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Et nova et vetera: technology at Bryanston School

Lucinda Reid visits Bryanston School to find out how they are embracing new technology with old traditions

Posted by Alice Savage | May 12, 2017 | Teaching

Close your eyes and picture a quintessential English boarding school. Did your imagination form a beautiful building, nestled amongst pretty countryside? Bryanston School fits that image, as it is based in beautiful Dorset and has a variety of Grade I-listed buildings. But, during a visit to Bryanston you will soon discover that there is more to the school than meets the eye. Those listed buildings? They have contemporary buildings built seamlessly alongside them, which creates the perfect mix of old and new. After all, Bryanston’s motto is et nova et vetera. 

And the exterior is just the beginning. During a tour of the school with Andy Barnes, Director of IT, it was clear the school is building a modern teaching environment with the help of technology. The library, which is located in the main school building, supports the whole school by merging the old and the new. Pupils have access to electronic resources to help them with their studies but they can also browse a selection of books, journals and newspapers. Of course, this is not a new concept, as school libraries have been embracing technology for years. However, at Bryanston, they are going one step further with Aruba Beacons. 

Aruba Beacons are small, low-power wireless transmitters that can be heard and interpreted by iOS and Android devices. If a mobile phone has downloaded a Meridian-powered app and it is within range of the beacon the user can receive personalised notifications. An interesting and inexpensive product, but how does it work in a school environment?

Bryanstan School's state-of-the-art recording studio

 

“We have put the beacons in a classroom environment and when you walk past it, it will trigger a reaction in your phone. But that reaction is based on your profile. For example, if a pupil has dyslexia, it will trigger an English assignment but with a glossary of terms, whereas someone that hasn’t, will receive the standard assignment,” explained Andy.Walking through the classrooms in the IT department, Andy pointed out the tiny beacons around the rooms and explained how they could contain This means that teachers can tailor each lesson to each pupil, just by uploading the documents to the mobile app. 

Currently, the Aruba Beacons are being piloted in the school and only feature in the IT department and library, but Andy’s excitement at this product is infectious. It seemed like this was just the beginning for Bryanston. 

“We are the first school in England to trial the beacons,” said Andy. “Aruba knew that we were experimenting with technology, so when Aruba were developing the beacons they sent us a pack and started listening to us. They have sat back and listened quite a bit which is refreshing.” 

It is easy to see why Aruba are listening, as Bryanston are ready to push the boundaries. The school’s aim has always been to, “develop well-balanced 18-year-olds who are ready to go out into the wider world,” and technology plays a huge part in this process. 

“We are already ahead of the curve in terms of what we do, but if we sit there then others will catch up,” admitted Andy. “We want technology to be transparent and we want it to make a difference.” 

So, was it making a difference to school life? The beacons are impressive, and the technology integrated throughout the school, from iPads that sign pupils in and out of house to an online portal that tracks every pupil’s progress are evident but what does it mean for the pupils? Are they embracing technology or feeling sentimental about pen and paper? 

After a tour of the school, Molly and Toby who are both 16, explained their feelings towards technology at Bryanston. They were unsurprisingly enthusiastic about technology and said how, “it’s just a lot quicker and means that you can get everything you need on your laptop.” They also discussed how technology aided independent learning, something that the school encourages with The Dalton Plan, and they understood that there was a time and place for using technology. Andy added that there was not a list of rules about using technology but pupils understood that mobile phones should not be used in the classroom. 

Combining the new and the old in the concert hall

Interestingly, both pupils noticed the increase in technology since they started at Bryanston but still felt it was important to use traditional tools in some lessons. 

“I like how every lesson is different, as if you chose one [computers or paper] it would limit what you can do,” said Molly. “There is normally a projector on in lessons and it is very interactive, but the tradition of writing on paper is still an element I like.” 

“I started my teaching career where I took my class to the IT room and you did IT because you booked the room, now that has gone,” added Andy. “Technology is now available in the classroom so pupils that may benefit from typing everything can work alongside pupils like Molly, who still like writing on paper. Technology also makes learning accessible and pervasive, as the good resources that pupils have in their lessons are available in their dorm or sitting on a sofa in a listed building.” 

It is clear that although Bryanston is excited to try new technologies they won’t be turning their back on traditional methods. Technology at Bryanston is not disruptive, it is there to enhance the pupils’ experience and prepare them for their futures. 

W: bryanston.co.uk

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