Making a Big Difference On a Small ICT Budget

By Gareth Shaw, ICT Strategy Leader, Ballyclare High School

Small but effective changes can encourage more innovation and creativity in the classroom for measurable results.

Technology in the classroom changes every year, often significantly. But schools struggle to get funding to implement large-scale information and communications technology (ICT) projects that promise to make a big difference in students’ lives.

At Ballyclare High School, we realise that ICT is vital to modern teaching and learning. We didn’t want our students to be left behind because our budget couldn’t keep up with requirements, so we devised a series of solutions focusing on small but effective changes with measurable results.

Challenge

How Can We Access the Best Educational Technology on a Tight Budget?

Technology in the classroom changes every year. When we look back over the last 10 years, the role of IT in the classroom has shifted dramatically. It can be as simple as going from analogue to interactive whiteboards. Or, if you go back 20 years, the evolution of moving from acetates to laptops when using overhead projectors. As each year passes, the rate of change accelerates.

Educators that succeed in this environment are those that embrace change. Those that don’t are left behind. However, just when schools’ ICT needs are increasing, their overall budgets are being cut. The natural reaction for schools is to make cuts across IT. But doing this is a false economy, because in the long-term it will affect attainment results.

At Ballyclare High School we’ve worked hard to innovate our classroom methods to help address this challenge

Solution

Small Budgets Used Creatively Can Be More Effective Than Big Budgets

While the occasional large-scale project will get a lot of press, research suggests that big budgets don’t deliver as much as micro projects do. Big budgets tend to put pressure on teachers to deliver big results.

At Ballyclare High School, we’ve developed a set of smaller, measurable strategies that improve student attainment with sustainable budgets.

Kinaesthetic Learning

As a geography teacher, I’ve found that making something with your hands beats book, pencil, and pen. Tactile activities enable learning and help students retain the knowledge they gain, yet they cost very little.

In geography, that could mean looking at the Earth’s structure online and the continents on Google Earth, and using those guidelines to make a model of the Earth with polystyrene craft globes that you can cut in half. We put modelling clay in the middle, shape it, and check against Google Earth to make sure it lines up. This way, we create an engaging, memorable lesson for the price of only a couple of craft globes.

Green Scheme

A green scheme is an excellent way to connect to the local business community, increase your green credentials, and get some free equipment.

We started a green scheme at Ballyclare High School to encourage parents and the wider community to consider the environment in the way they upgrade their computer equipment. We asked them to donate the devices they no longer use to the school so we can re-purpose them.

We generally have one device per seven to eight students. Our green scheme has increased the devices in the school to one device—connected to the cloud—for every three students. This means students get more access to IT in the library and IT hubs that we’ve created throughout the school. We can now provide much more technology, and the only cost is our time.

For example, this past weekend, we received servers worth £15,000 from a company that was going to throw them away, but it saw our green scheme advertisement that said: “Give us a call and we’ll come around and look at any equipment you’d like to get rid of.”

Micro Grant Scheme
A micro grant scheme for teachers is another excellent way to make a big change with a small amount of money. I’ve noticed over the years that if every teacher could add 1 percent to their payroll, they give back 10 percent. We realised that if we applied this philosophy to equipment for the classroom we could get significant value from minimal expenditure.

We started our fund with a grant from a retired teacher who was very innovative in his own time and wanted to leave a legacy. Each term, teachers present their ideas to win a £75 grant. We look for creative ideas that can result in a measurable impact in the classroom. Those who receive the grant report back after six months, explaining what they did and what impact it had on their students.

This grant is intentionally small because big grants often make people think they have to do something massive. So far, these grants have paid for equipment such as green screen technology, devices to support those with dyslexia, Google Cardboard virtual reality devices, and 360-degree cameras. It’s all equipment you can buy for less than £100, but it’s made a huge difference in the classroom.

Impact

Blended Learning Makes the Most of Technology
By blending technology with traditional classroom methods and more tactile methods such as kinaesthetic learning, multiple learning styles can be accommodated in a single lesson.

Green Scheme Mobilises Community
Neighbouring businesses get the opportunity to dispose of their IT equipment in an environmentally friendly way, while helping the school. We have significantly increased our computer-to-student ratio this way.

Micro Grants Empower Teachers
By giving teachers an opportunity to apply for funds to try out ideas, they become motivated to get the greatest use out of it. They feel empowered in an atmosphere that encourages innovation.

Careful and Frequent Monitoring Measures the Effect of Technology on Education
What sets Ballyclare High School apart is that we have a long history of effective use of ICT in the classroom. We’ve assessed the impact it has had over the last 15 years, so we’re able to see if what we do is effective. Because we have this historical data, it’s easy for me to predict what the impact will be of a spending cut in a certain area.

If your school hasn’t been measuring the impact of IT on attainment, engagement, staff—everything, really—I strongly recommend that you start immediately. It can be time consuming, but it’s one of the only ways to ensure you spend your IT budget wisely.

Intel® Education Visionary

Where to Get More Information

For help finding the solution that’s right for your school, visit: intel.co.uk/education