Power Up Your Spaces by Eric Sheninger

Power Up Your Spaces
Times are a changing in case you haven’t noticed. We have seen disruptive innovation across so many different sectors of society.  If you were to go back in time and pinpoint when disruption began to take off, I would wager that it correlates with the proliferation of the smartphone. Pause a second and think about companies such as Uber and Airbnb.  Had it not been for the smartphone their innovative apps might never have come to fruition or experienced immense scalability as they have. Where would many of us be without these or similar apps today?

Now we know that across the world adults have pretty much embraced the smartphone. Some would even go as far to say it has become an additional appendage of many. Statistapredicts that approximately five billion people will use a smartphone by 2019. Imagine what this number will be in years to come.  With all of this predicted usage, I was curious to know how many of our learners owned a smartphone. Well, I did find some stats for kids in the United States and am willing to bet that other developing countries have similar numbers.  The site eMarketer found that 41% of students ages 0-11 and 84% ages 12-17 owned a smartphone in 2016.  These numbers are predicted to increase to 49.7% and 92.9% respectively by 2020. Before we know it almost everyone that wants a smartphone across the globe will have one.

The increase in smartphone ownership is a good indicator as to where many schools are headed.  Over the years we have seen more embracement of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and 1:1 device rollouts.  Cost and ease of access will only lead to more schools and districts going down this path. The USDOE’s Office of Educational Technology places emphasis on students and educators having access to a robust and comprehensive infrastructure when and where they need it for learning.  The National EdTech Plan goes on to state the following:
Preparing students to be successful for the future requires a robust and flexible learning infrastructure capable of supporting new types of engagement and providing ubiquitous access to the technology tools that allow students to create, design, and explore. The essential components of an infrastructure capable of supporting transformational learning experiences include the following: 
Ubiquitous connectivity. Persistent access to high-speed Internet in and out of school. 
Powerful learning devices. Access to mobile devices that connect learners and educators to the vast resources of the Internet and facilitate communication and collaboration. 
High-quality digital learning content. Digital learning content and tools that can be used to design and deliver engaging and relevant learning experiences. 
Responsible Use Policies (RUPs). Guidelines to safeguard students and ensure that the infrastructure is used to support learning.

Now don’t get me wrong, all of the above are great.  However, there is one crucial aspect that needs to be considered. A focus on logistics must complement the pursuit of a more enriched and challenging learning experience for students in the digital age, which Tom Murray and I lay out in Learning Transformed.   In laymen’s terms, this means having enough power to support all of the connected devices.  I know it’s not flashy, aligned to research, or even directly connected to pedagogy….but it is a necessity if the goal is to support learning. 

To begin, consider conducting an audit consisting of walk-throughs with IT, maintenance staff, teacher leaders, and administrators to determine where there are areas of opportunity. Many outlet additions can be completed over summer and holiday breaks.  Polling students to gain their insight is a good move as well.  The next step is to determine if there are excess funds in the budget (there is almost always money to spend at the end of the year) to make changes immediately.  If not, then this should be worked into the budget for the following year.  Below are some practical suggestions to power up your school.


 

  • Transform blocks of hallway lockers into charging bars. During a coaching visit to the Downingtown Area School District, I saw how Lionville Middle School has begun to transition some of their obsolete locker spaces into charging bars (pictures above). Many lockers go unused as our digital learners don't find a need for them so converting them seems like wise decision. 
  • Overhaul old typing rooms and computer labs. If your middle or high school building isn’t relatively new, then the chances are that there were at least one typing room and numerous computer labs. These rooms had numerous outlets throughout to power devices so a little innovative design can transform these spaces into power hubs. 
  • Purchase furniture and accessories that have built-in electrical outlets. This strategy seems like a no-brainer when schools are looking to refurbish libraries and comfortable furniture for common areas. Check out Steelcase for an array of ideas and solutions specific to education. 
  • Replace standard outlets with multi-functional USB combos – When assessing power needs through an audit, count the number of outlets in classrooms, hallways, and common spaces. You can then purchase and replace those outlets with dual USB tamper-resistant models, which will essentially double the available power in any room or space.  
  • Invest in school branded charging stations – As the principal, I invested in a few of these mobile stations from a company called Kwikboost and placed them in common areas throughout the building (picture below).  One of the benefits was that each station already came with every type of charging cable pre-installed.  During events like concerts, plays, and art shows these devices can easily be temporarily placed in these spaces to meet the power needs of stakeholders visiting the school while showing off some school pride in the process. 

When more devices, whether school or student-owned, are integrated to support learning an infrastructure must be in place to support the need for power.  What unique ideas and strategies have you seen that you would add to the list above? 

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