Embrace the future and change when it comes to schools design urges Matthew Pearson, an ICT consultant. Expect Wi-Fi in every room and pupils with handhelds

Uniting the construction and procurement of a new school or college with the ways in which ICT will be used in this new teaching and learning space is a real challenge for design and construction teams.

These issues will be familiar to anyone who has been working in this area, but it may be worth outlining them before proceeding. The first issue is the different disciplines involved in procuring a new school or college. These disciplines do not naturally mesh together and it is often a challenge to even find a common language for holding conversations.

There is a need to get to a joint understanding of a shared goal and bring the strength of each discipline to bear to build a genuinely innovative solution. And involve your teaching staff, as frequently and deeply as possible. They will be major players in delivering this vision and without them on board you’ll soon find that the transformative potential of your ICT and new building will not be realised.

The second issue I wish to focus on is the rapidity of developments in information and communication technology. ICT is unique in the speed at which new products come to market and how quickly these can be adopted by users. The rise of the netbook over the last year is a good example of this happening.

Changing alongside the web

A few years ago most users could only access online resources from a network socket stuck in a wall and plugged into a desktop machine. Now Wi-Fi access for portable devices is very common, freeing up devices to be used throughout the building and its outside spaces; and broadband mobile solutions (some of which are being developed specifically for learners) are making ubiquitous connectivity a reality.

It is hard to deny that at some point in the near future each student will have a learning device with them, with connectivity, for the entire day at school or colleg

Matthew Pearson

The specific devices which teachers and students will use to access the network are far less important in the long run (because they will last a few years at most) than the connectivity model and the ability to adapt your ICT provision as new waves of technological innovation come on stream.

The conclusions we can draw from this are largely to do with a word I used earlier, namely ‘conversations’. Only if people talk about the shared vision and then use their particular expertise to solve the relevant part of the jigsaw puzzle can success begin to be seized.

The importance of planning

Any new project needs to plan lots of high quality time where all parties can sit around tables and discuss solutions. The school or college needs to work on a starting point vision for ICT in the new build, but be prepared to alter and amend this and don’t get too dogmatic - the ICT world moves quickly and there are few genuine off the peg solutions.

And when it comes to the integration of ICT into your new building, plan for flexibility. It is hard to deny that at some point in the near future each student will have a learning device with them, with connectivity, for the entire day at school or college.

This creates enormous vistas of possibility. But traditional classroom design -- with so many square rooms designed to seat 30 students facing forward with a teacher stood at the front -- may mean the physical spaces of the school will hamper the creativity which the ICT sets free.