Concordia International School Hanoi is a small school with 250 students but we are growing all the time. One of the most unique aspects of the school is that we operate almost exclusively in the cloud! We began our work on this project a few years ago with 3 key principles in mind;
- It would be essential to have a robust wifi infrastructure
- We would have a 1:1 program for grades 6-12 and 1:2 program in the elementary school
- We would develop a curriculum model based around blended learning.
The school technology infrastructure consists of access points going through a switch and router to the internet with all of our administrative databases and learning support systems hosted in the cloud.
The Student Information System, Focus, is in Dallas, the library system from Follett is in Chicago, the web site is in Denver, the Curriculum Management System (Atlas Rubicon) in Portland and Google is everywhere. Due to Vietnamese legal requirements we use a separate local database for our financial system but given free choice we would use Online Quickbooks which we already use for budgeting. Educational systems from Pearson and HMH are less robust, but sites like youtube, Khan Academy, IXL, Spelling City, Raz-Kids, etc, etc. are fine.
There are challenges with this approach that we face in a developing nation such as Vietnam which would not be the case in more developed economies such a Hong Kong or Singapore. For instance, last year we had several weeks where the global cable was cut between Vietnam and Hong Kong. Our internet provider did rerouting to keep us going, but it was very slow going at home. Schools are 24/7 users of internet and internet access speeds at home are just as important as the school speeds.
From a cost point of view, the major item is Wifi bandwidth for our cloud-based infrastructure but on the other hand we have no dedicated IT staff and no servers to maintain. IT emergency support is outsourced to the local vendors.
Over the years the system has developed, but follows the same 3 principles. The wifi infrastructure is now 802.11ac. It is a dramatic change and I recommend it to everyone. It requires faster switches (1 GB min) but all in all, this is not that expensive for the gain in benefits. We are constructing our permanent campus this year and will install this same infrastructure at the new location.
Families buy what they want and we support families using what they are comfortable with or can afford. This means that in a classroom you might have a Samsung ultrabook, a MacAir and a Chromebook next to each other. In the classroom you very seldom notice any difference.
We decided to go with a BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop) program 3 years ago. This means any computer from any company or operating system can be used, but it must have a keyboard. It can’t be a tablet or a phone. My only push is for all-day battery power. Dad’s 3 year old hand-me-down just doesn’t work in schools. Families buy what they want and we support families using what they are comfortable with or can afford. This means that in a classroom you might have a Samsung ultrabook, a MacAir and a Chromebook next to each other. In the classroom you very seldom notice any difference. Students and families take care for all repairs and OS issues. Teachers are not involved with the machines, although students help each other and I consult regularly. This is our third year of this policy and I’ve haven’t had one complaint from students or families. Our policy is really just a few pages long. I help out trouble shooting and have some old machines as emergency loans, but I only need a few for 150 kids and all faculty. When they login to a loaner, all their tabs and data instantly are available. They don’t miss a step.
Last year we extended this policy to faculty as well. Each faculty member receives an annual stipend towards technology which over three years is enough to purchase a professional computer. The Macs are still favorites but we have various versions of Macs as well as PCs. Multimedia publishing is the only reason we don’t recommend Chromebooks for faculty. The online programs are still quirky and slow.
Creating a Blended Learning Curriculum remains a challenge. It is easy to say that everything we teach is available right now, online, and for free. Yet the curation, organization and presentation of curriculum is a massive endeavor usually accomplished in the past by textbook publishers and creative teachers.
All the above is only possible if you assume Google Apps for Education as your major software infrastructure. We do not require any software to be purchased. Google Classroom is used extensively by our upper grade teachers.
Our admin continues to find new and efficient ways to manage the school using Google Apps with all meetings, docs, timelines, calendars, and even our accreditation files using Google Apps. Google forms gather all sorts of information from students, faculty and families. Collaboration is evident everywhere!
One of the challenges is organizing the folders and permissions to manage the tension between access, collaboration and privacy. We are not there yet, but have made significant progress. We have created “position” accounts (i.e. principal) so that changing administrative staff and employees can be done with all data intact. Paper documents are limited. We have two high volume black and white laser printers for the school. They are mostly used for classroom materials.
I see the importance of face-to-face learning even if most of the material and projects are digital.
Creating a Blended Learning Curriculum remains a challenge. It is easy to say that everything we teach is available right now, online, and for free. Yet the curation, organization and presentation of curriculum is a massive endeavor usually accomplished in the past by textbook publishers and creative teachers. Our school uses extensive online resources, but is at the beginning of the journey towards the ideal personalized learning pathway envisaged by Blended Learning proponents.
We would like students to become independent learners, but still achieve skill levels with recognized United States standards of education. i.e. Common Core. Having tried various options, I see the importance of face-to-face learning even if most of the material and projects are digital. We talk about teachers as mentors and coaches, but what does that mean for academic subjects? We could learn much from our colleagues in PE and the Fine Arts. This is an important area that would benefit from global conversation and collaboration. I’m wondering how Google could help catalyze this process?
One of our goals at Concordia is replicability. Everything we do should be affordable and doable at schools anywhere in the world. I’m glad to share our experiences with those who want to continue on this journey.
Disclaimer: Ideas and opinions in the blog posts are the work of the author and do not necessarily reflect the ideas or beliefs of 21CLI.