This week my school got serious about finding a way to store, use and connect information generated by and for our students. We’re looking into several School Management Systems (also variously known as Information Management Systems, Student Management Systems, with additions such as Learning Management Systems and so on).

The solution, I think, is to find a product that covers as many areas of daily school life and information sharing as possible so that everyone at the school can access the information they need at the right time and in a secure way.

Currently, most SMSs are modulated (and you can purchase individual modules without having to purchase the whole package) but several services are now integrating everything from pre-enrolment through the students’ academic, pastoral and cocurricular life, through to alumni activities. Though it does lock a school into only having one product, it seems like a sensible solution rather than the horror stories I have heard where schools need to wait for one package to talk to another package which finally feeds information through to where teachers, students and parents actually need it.

My focus is on the teacher/user-end experience. The software can’t be too convoluted so that simple tasks become complex, such as marking the roll online. Easy access to key areas such as daily notices, student information profiles and online learning management areas are key from my perspective.

The thing is, a lot of the learning management can now be done using free or open source software that stores information up in the Cloud. Many subscription services now offer this option too. What implications does this have for a school? The question clamouring in my mind over all the others is: should the school simply provide stable, fast and endless wireless internet access?

Logically then, should all the software/hardware choices be put back on teachers and students to solve in their own contexts?

This is more then BYOD – this is BYOL: Bring your own Learning.

The tension between what is possible and the demands of the every day are clear to anyone currently teaching in an Australian school. Here are some dichotomies to consider:

  • Student owned and supported devices or school-managed devices?
  • Packaged, static software platforms or open source/flexible DIY solutions?
  • Hyper-controlling security structures or open, ethics-based policies?
  • Cloud-based information storage or on-site storage?

Who would have thought that teachers would need to consider these issues ten years ago?

You see the big idea bugging me at the moment is: if MOST parents of MOST students in MOST schools are already buying extra devices for their kids – be they tablets or laptops or smartphones – and they are able to purchase the latest and greatest, how can a school possibly hope to accommodate that rate of change and diversity?

I’m starting to think we can’t. Yes, every child needs to have access to some kind of device on a consistent basis but where does my school fit in to that issue? One-size-fits-all just doesn’t seem to work anymore. School communities need to decide what solution works for them and their students, not based on what kind of funding they get but based on what kind of education they want to be known to provide.