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Expert View by Alexander Schmieden: “The digital school of the future does not end with the procurement and management of technology and infrastructure”

ownCloud has a long history in supporting educational and research institutions. The digital school is one of today's greatest challenges.

By ownCloud

Digital School
Alexander Schmieden

Alexander Schmieden

Alexander Schmieden, the founder and managing director of JUST ASK! GmbH is the initiator of the educational initiative BildungsRebell and teaches at the Technical University of Munich on the topic of “Digitization in Professional Education”. His vocation is to prepare our students for an increasingly digital world of life and work. As program manager of the educational programs “Intel® Skills for Innovation” and “Intel® AI For Youth”, he supports educators in preparing themselves in the best possible way for the future, which requires completely new competencies, mindsets and skillsets from all of us.

ownCloud: Keyword “digital school”: where are the greatest opportunities for students?

Schmieden: Technology has already found its way into almost every occupational field. The spectrum ranges from increasing robotics in the manufacturing industry to the use of time-saving AI in the office to smart technical helpers in crafts and gastronomy. And all of this requires technical skills and also opens up more space for us humans to engage in abstract thinking, for example – such as analyzing, assessing and developing new innovations. At the same time, our living and working worlds are becoming increasingly connected. This rapid development is both a challenge and an opportunity, and it will continue to accelerate.

We are only at the beginning of a comprehensive transformation here. It is our duty to prepare our students as early as possible for life and work in this increasingly digital world. And that’s why it’s only logical that technology should be treated as an integral part of daily lessons at school – regardless of the subject. In exactly the same way as it sets the standard in the professional world. In this sense, the intensive exchange with today’s and tomorrow’s world of life and work is also becoming increasingly important at school. It is essential that we now quickly put the focus on related competencies, ways of thinking and technical skills, and bring curiosity, creativity and collaboration to life!

ownCloud: Technology is available, but: how and to what extent is it actually used?

Schmieden: The school landscape presents a very heterogeneous picture in terms of infrastructure and technical equipment, as well as in terms of how prepared schools and teachers are for digitally supported instruction. Apart from pilot and lighthouse schools that already live a culture of digitality, we encounter two challenges in particular: On the one hand, we have the technical infrastructure. What few people know is that the school system is often more complex than a medium-sized company and the number of end devices to be managed will increase massively. Accordingly, in addition to the basic requirement of a fast Internet connection, a professional infrastructure is needed that must also be professionally managed. Efficient, secure and DSGVO-compliant cloud solutions play a decisive role here. The days when the server was located under a desk in the school administration and looked after by a teacher besides his actual job are over. The trend is moving more and more towards municipal, regional and state-wide data centers, which are relying on school clouds in the same wake.

Digital schools also require the certainty that the infrastructure and devices in the room and their management can be relied upon. At the same time, sufficiently powerful and future-oriented end devices are often only sparsely available at schools. Suitable devices for teachers and students must meet at least the same requirements as those in the business world. In addition to a sustainably designed high performance for at least 4-5 years, this includes essential aspects such as a sufficiently large display (approx. DinA4 – like a school exercise book), a keyboard and mouse that are as ergonomic as possible, a variety of connection options and, in particular, a touch display that allows the use of a pen. However, the digital school of the future does not end with the procurement and management of technology and infrastructure, because that is only the basic prerequisite for the development of the potential of the digital school!

The second challenge is to create added educational value from the technology. Digital media certainly offer potential: In digitally supported lessons, we can, for example, raise cooperative work to a new level through completely new forms of communication and work, teach the handling of data and its security in the digital space, or further expand the creativity and independence of the students through digital innovation projects.

This pedagogical added value should be the starting point for all efforts (including the selection of hardware) and thus also for digital instructional design. Technology should not be used merely to replace “classic teaching media” with the new technology, for example, by using the digital board exclusively for writing, just as the chalkboard was used before. It is imperative that this stage of pure substitution be overcome. Otherwise, the actual potential of the technology will remain untapped. This is where tailored teacher training, which clearly illustrates the benefits for teachers and whets their appetite for more, plays a crucial role.

ownCloud: What are currently the biggest challenges but also opportunities in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in educational work?

Schmieden: In the AI field, the greatest challenge also holds the greatest opportunity: Artificial intelligence? Machine learning? Deep Learning? We need to demystify the term Artificial Intelligence! The media presence of these topics and the associated issues is growing day by day, but in parallel, the need for education in society is also growing. We need to bring light into the darkness and prepare our students in particular for a future shaped by AI. To do this, we must first teach them the appropriate skills – the so-called 21st Century Skills – and introduce a new AI-related approach into the education system. After all, if public awareness of AI is not fostered early on, technical and social understanding will continue to be limited to large organizations, technology companies, research institutes and university communities. Our goal must be to demystify AI and democratize access to technology.

To that end, by the way, there is another educational program from Intel® – Intel® AI For Youth, which has already been successfully implemented in several states at leading vocational and technical schools. In India, for example, this program has already been part of the official curriculum for 2 years as an elective subject and the know-how is thus accessible to every student from grade 8. Another aspect is the use of artificial intelligence to improve learning through individualized learning paths and media. The first major projects in this area are already in the starting blocks in Germany.

ownCloud: What could concrete solutions look like to make schools more digital step by step?

Schmieden: The transformation to a digital school – especially to a digital school culture – is a mammoth task with countless facets, actors and possibilities. Therefore, the solutions are very diverse and complex and there is certainly no one right way to a digital school. As a matter of principle, school boards should work with their schools to develop a clear vision of where the pedagogical-technological journey is headed. The Modern Learning Environments Initiative, for example, offers a free consulting service that also provides support for infrastructure and equipment-related issues.

At the same time, schools and teachers, especially those who have had little or no previous contact with the subject, should be given practical starting points. They must discover the potential of digital education on their own so that the spark of enthusiasm can be ignited.

The groundbreaking and free educational program Intel® Skills For Innovation is ideal for this purpose. It is modular and available on-demand and picks up all teachers across all subjects where they are at the moment. The theoretically sound and practical content paves the way to fully exploiting the educational potential of technology at school. It really does offer everything teachers need to do this: Holistic teacher training,
a teacher community, and many exciting and directly applicable teaching packages for inspiring lessons.
Another excellent opportunity to bring technology into application and, moreover, even use AI for the benefit of society is offered by the educational program Intel® AI for Youth mentioned earlier. Teachers from Germany who are looking for a low-threshold introduction to the world of AI and teaching materials are well served by the associated free on-demand course “AI for Beginners”. For computer science teachers, there are also two additional qualification levels that contain everything needed to show what schools, teachers and students are capable of achieving together.

ownCloud

February 9, 2022

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