A major challenge, or a browser tab away?
GUEST COLUMN | by Ilan Paretsky
For a while now, advancements and innovation in education technology, or edtech, have targeted many areas – such as learning and training software, student testing and grading systems, third-party educational applications and content, portals, school security, learning management and other solutions to enhance the classroom experience. And the field has certainly come a long way – so far, in fact, that technology companies are now focusing heavily on enabling users to take advantage of mobility, BYOD and other 1-to-1 initiatives while allowing existing IT infrastructure and staff to meet the challenges involved.
Providing better mobile access to complex software and networks is one of many keys that will help unlock the education technology puzzle.
Over the years, K-12 schools all around the country have gotten off desktops and onto laptops. That transition is complete. In 2014, it’s now about getting off traditional laptops and onto web-based systems and mobile devices such as Google Chromebooks, iPads, Android phones and tablets, etc. This shift is not only about serving the interests of convenience, BYOD, flexible teaching and student collaboration. Going mobile has been saving, and will continue to save K-12 schools hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not millions), and perhaps more importantly – countless hours that should be better spent doing what schools do best – teaching our children.
The challenge for K-12 schools going forward is figuring out how to “merge” IT systems, networks and software, which have traditionally been designed and built for desktop computers and laptops, with contemporary web-based mobile environments underpinned by connected devices such as tablets and smartphones. And although this is a challenge, it is also a huge opportunity.
Regarding edtech innovation, there is no “wrong thing,” because technology companies that participate in education are all part of this great team effort to improve the experience for students and teachers everywhere. Crowdsourcing and gamification, content aggregation, and a bevy of apps for students, tutors and parents all serve specific needs. However, more value can be realized in the near-term by focusing on optimizing existing technologies and programs that not only take advantage of mobility but more importantly extend the ROI of existing systems. Is it more important to keep coming up with novel educational tech concepts that teachers don’t necessarily need, or to get better at moving existing systems onto the right platforms?
This is one of the crossroads at which the industry currently stands. Moving forward, tech companies that are involved in the education space should place an equal amount of focus on adaptation as they do on innovation. And adapting desktop-based solutions to mobile devices is not necessarily only about creating mobile-friendly versions of apps and websites. Going deeper, it’s about making existing IT infrastructure and learning environments accessible and device-agnostic, extending the boundaries of the classroom for teachers, students, parents and administrators.
Furthermore, technology companies should be more aware of what schools are being asked to spend money on in the coming years. For example, school districts around the country are increasingly using grant money and public funding to focus on things like data center upgrades to support 1-to-1 and BYOD initiatives, state testing and assessment requirements for mobile and remote access for inclement weather days. Teachers can already do a lot of this – however, the difference now is that remote access must move away from just our home PCs and laptops, and into the browsers of tablets, smartphones and Chromebooks.
A lot of the innovation happening in edtech today continues to focus on new ways to learn and teach. But realistically, the focus should now move toward optimizing the complex IT infrastructures of K-12 school districts and their immediate needs. After all, with only so many months in the school year, the one resource that teachers and administrators cannot get back is time – and that’s what browser-based access provides. It’s all about making software easy to access, making it brutally easy for the end user – our teachers, administrators, students and parents – without requiring IT to install or manage anything at the endpoint. Utilizing HTML5 technology, which is supported by all popular browsers, access to Windows desktops and applications is easy and many K-12 schools are realizing the benefits.
There are a ton of statistics out there that demonstrate the recent groundbreaking rise of mobile devices in K-12 education. This isn’t about that.
My point is simply in regard to how schools and technology companies are going to take advantage of the intrinsic benefits that Chromebooks, tablets, smartphones and other connected devices offer when coupled with existing IT investments and merging them with new application paradigms. Beyond merging access to traditional Windows education software with newer web-based applications, I believe that providing better mobile access to complex software and networks is one of many keys that will help unlock the education technology puzzle.
Ilan Paretsky is VP of marketing for Ericom Software Inc., a leading global provider of application, access, virtualization and RDP acceleration solutions. The company works with a broad range of K-12 schools and in higher education to deliver browser-based access to Windows desktops and applications.