-fast broadband' type of broadband as identified for the study. Satellite broadband is also among the more expensive forms of wireless Internet access, but it can provide connectivity in very remote areas with no other connectivity option.
NOTE: Broadband definition
Broadband refers to high-speed Internet access that is always on and is significantly faster than traditional dial-up access. Types of broadband include digital subscriber line (DSL), cable modem, fibre, wireless, satellite, or broadband over power lines (BPL). 

2

Network 

According to U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology (2014), the networks can be categorized as follows:
- A Wide Area Network (WAN) provides the connection between the district office and all the schools and sites within a district. A WAN may also connect to other educational institutions (such as universities and libraries) if a school or district is part of a regional education network.
- A Local Area Network (LAN) is the network within a school or district building through which computers and devices connect to the Internet. LANs, in contrast to WANs, service much smaller geographic areas.
- A WLAN (also known as WiFi or Wi-Fi) enables those using portable devices in a school to connect to the school computer network without needing a network cable. Typically, it is used to connect devices such as laptops, netbooks and tablet computers (including iPads), and other devices such as some phones and iPod devices. Desktop PCs can also have a wireless adapter added to them to enable connectivity to a WLAN. 

3

 Devices

 Types of devices
The maximum of the educational benefits appears when teachers and students have 1:1 access to mobile devices. Shared devices, although better than none, is limiting access to personalized learning opportunities and make it difficult for students to engage in “everywhere, all-the-time” learning.
Computing devices for learning purposes are divided in four categories:
- desktops,
- laptops,
- tablets,
- smartphones.

Generally, laptops or tablets are preferred for school utilisation because they are portable, their screens are large enough screens for most activities, and are relatively affordable.
The Device Specifications should be determined in accordance with their intended use. When selecting computers to be used with high-end engineering or graphic design software, for example, larger screens and considerably more memory and processing power should be opted for, while the devices used for word processing and web browsing do not require such powerful characteristics.
There is also the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy option, which allows the students to use their personal devices in the learning process. However, this policy may create additional challenges related to:
 economic disparity (students come from various economic backgrounds),
 instructional burden for teachers in supporting multiple platforms and devices during the learning activities
 assessment security – students’ personal devices may lack the necessary functionality to support a secure testing environment.

 Device maintenance and management
Mobile Device Management (MDM) is a type of security software used by an organisation’s IT department that helps maintain and monitor distributed mobile devices. MDM platforms are used for software installation or updating, for remotely tracking or wiping stolen devices and they can determine the kind of content that can be accessed or installed on the devices. All these operations can be done from a central location rather than having the staff to actually work directly on each and every device, therefore MDM-s are time and money saving.

Warranties and Maintenance
Schools should plan to minimize learning disruptions; therefore, device maintenance and repairs should be quickly and responsibly addressed. These services can be performed by either by school staff or can be externalised to outside contractors. Some schools may also use student support teams in addition to professional technical support.
 Device management
Remote management
Permanent and ongoing management is needed for computing devices, whether that refers to installing software updates, adjusting content filter settings, or modifying system preferences. In order to prevent malware and ensure data protection for students and teachers, the security and privacy settings must be kept up to date. Schools using online assessments may consider the installation of specific software to ensure secure testing environments.
Schools must ensure that both teachers and their students are well aware of the most common cybersecurity threats, such as: phising, spear phising, business e-mail compromise, ransomeware, hacking, but also user’s negligence or lost/stolen mobile devices containing sensitive information.
As certain management tools may collect location information and/or data about how devices are used, schools must inform the students and the families about the remote device management policies in order to eliminate privacy concerns. Also, on internal level, schools must clearly notify their employee with regards to policies and procedures on device monitoring, to prevent potential abuse.

 Remote theft protection
Schools may consider various measures for protection in case of device theft, such as:
 installing tools that can remotely disable or erase devices if these are lost or stolen.
 a sticker could be placed on the bottom of each device, stating that it can be remotely disabled may help in discouraging theft.
 engraving the school name or logo onto the devices, to make it more difficult to re-sell a stolen device. This may give a chance to the lost devices to be returned and may help prevent the loss of confidential data.


Student access
Schools will decide how much control students may have over school-provided devices. One option is locking down devices; that would improve security and make it easier for IT staff to maintain them, but would give students less freedom to personalize devices for their needs.
Schools could use a system of tiered levels of device control policy, in order to may be used to provide more privileges for the students who demonstrate responsible behaviour, while restricting access for others who did not prove such attitude.


 Rollout models
In deploying the devices to students, several approaches can be taken, depending on how suitable that would be to the school. Here are some models:
 Full school – devices are distributed to the entire school at the same time. It needs careful professional development and logistics planning.
 Grade level – devices are distributed to students one grade level at a time.
 Subject area – devices are distributed to a focused discipline or content area.
 Exemplar teacher model – work first with the teachers who volunteer for establishing a program. Subsequently the interested teachers may apply to join the program. This allows for adjustments from lessons learned.
Whichever model the school may choose, it is wise to consider a pilot trial first, to allow for adjustments in due time.

 Responsible use and digital citizenship
 Responsible use
Before granting the students the devices and the access to school network, a written agreement (Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) or a Responsible Use Policy (RUP)) between students, parents and school staff must be concluded and signed, stating the terms of responsible device use and consequences to be faced in case of misuse. This document states the principles of ethical technology use, student’s behaviour and interaction standards and outlines websites or platforms which should not be used while being on campus or using a school-provided device. Students and parents acknowledge and agree to follow the rules and the guidelines.

 Digital citizenship
Digital citizenship is defined as the safe, ethical, responsible, and informed use of technology [according to U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology (2014)]. This definition includes a number of skills and literacies regarding: Internet safety, privacy and security, cyberbullying, online reputation management, communication skills, information literacy and creative credit and copyright. Learning the above listed skills will enable the students to have a decent, responsible behaviour as Internet user and become responsible digital citizens. They must be able to make sound judgements and decisions on the amount of personal information being displayed and used online.

Students privacy and protection
 Student privacy requirements
Schools have the obligation of informing students and parents regarding the type of students’ data which is collected and used. Also, the students and families must be aware of the click-wrap agreements which may imply contractual-type obligations assumed by the user (in this case, the school) in relation with the developer.

 Protection against inappropriate content
Schools must be responsible for students’ protection against inappropriate Internet content when using the provided devices and the school network. This can be done by content filtering. As no technical filtering tool is 100% reliable, teachers must also make use of a long-term strategy, namely teaching students to be responsible internet users. Schools should also liaise with parents for establishing an extend of content filtering while students use the school-provided devices at their homes.

 Dealing with lost or damaged devices
Schools should implement policies regarding the inevitable issue of lost, stolen or damaged devices. Students and parents should be made aware of these policies upon the devices distribution, at the moment of signing the Responsible Use Policy.
The following suggestions may also help in preventing loss, theft or damage:
- customization of the devices,
- password protection,
- adequate transport protective cases or padded bags to prevent accidental damage.
In case of lost or stolen devices, schools should have clear policies implemented and communicated to the students and families. These may be: payment required (in bulk or in instalments), insurance policies (paid by families or by school), self-insurance fee (to cover the repairs and replacements). 

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Evaluation of needs and capacities

When setting up an in-school network, a number of aspects should also be taken into consideration. In order to establish the adequate needs and capacity, the following seven questions could be used in guidance:

1

What is the idea of learning that technology will be supporting? 

Learning objectives should determine the technology implementation and not the other way around. The learning objectives should be established for each particular school by all stakeholders involved: senior school leaders within local educational departments, board members, school administrators, teachers, students, parents, other community leaders.

2

What digital tools will be needed? 

Starting from the existing use of learning technologies in schools, and according to the learning objectives established, the decisions should be made for the additional resources to be added. Certain technologies require a large amount of bandwidth, particularly when used by several students simultaneously. Also, the potential demands of the administrative software, security, web hosting, and other applications should be considered at this stage.

3

What kind of professional learning will teachers and administrators need? 

As educators’ expertise in technology varies a lot, professional learning should be ensured to meet the needs of teachers at all levels. Teachers as well as other school staff must be provided with differentiated professional learning opportunities, to ensure successful and lasting results for digital education process. 

4

How much bandwidth will be needed? 

Schools that manage their own network must have monitoring tools that allow an extensive and accurate bandwidth usage assessment. Also, schools should take the bandwidth demands of online testing into account when developing networks, to ensure the minimum requirements and capacity planning tools. In addition, consider other network applications that may impact available bandwidth, such as security systems. 

5

What would be the needs for the in-school network? 

The first step should be a network assessment, conducted by school technology support teams or a certified consultant, in order to identify mechanical, electrical, and environmental conditions that need to be addressed, such as:
- the location and status of existing network cabling and hardware,
- the number and location of wireless access points already existing in-house,
- physical building characteristics that interfere with wireless signals.
- the number of charging outlets accessible in classrooms for mobile devices.  

6

How many devices are needed and what type should they be? 

After establishing a clear vision of the technology utilization in the learning process, the next step is to establish the type and number of needed devices that will have to be supported by the network, taking into account the student accessibility needs.
Wireless networks should be designed to provide adequate coverage for all devices, including the one self-owned by students and teachers under the BYOD policy.

The school must take an inventory of the types of devices currently owned and in use—desktops, laptops, tablets, and/or smartphones—and check the date when they will reach end of life. A span of 3-5 years is usually taken into consideration for duration of the refresh cycle for devices.
Also, the older devices may have slower processors and/or less powerful Wi-Fi antennas, therefore they might not be fit for use with faster wireless speeds and may need to be either upgraded (if possible) or replaced. The device replacement should also be taken into consideration during the budgeting process. 

7

What resources are available to fund the transition? 

Apart from the government funds which may be more or less generous, schools should take into consideration other options such as local or regional financing/sponsoring opportunities from private enterprises, association and /or collaboration in education-aimed projects with various institutions and NGO’s, EU-financed educational programs, etc.
More and more schools have discovered lately the benefits of using the Open Educational Resources (OER) - also known as openly licensed educational resources - in helping to reduce the costs related to content licensing.
OER are good resources for teaching, learning and research that can be easily found in the public domain or have been released under a license which allows free use, reuse, modification, and sharing with others. OER can provide complete online courses, modular digital textbooks, images, videos, and assessment items. Apart from the financial savings resulting from the elimination of licensing fees, open resources also allow teachers to customize and share their materials with others without violating licensing agreements. 

Conclusions

These days, the students must acquire knowledge and adequate skills to face the challenges of a continuously developing environment throughout their entire lives. They are expected to be able to connect, create, search, use, engage and interact with peers all over the world.

An early digital education is the backbone for all these activities; therefore, schools must ensure that it is achieved by planning and providing infrastructure (internet connectivity and devices) as well as qualified teachers to support the learning process.


By wisely mixing the four elements: vision, infrastructure, professional learning and devices, the schools will be able to offer the students the opportunity to learn and develop.

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Resources

• ‘2nd Survey of Schools: ICT in Education’, a study prepared for the European Commission- DG Communications Networks, Content & Technology by Deloitte and Ipsos Mori in 2019, link here

• U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, Building Technology Infrastructure for Learning Guide, Washington, D.C., 2017, link here


• Assessing your school ICT infrastructure, Department for Education, Gov.uk, Published 3 April 2019, link here.

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Funded by the Erasmus+ Program of the European Union
The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsi­ble for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

 This is an OPEN EDUCATIONAL RESOURCE created by SLIDE team within SLIDE Project. You are free to use, adapt, reproduce and share the work as long as you do not use it commercially and indicate the creator (SLIDE Project Team 2018-1-RO01-KA201-049382). More info HERE.