How schools can use eLearning tech to keep up with Generation Z


It's well known that the Millennial Generation or the so called Generation Y who were born after 1982 are having a profound effect on business and government as they become workers and citizens.

But, what's also becoming apparent is how the children of the Millennials who have never lived without digital technology are going to shake up how our educational systems use technology for teaching and learning. These digital natives, often described as Generation Z, are entering schools and colleges with a digital outlook and set of behaviors that educational institutions need to respond to and harness.

A recent study into the attitudes of this new generation, Generation Z, towards learning revealed that students are more willing to learn online and view the future of education as more virtual and social media driven. When asked what they saw coming next in education, 39 percent of students said that it would be more virtual and 19 percent said that they'll be using social media to engage in the classroom.

However, educational organizations are struggling to keep up with the rapidly changing technology trends and the growing expectations of their digitally savvy students.

One of the key challenges facing the education sector is finding cost effective ways to make technology an integral and innovative part of the school day. The challenge is making digital teaching and learning much more flexible, affordable and easy to manage without adding extra costs to the already strained budgets of schools and universities. The new approach to technology in education should be in widening access to computing in ways that deliver significant improvements in teaching and learning, enabling schools and universities to offer more student-centric teaching.

Incorporating IT into the classroom holds multiple advantages. A major one is that it helps provide students with the confidence and skills needed to use technology later in life and increases their employability. Moreover, digital technology enables teachers to innovate with school curricula and discover new ways to engage with students.

For example, technology enables better collaboration between teachers and students by enabling them to introduce game-like multimedia applications and use collaborative portals and mobile apps for project management.

Another key advantage is that it can enable customised curricula tailored to a student's learning abilities and better tracking and assessment of students' performance. As learners participate in online activities, they generate a lot of data that can be used to personalise the learning experience and improve student performance management.

Further advantages include providing a diverse learning environment that can help engage students with interactive activities and make it easier to access helpful resources that can support the learning experience.

For many schools, however, the cost of implementing and then maintaining an IT infrastructure is too high. Traditional PCs and IT management tools have proven to be expensive and difficult to manage and deploy, resulting in increased spending on hardware and maintenance.

Luckily, there is an alternative, called session virtualization, which is a type of desktop virtualization and requires much lower investment in IT hardware, deployment and management than traditional PCs.

Session virtualization technologies such as NComputing vSpace, for example, allow organizations to run one standard version of an operating system which can be accessed by multiple users through a central server. A standardized desktop, as well as a set of applications, can also be applied across different departments of the educational institution, offering a simple to manage, affordable solution which still delivers great performance. Desktop virtualization allows IT staff to remotely upgrade and manage thin client devices from a single interface, reducing maintenance costs by up to 75 percent and allowing IT to move from problem resolution tasks to developing more interesting curricula.

Moreover, as session virtualization software runs on thin clients that generate very little heat and noise and consume very minimal levels of electrical power, IT staff can provide a much more comfortable teaching environment to teachers and students. Another great advantage is that thin clients have much longer life expectancy than traditional hardware and are powerful enough to run rich multimedia applications at up to a third of the cost of traditional PCs and laptops. Multimedia use in teaching is a growing phenomenon but running multimedia applications on old PCs often results in slow systems performance and poor user experience. Thin clients are a good alternative to these challenges as they deliver excellent performance.

Virtualizing digital classroom infrastructure also makes the school or college more adaptable to Generation Z students who are likely to bring their own devices (BYOD) into the classroom. A BYOD strategy can extend e-learning to outside of the classroom and campus, especially when it is combined with new collaborative teaching apps. These leverage a wide range of digital tools such as chat and Web-enhanced lectures to extend learning beyond the classroom and provide students with the skills required to succeed with technology.

The good news is that the education sector is already exploring how it can use virtual desktop strategies to widen access to IT for students and teachers. The ability to centralize e-learning systems management and delivery is making digital classrooms affordable and therefore feasible for educational organizations of all sizes worldwide. To date over 30,000 schools across 140 countries have already discovered the benefits of powerful, affordable and easy to manage virtual desktop solutions in classrooms, computer labs and libraries and this number is continuing to grow.

What's extremely exciting is that education is able to keep pace with the wave of digitally savvy Millennial generation children entering education systems not only in the Western economies but also in emerging markets in Africa and Asia. Many NComputing customers across the world are reaping the benefits from desktop virtualization. For instance, AfricAid, a non-profit organization that supports girls' education in Africa, saved thousands of pounds on building new computer labs in Tanzanian schools to improve access to education for girls. Another charity organisation, Computer Aid International, used desktop virtualization technology to build solar cyber cafes in Africa where rural Zambian students can get Internet access to support their education.

An increasing number of educational institutions in Europe are also embracing desktop virtualization to provide more students with access to eLearning. Colyton Primary School in England, for example, managed to widen access to eLearning and halve IT costs by adopting thin client solutions from NComputing instead of traditional PCs. Similarly, Feliks Szołdrski Junior High School and Rev. Jan Twardowski primary schools in Poland provided students with easy access to multimedia and teaching applications with the help of desktop virtualization technology.

The students of the University of Pisa in Italy and the German town Lunen are also experiencing the benefits of desktop virtualization technology to access eLearning tools and multimedia applications that are better suited to their requirements than PCs.

As technology advances, the ability to provide more collaborative, inclusive and effective education creates great opportunities for educators and technology suppliers to improve the quality of education. This is a great opportunity that shouldn't be missed and technology should play a key role in enabling the next generating of eLearning for the new Millennial generation.

Jochen Polster is vice president of marketing for the EMEA region at NComputing, a producer of desktop virtualisation solutions. 

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