The business of learning

Tuesday 16 October 2012 12.23
Classrooms begging for more technology integration
Classrooms begging for more technology integration

If there is a more frustrating topic to write about in technology than the education system I have yet to find it. For all the acceptance that the system needs to change there is outcry over training; recognition of the need for improved standards in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is met with funding dead ends; and integration of new technology in the classroom and virtual learning environments like Moodle hasn't been followed by State policy on how to manage them.

We have a system that knows what all the problems are but is stymied by Troika-imposed austerity, organisational inertia and, often, a lack of commitment from educators to anything beyond 'chalk and talk'. If I were to copy and paste an article from pre-crash times on the subject, I wouldn't have to alter it much to articulate the problems.

If the problems are the same at least we're starting to see a few new solutions from the voluntary and commercial sectors. For the former, CoderDojo has become a global phenomenon, introducing thousands of young people to programming and potentially plugging the IT skills gap affecting the country and leaving thousands of jobs vacant in the sector.

From the private sector schemes like Microsoft's School of the Future in the early 2000s have been replaced by initiatives from Steljes, Intel, The Educational Company of Ireland; Apple; and Samsung to introduce e-readers and tablets into the classroom with a view to generating long-term commercial relationships.

In the middle is the not-for-profit sector, saddled with running and development costs without a commercial ethos or much Government backing. The NCTE, in particular, has been badly hit by cuts, but that's not to say the projects it once endorsed have vanished.

One heartening example is MissionV, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes the use of digital tools in the classroom. After running in 20 schools in its first year, MissionV looked set to expand its reach across the country until the NCTE withdrew funding after an internal reorganisation. Undaunted, MissionV founders James Corbett and Margaret Keane have taken the novel route of campaigning through crowdfunding website Fund it, with a target of raising €29,000 over the next six weeks.

Usually a resource for art and media projects, Fund it's technology category makes for modest reading compared with the many success stories it cites in music and theatre - MissionV has already raised nearly €7,000 purely off the back of individual donations. A successful campaign should see MissionV software make an appearance in 38 schools, starting in November and running until next June.

The key to the Fund it formula (familiar to followers of the similar Kickstarter in the US) is a user-defined incentive programme that sees donors get 'rewards' for certain levels of contribution. A €10 donation to MissionV yields a mention on its Facebook and Twitter pages; €600 gets branding on plaques and certificates presented to schools at the end of term; and a contribution of €11,000 or more gives title sponsorship for the entire year.

Using incentivised donations and crowdfunding could prove a successful way of making donors feel part of a project, owning a little bit of its success. It's an unproven model as far as education goes but MissionV could break new ground in educational software and its funding. If it works we could be looking into an end to quiz nights and bake sales; that may be no bad thing for stressed parents.

Niall Kitson is editor of TechCentral.ie