Empowering educators: exclusive interview with Gus Schmedlen, HP Vice President of Worldwide Education

bett_in_association_with_mk3With new Education Edition tablets and laptops, the new Stream 11 Pro low-cost notebook and a range of desktops, workstations and back-end systems, HP offered educators a huge range of new technology at Bett 2015. But how is it going to help children learn?

We spoke to Gus Schmedlen, HP Vice President of Worldwide Education, to go in-depth behind the new products and HP’s vision for education.

Q: You’re launching a new line of tablets and laptops built specifically for education. What makes them a good option for schools?

A: The new Education Editions are built for schools and designed for learning. They’re toughened for the school day, they have a minimum eight-hour battery life, so they’ll last the whole school day. The tablets have a tapered, garaged stylus, so that students can learn things like handwriting or math. Handwriting and the ability to draw are very important in primary grades, where tablets are probably most appropriate.

As we move on to the notebook, really for middle and high schools, we build it with industrial rubber, which is really cool, and really similar to what you’ll find on the tyres of your car. These are definitely, tough, strong machines for classroom use, and that one can have up to ten hours of battery life, so it’s learn everywhere, anytime.

Q: Hardware is all very well. What about software?

A: The idea is that, not only are these products physically built for the school environment, but they also have the tools for teaching and learning out of the box.

We include a suite of software and tools called HP School Pack, which includes HP classroom manager, which enables teachers to show examples, blank all the screens and conduct quizzes. It makes sure that the teacher can keep on assisting the students and can also share student’s work.

We also have the Oxford University Press Advanced Learners dictionary preloaded on all these. Students can go online or off for information about English language learning, but also hear pronunciation. Not only is it a visual learning experience but also auditory. You can hear both British and American accents, so it’s probably fun to compare some words.

hp_bett-4We’ve partnered with Absolute Software for one year’s anti-theft. If a student device gets lost or stolen the IT administrator can completely brick the unit, so that it’s of next to no value. It keeps the unit safe, but also keeps their data safe. If they think it’s lost, they can just remotely lock it, until they find it again, or they can completely brick the machine.

We’re also partnering with Pasco, so that you can turn the Education Editions into scientific instruments, so – right out of the box – they’re ambient noise sensors. You can run labs with noise and noise in different parts of the room, etc, and you can also attach over 70 sensors, microscopes, even a Geiger counter for radiation, and all the data is uploaded to the screens of the units, and there are lesson plans around each one.

And that’s part of HP School Pack. There’s no charge.

Q: So we’re moving away from the time when classroom devices were repurposed education versions of corporate or consumer devices?

A: Absolutely, from the ground up, and the way that we designed them was by going to schools, talking to administrators, talking to teachers, even speaking to students, and that informed the design of these products, which are built specifically for education. They are not a retooled corporate or consumer offering.

Q: On the stand I’m seeing a lot of convertibles and tablets. Are you finding that these mobile devices are really making their way into schools?

A: We think so. Kinaesthetic learning – learning by touching and feeling – is so important in the primary grades. We’re seeing a large amount of schools in primary education use technology in ways that really engage the students, and where they can really interact with content.

Tablets are also highly mobile. With the new tablets, schools can choose between Android or Windows. The trend for tablets in education is really in primary. For middle schools and secondary schools we’re seeing Chromebooks, and there are lots of requirements for content creation, and a lot of times those include a keyboard.

Q: You’re now offering a choice of Android, Windows and Chrome OS. Do you find that certain operating systems are a better fit for certain schools or certain levels?

A: I think for certain that mobility is taking over. We’ve found that, especially in the mature or developed markets, where broadband availability and streaming availability are pretty pervasive, it’s enabling new workflows which enable new products that can depend on the cloud. We’re seeing that, and we’re seeing that students want products that are sleeker and lighter.

There are also sets of management tools, like Google’s Chromebook Management Console or Windows Intune or even Active Directory that help IT managers manage these assets and deploy and provision applications in a much easier fashion. They’re a lot less complicated than a traditional PC and therefore perfect for schools.

Q. When you went out to schools and asked “What are you looking for in an education notebook?”, what did they want to see in the future?

A: They want unlimited battery life and products that don’t break, and from a physical side we try to get as close to that as possible. And they want to get it as close to free as possible. In terms of usability, screen size, etcetera, touch was really important, even on laptops.

hp_bett-2Having a pen for a handwriting experience was really important to teachers, especially in the primary and late primary sector, and from a software perspective they wanted tools that were usable online and offline, but would also allow learning out of the box and make the teacher feel more comfortable.

Those are some of the key findings, but what we tried to do was aggregate all the feedback we got from the UK, Ireland, the United States, Singapore –- but also countries in Africa and countries in the Middle East – and that informed our decisions and our process in the industrial design as well as the features.

Q. So you’re really building something that can roll out globally?

A: Right, and not just based on our opinion of education technology, but based on what educators’ opinions were of education technology. We really went to the source, and we even bought in a bunch of students as well.

Q: Are educators looking for such a wide range of screen sizes and form factors?

A: Some of it depends on the content and some of it depends on the user. Physiologically, a student in year one is very different to a student in year eleven, so you have those industrial design and human factors, but we also have the curriculum. What a Year 1 or Year 2 learns is very different from what a Year 10 or Year 11 learns.

Furthermore, what is expected of them in terms of creation is different. As you move up the continuum from primary to secondary and tertiary we see an increase in what students actually have to create and deliver back to be evaluated, and that means an increase in utility and the creative aspects of the technology.

Q: Where do you see future trends going in the education technology market?

A: I think you’ll find one of those future trends in our booth, and that’s blended reality. We’re merging the physical and digital to enhance learning outcomes.

hp_bett-9You’ll see the Z-Space monitors, which we announced at CES a few weeks ago, you’ll see the reader application, where we work with publishers to create invisible as well as visible watermarks in books, so that if a student is trying to learn Pythagorean theorem, and they’re confused about what it means, they can take their mobile device, put it over the Pythagorean theorem and see a video about it and why it works.

What we’re trying to do is increase the number of modalities that a student uses to learn one learning objective. In its physical manifestation that’s known as blended learning, and in the digital it’s known as blended reality.

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