A Claires Court digital life March 2013

        A Claires Court digital life March 2013

Claires Court has been using the current availability of machines ever since the modern era of computing in schools arrived.  That’s not to say, anything other than, currently we are using PCs and Macs and iPads and ‘Droids and netbooks and ‘phones and stuff.  The clever bit is that we do (and have done) stuff like networking, remote desktop, intranet & extranet, thin-client, wi-fi and ‘cloud’ as and when they have been available/affordable.  We went www.clairescourt.com etc. earlier than most. Look back in the go-to lists of Sinclair and co, and someone at Claires Court was rootling around, pioneering with the good guys. Check out the Ridgeway weblog history, and little boys were blogging and sharing their work before Facebook was founded. That’s a good thing, by the way. Bob Barker, past pupil and founder/proprietor of Shinytastic, designs and guides our webthinking, though we can’t/don’t afford all he thinks we should do.  We are mail@clairescourt.com, facebook @twitter etc. We sweep the air-waves  to protect our reputation. As Moore’s law would predict, we are having to double our efforts every two years to keep ourselves up with the game.  Frankly, it feels rather more rapid than that, just now.What we know about what works
Investors in Dot.Com ‘answers’ have sought the Silver bullet every since when. Sadly such a final solution does not exist.  As a business that has seen a few busts in our time, this is what we know about choices in terms of what works and what does not, in Education:

  • there is no single technical answer fits the bill.  The technology moves faster than the researchers can work to check effectiveness.  As educators, it seems we are fuelled more by anecdote than evidence.  Swivel headed Teachers and Bursars see the latest technological gadget on a foreign field (Digital scoreboard, Facebook posting or random email) and the ‘thought’ becomes the ‘need’ overnight. Principals think a little about knee-jerk-purchases – we don’t want to see costs impacting upon tuition fees unduly.
  • there’s a wealth of literature out there, and now above all, bands of educators across the globe who (despite corporate support) remain fiercely proud of being independent advocates of what actually works in schools.  Adobe, Apple, Google and Microsoft all have ‘fans’ but most fans are multi-platform and grounded in the reality of budget, longevity and transferability of advice and solutions.
  • “Everyone wants to offer proprietary software that will lock education into their system and that just isn’t going to happen,” said Prof Stephen Heppell, a digital education expert at Bournemouth University (BBC website 6 March 2013.
  • “The rhetoric in schools now is about bringing your own device. If you have a child with a cutting-edge iPad why say, ‘You can’t bring that, you have to use this under-powered device we provide’?
  • Research by Professor Heppell and others indicates that there is no need to provide one device for every pupil.
  • Schools need to provide as reliable a digital ecosystem in which appropriate knowledge and research can take place as they have previously done in their Libraries.
  • Parents need information and advice as to what works and what they need to do to protect and support their children.
  • Expect us to accept our responsibilities in terms of managing children; we can’t adopt the ‘anything goes’ policy.

Google Apps for Education (GAFE)
Prior to adopting this free-to-education and charity sector set of tools, Claires Court asked and worked with national and international publishing and software companies to source a suitable solution for a school that reaches from 3 to 18.  A third-party technology company (c-learning) introduced our work to Google.uk, Google employees met with our pupils, and were deeply impressed by the honesty and skills of those pupils and teachers involved.
Google accepted our proposition that:

  • teachers need training in the use of new softwares and this training needs to be allied to their educational value
  • children and adults need ‘gateway’ ideas that lead them to the tools and services that are available – from which we developed the clairescourt.net website that points to these resources – we call this the ‘Hub’
  • schools need independent advice from practitioners across the globe about what works.

Supported and quality assured by Google, C-Learning and Claires Court started to provide from July 2011  schools like us with a series of training events, newsletters, conferences and personal visits to use Google Apps for Education.  

GAFE provides within our walled garden of clairescourt.net (we call the ‘Hub’) amongst others the following Apps and tools for editing – at no cost to tuition fees

  • Chrome browser
  • google search
  • gmail and video conferencing – 25GB
  • websites
  • calendars
  • Drive – 5GB on which we can find…
  • docs
  • slides
  • sheets
  • books
  • forms
  • maps
  • pictures
  • videos
  • contacts and groups
  • programming
  • Google play and their entire suite of third party apps and extensions


Loads of examples of our work from lower juniors to top seniors are created every day
BFG’s dream cloud Biology Revision Making the Learning Essentials visible

32 ways to use Why not to prescribe the
Google Apps in the classroom hardware

18 months since Going Google
Claires Court has 200 staff, 900 children (Year 1, Nursery and reception not involved), with all departments using every day these resources.

  • We have established reliable wi-fi across the school sites
  • We have over 400 laptop devices to support teaching and learning, plus 200+ static networked workstations
  • Staff, boys and girls can bring any device, yet no-one needs to
  • We use PCs, Laptops, Netbooks, Thin Clients, Chromebooks, iPads/iPods, Slates and ‘phones to connect to the ‘Hub’ and ‘Drive’
  • Our pupils can access their work and the ‘Hub’ any time, any where, on anything.
  • Teachers and pupils can interact so much more effectively, that both speak about this with enthusiasm and knowledge
  • Supporting children on ‘sick-leave’ could not be more effective, using the ‘Hub’.
  • Schools, colleges, inspectorates, other professionals and even Google themselves visit frequently to learn more about what our children can do in the ‘Cloud’
  • For two years’ running, Claires Court teachers and pupils have been invited to speak from the Google stand at Bett – here we are in 2013 – http://schl.cc/5

We still use

  • Microsoft windows, office, tools and networking for our backbone
  • Apple Macs, iPads, iTunes and other goods in our classrooms and media suites
  • Adobe and many other proprietary softwares to improve our productivity
  • initiative and common sense to ensure that 50% of what we do has no technology involvement whatsoever – we can more than just survive should the ‘lights’ go out.

Why did Claires Court Go Google rather than Go iPad
Loads of schools have decided that children should provide the hardware to use in classrooms – at the cost to families rather than schools. The device of choice seems to be the iPad – cost to family above £300 per device.  Claires Court has chosen not to go this way, but have defined a software solution that works on all devices with an internet browser.

  • We have provided a ‘Cloud’ based solution for teachers and pupils to use, all the tools available without a need for downloads, parents account signature and potential theft issues, such as loss of device or data resident on the device
  • Our solution is device/hardware independent, will upgrade without costs, can be maintained without access to the devices concerned and as a result is future proof (as far as these things can be).
  • Our walled garden is just that – some 10 terabytes of ‘Claires Court’ stored on a safe-harbour server.  We have full sight of our pupils and staff, their work and interactions.  As education evidence makes clear, children do better when collaborating together rather than on individual one-to-one machines.
  • Looking at any workstation at school, at work or at home – technology sits amongst all the other stuff we need to use – it has not replaced books, paper, print, phone or people – just one screen amongst many through which the individual can make suitable response to the challenges made.
  • The fact that technology makes creating films easier than ever does not mean that the learner is now doing cleverer things.  Writing a 500 word accurately spelled answer in black ink in an exam is still required to pass – and this still needs much practice!

Gone Google, what next?
The technology is becoming invisible the more it is used here, by adults and children. Progammed learning through paper textbooks may disappear, but paper-based books from the Library and Departmental archives will still have their part to play.  

and so much more.  The question we will continue to ask is – ‘Are we doing the same thing using more expensive technology or are we gaining a new understanding and ways of working?’  If it is the latter, then we are moving learning in the right direction.

A cautionary tale
New opportunities arise every year in this brave new world.  Social media such as Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest all have made a niche for instant messaging, be that with text, pictures or projects. Devices such as iPad, Nexus, Wii and Blackberry all find ways of asking parents to sign up for services for their children to use.

  • Children in Year 8 or below are not permitted to be signatories for social media, such as Facebook and Instagram.  If parents sign them up, then parents should monitor closely.  Caveat emptor!  For GAFE, the school signs as the consenting adult for the children and supervises their usage.
  • Google+ is a service for 13+.  If users are found to contravene this condition, Google shuts their account down.  Permanently. Even this google centre can’t get them back readily.
  • iPad and phone app accounts often come with charges and conditions – this iPad problem from last week – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-21629210
  • Every part of the ‘Cloud’ needs filtering at home – not just the PC.  For example Twitter legal conditions require 18+ consent and monitoring – because  Twitter streams can be full of obscene pictures and movies – straight to the iPad or phone.

Our next Parents evening across Claires Court, to explore further our computing work within our classrooms is to take place in the first half of the Summer term – date tba.  Pupils, Google mentors, teachers and industry experts will be on hand to support parents in their understanding of what’s hot and what’s not in a ‘digital life’

James Wilding


About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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