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Portal Exclusive: How critical thinking can influence learning outcomes

Source: Education Times

Critical thinking cannot be acquired and deployed at will. It needs to be learnt and practised with certain prerequisites: a familiarity with the context, strong domain knowledge and mastery of metacognitive strategies, writes Deepali Dharmaraj

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself,’ said John Dewey, the famous 20th-century philosopher. This was true during his lifetime, and it is true today. Critical thinking, which includes reasoning, making judgments and decisions, and problem-solving has long been considered an important aspect of education. It is not surprising, then, that India’s National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 recognises this by placing critical thinking as central in research, curriculum and pedagogy, and assessment.


Critical thinking cannot be equated to another skill, for example, like riding a bicycle. Due to its cognitive nature, it cannot be acquired and deployed at will. It needs to be learnt and practised with certain prerequisites: a familiarity with the context, strong domain knowledge and mastery of metacognitive strategies such as planning and reflection.

Using the English language classroom as a case study, let us consider how the teacher can develop critical thinking to improve speaking skills. In the first stage, awareness-raising activities develop familiarity with the components of speaking such as contextual appropriacy, paraphrasing and features of connected speech without having learners produce any language. The teacher can do this by using an authentic conversation and setting a task like highlighting phrases, for instance, giving opinions. The second stage involves noticing and paying attention to form, meaning and use. For example, students might make an error in subject-verb agreement, for example, he talks not he talk. A noticing task could include one where students listen to a model and then complete a prediction task. Finally, scaffolding through practice activities such as simulated role-play can help students become more confident in speaking. At each stage, the student is aware of success criteria, has sufficient planning time and reflects on his performance. When supported by peer feedback, this is even more impactful.

Critical thinking for teachers
By conducting action research, the teacher can develop their own critical thinking. The process involves a continuous cycle of examining their practice, identifying a need for change, planning, and executing the change, observing and analysing results and reflecting on the effects. For example, a teacher might be interested in developing students’ writing skills. Background reading supported by a student survey determines that one underlying reason could be that students are unmotivated as there is no real audience (apart from the teacher) for their writing. This might lead to starting a peer-reviewed blog which could be either on an online platform or simply a designated area in the classroom. Based on feedback and assessment, the idea can be refined to creating content for a wider audience such as parents and other stakeholders.

The teacher can then share their results and learning from the action research with peers thus facilitating adaptation and improved practice in the teaching community. My work enables me to support educators in becoming reflective practitionersto be better able to meet their students’ needs. Critical thinking can help this in two ways: by balancing personal critique to identify both strengths and areas of development and by identifying concrete steps for action.

Benefits to learners

There is a realisation that current models of learning need to be upgraded. Rote learning and memorisation, despite their place in education, are not sufficiently preparing learners of today for the world of tomorrow. The Covid-19 pandemic has underlined this need and it is crucial to respond rapidly and put measures in place to arrest any further decline. Critical thinking helps us to understand problems or points of view, analyse them and consider the merits of different approaches to address them. In addition, it is often associated with social change as it encourages students to develop empathy and question their unconscious biases. With the prerequisites of domain knowledge, guided practice and a supportive teacher, students can become independent lifelong learners. As the
NEP 2020 states, ‘children not only learn, but more importantly learn how to learn.’

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Device Management Is Crucial in Enhancing Cybersecurity for Interactive Touchscreens

By Nadav Avni, CMO of Radix Technologies

Elevate your cybersecurity defenses with effective device management strategies for interactive touchscreens. Unleash the power of secure interactivity while safeguarding sensitive information.

The education sector’s digital transformation is helping students keep pace with modern technology. The internet has made it easier than ever for kids to access learning materials, submit assignments, and participate in group activities. In addition, schools now use interactive touchscreens instead of antiquated tools such as whiteboards, projectors, and video cassette players. All that’s remaining is to ensure school devices have the right device management support to keep them safe.

Like everything else, technology also has a dark side. For the education sector, cybersecurity breaches often mean great risks to student privacy. Awareness, best practices, and device management can help minimize the damages from cybersecurity breaches. After all, when school districts commit to a full and safe digital upgrade, students win.

Identifying Cybersecurity Challenges in Education

What’s the best medium of instruction for students who grew up immersed in the internet, usually via their parent’s smartphones and tablets? Interactive touchscreens, of course! Touchscreens provide a natural extension for kids who learned to type letters on phone screens and play videos with touch controls.

Unfortunately, school devices aren’t totally immune to cybersecurity issues. Many students and teachers alike fall for phishing scams, where they inadvertently share their user accounts and passwords with online thieves. These criminals will then access their private data to steal whatever they can.

Additionally, cyber gangs can also use brute-force hacking and SQL injections to gain access to restricted servers. In some cases, institutions fall victim to ransomware, where they’re forced to pay gangs to return access to critical data in exchange for money.

Negligence in cybersecurity measures

 is the major reason for online breaches. However, the use of obsolete technology is also a factor. A single device that has yet to update to the latest software version leaves the entire system vulnerable to attacks. Reminding users to practice online diligence is a good way to minimize attacks. However, school districts also need reliable device management software to protect and update devices.

Implementing Comprehensive Device Management Solutions

Comprehensive device management solutions enable school districts to enforce area-wide security protocols. A key feature of modern device management is remote ability. This allows IT administrators to remotely connect to one or all devices on demand.

What’s more, management can monitor each device to see if it runs the latest software versions and allows access only to authorized users. Remote management also allows IT teams to schedule automatic updates during device downtimes.

Another key feature of device management is assigning user access levels consistent with their duties. For example, students receive access to scheduled modules and their personal records.

Meanwhile, instructors get wider access to their student data and the course curriculum. School administrators and board members can collect user data to gather insights into school and individual performances. Finally, IT teams have access to system settings and administrative work.

Basically, each user only gets to work on their defined area of responsibility. Partitioning access reduces the risk of users overstepping their bounds and records any such attempts or incidences.

Monitoring, Patching, and Vulnerability Management

Touchscreen devices are some of the biggest expenditures schools can make as they embrace the digital classroom. Ensuring a great return on investment (ROI) for these devices means having them work optimally beyond their expected lifespan.

Providing expert care and maintenance on these machines will extend their operational years. Additionally, IT administrators should consistently apply the latest updates and fixes to system software, firmware, and applications. This ensures all school equipment uses the latest software versions. More importantly, malicious entities can’t exploit documented vulnerabilities in the software.

For this reason, remote management should remain a key feature of your device management platform. The ability to connect with one or more devices remotely lets administrators apply critical updates and patches immediately. It also enables admins to attend to devices reporting unauthorized access attempts.

With a single command prompt, admins can freeze, shut down, or disable devices to prevent any further action. If there are attempts to steal data or devices, admins can wipe all stored information or incapacitate devices. At the same time, geolocation services can identify the location of stolen or missing devices.

Educating Users: Promoting Cybersecurity Awareness and Best Practices

Embracing a totally digital educational system means being aware of the risks that come with it. Many of today’s students are digital natives, having grown up in a computerized environment. Sometimes, this familiarity leads students to boldly attempt to override school systems or hack local databases. While many will do so with malicious intent, some will do so just because they can.

A good start for school districts is to educate students about the need to protect their own data. This includes assuming the responsibility of securing and updating their passwords and encrypting or protecting their documents. Additionally, students should learn to always log out of shared devices after use.

However, awareness is just the beginning. School districts should also enlist the help of reliable device management software, which can take the pressure off individual users.

Having a platform that monitors, manages, and secures all school devices is a great deterrent against wanton online aggression. More importantly, a good device management platform has the tools to secure devices and counter any unauthorized access attempts.

Enjoy the Full Digital Experience With Reliable Device Management

Touchscreen devices and other digital school equipment are great tools students can use to learn proper cybersecurity. With their assigned accounts and devices, they can practice diligent password management and proper document storage. Instructors can also spend a few sessions teaching students about common cybercrimes such as phishing, malware, and ransomware.

In short, awareness combined with reliable device management practices can set up a great learning system in schools with digital equipment. Embracing technology means recognizing the possible dangers that go with it. Doing so is a win-win situation for both school districts and the students themselves.

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Building a Greener Web: Six Ways to Put Your Website on an Emissions Diet

By Roberta Haseleu, Practice Lead Green Technology at Reply, Fiorenza Oppici, Live Reply, and Lars Trebing, Vanilla Reply

Most people are unaware or underestimate the impact of the IT sector on the environment. According to the BBC: “If we were to rather crudely divide the 1.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions estimated to be produced in the manufacture and running of digital technologies between all internet users around the world, it would mean each of us is responsible for 414kg of carbon dioxide a year.” That’s equivalent to 4.7bn people charging their smartphone 50,000 times.

Every web page produces a carbon footprint that varies depending on its design and development. This must be more closely considered as building an energy efficient website also increases loading speeds which leads to better performance and user experience.

Following are six practical steps developers can take to reduce the environmental impact of their websites.

  • Implement modularisation

With traditional websites that don’t rely on single page apps, each page and view of the site is saved in individual html files. The code only runs, and the data is only downloaded, for the page that the user is visiting, avoiding unnecessary requests. This reduces transmitted data volume and saves energy.

However, this principle is no longer the standard in modern web design which is dominated by single page apps which dynamically display all content to the user at runtime. This approach is easier and faster to code and more user-friendly but, without any precautions, it creates unnecessary overheads. In the worst case, accessing the homepage of a website may trigger the transmission of the entire code of the application, including parts that may not be needed.

Modularisation can help. By dividing the code of a website into different modules, i.e. coherent code sections, only the relevant code is referenced. Using modules offers distinct benefits: they keep the scope of the app clean and prevent ‘scope creeps’; they are loaded automatically after the page has been parsed but before the Document Object Model (DOM) is rendered; and, most importantly for green design, they facilitate ‘lazy loading’.

  • Adopt lazy loading

The term lazy loading describes a strategy of only loading resources at the moment they are needed. This way, a large image at the bottom of the page will not be loaded unless the user scrolls down to that section.

If a website only consists of a routing module and an app module which contain all views, the site will become very heavy and slow at first load. Smart modularisation, breaking down the site into smaller parts, in combination with lazy loading can help to load only the relevant content when the user is viewing that part of the page.

However, this should not be exaggerated either as, in some instances, loading each resource only in the last moment while scrolling can annihilate performance gains and result in higher server and network loads. It’s important to find the right balance based on a good understanding of how the app will be used in real life (e.g. whether users will generally rather continue to the next page after a quick first glance, or scroll all the way down before moving on).

  • Monitor build size

Slimming website builds is possible not only at runtime but also at a static level. Typically, a web app consists of a collection of different typescript files. To build a site and compile the code from typescript to JavaScript, a web pre-processor is used.

Pre-processors come with the possibility to prevent a build to complete if its files are bigger than a variable threshold. Limits can be set both for the main boot script as well as the single chunks of CSS to be no bigger than a specific byte size after compilation. Any build surpassing those thresholds fails with a warning.

If a build is suspiciously big, a web designer can inspect it and identify which module contributes the most, as well as all its interdependencies. This information allows the programmer to optimise the parts of the websites in question.

  • Eliminate unused code

One potential reason for excessive build sizes can be dozens of configuration files and code meant for scenarios that are never needed. Despite never being executed, this code still takes up bandwidth, thereby consuming extra energy.

Unused parts can be found in own source code but also (and often to a greater extent) in external libraries used as dependencies. Luckily, a technique called ‘tree shaking’ can be used to analyse the code and mark which parts are not referenced by other portions of the code.

Modern pre-processors perform ‘tree shaking’ to identify unused code but also to exclude it automatically from the build. This allows them to package only those parts of the code that are needed at runtime – but only if the code is modularised.

  • Choose external libraries wisely

One common approach to speed up the development process is by using external libraries. They provide ready-to-use utilities written and tested by other people. However, some of these libraries can be unexpectedly heavy and weigh your code down.

One popular example is Moment.js, a very versatile legacy library for handling international date formats and time zones. Unfortunately, it is also quite big in size. Most of all, it is neither very compatible with the typical TypeScript world nor is it modular. This way, also the best pre-processors cannot reduce the weight that it adds to the code by means of ‘tree shaking’.

  • Optimise content

Designs can also be optimised by avoiding excessive use of images and video material. Massive use of animation gimmicks such as parallax scrolling also has a negative effect. Depending on the implementation, such animations can massively increase the CPU and GPU load on the client. To test this, consider running the website on a 5 to 10-year-old computer. If scrolling is not smooth and/or the fans jump to maximum speed, this is a very good indication of optimisation potential.

The amount of energy that a website consumes — and thus its carbon footprint — depends, among other factors, on the amount of data that needs to be transmitted to display the requested content to users. By leveraging the six outlined techniques above, web designers can ‘slim’ their websites and contribute to the creation of a more sustainable web whilst boosting performance and user experience in the process.

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How schools can improve employee experiences amid the cost of living crisis

By Dr Angelina Sun, Workforce Management Solutions Director at WorkForce Software

It is a grim fact that the cost of living crisis is hitting some of our most crucial workers the hardest. With reports this month finding that a third of primary school teachers are struggling to afford essentials due to soaring prices. For example, the rise in fresh produce costs broke records at 12.1% in September, putting the impact of inflation into stark context. Similarly, researchers at the University of Portsmouth recently warned that the cost of living crisis is seeing schools lose teaching assistants to better-paid roles in supermarkets, which not only pay more but also offer other benefits such as flexible working hours.

It is no surprise that the National Education Union (NEU) has issued a fresh warning of strikes as teachers demand an above-inflation pay increase. As the Union warns, if poor pay and conditions continue, the trend of 1 in 3 teachers in England leaving within the first five years will only get worse. Similarly, it has been found that 1 in 8 college staff leave within a year.

There is no doubt that the question of teachers’ pay must be addressed, but it is also clear that there are broader barriers to recruitment and retention in the education sector. Across other industries, there is an increasing awareness and appreciation of the importance of delivering a rounded, positive employee experience. Beyond remuneration, this encompasses other aspects of work-life from flexible working to support for wellbeing. Education has struggled to adopt a similar approach, both for practical reasons (the nature of this work often prevents certain flexibilities from being offered) and because culturally, the profession has often been slow to adapt.

However, this must change. There are ways to allow educators access to similar elevated employee experiences enjoyed in other sectors, and these must be considered if vital teaching staff are not to be lost to other competitively placed professions.

Flexibility in practice

The nature of the school day may lead educators to assume that flexible approaches to working are off the table. As a recent report from the NASUWT-The Teachers Union found, more than half of teachers (52%) say that their school/college does not offer flexible working and is now calling for flexible working to be a day one right for all teachers. As its General Secretary, Dr Patrick Roach highlighted, “There is a great deal of evidence showing that some schools continue to believe that flexible working is not compatible with delivering high educational standards for pupils. This is patently false.”

There are ways to explore more flexible working arrangements and schedules that give teachers greater autonomy over their time. In fact, the government has shown support for flexible approaches, recently announcing investment of £750K in a ‘culture change programme’ to embed flexible working in schools and multi-academy trusts, such as offering compressed hours, adjusting start and end times based on personal needs, and removing the requirement to spend non-teaching hours at school.  When teachers can complete planning, preparation and assessment tasks at home, and even run parent conferences online, there is no reason they cannot be offered the same kind of remote flexibility as others.

Schools also enjoy the rewards of flexibility –  retaining experienced staff, recruiting from a broader pool, promoting wellbeing and improving work-life balance, which leads to more engaged, productive teams.

There are also options to apply flexibility to financial rewards. While schools’ hands may be tied when it comes to salary uplifts, there are ways they can support staff to manage finances more flexibly. For example, pay-on-demand gives educators access to wages when needed. Staff can access money as it is earned, meaning there is no waiting for payday. This can make managing personal finances a lot easier, alleviating some of the financial stress that teachers increasingly find themselves under.

Delivering such elevated employee experiences across a school or college workforce can be a challenge. However, there are successful examples of similarly dispersed, deskless workforces that have adopted intelligent workplace management technologies to help manage flexible working and pay-on-demand. Using cloud technologies educators can access streamlined, personalised digital processes that mirror the technology-enabled employee experiences now enjoyed across private sector roles.

 For example, modern workforce management technologies that utilise sophisticated AI and machine learning, alongside user-friendly design, can reinforce better working practices for all staff, whether frontline in the classroom, or supporting staff in the back office.

As highlighted by the Shared Headship Network, “schools need to be smart about the use of technology to enable certain aspects of school life to be more flexible.”

Modelling effective communications

If flexible working is to become a workable, embedded culture in education, it must also be supported by a foundation of effective communications and dialogues between teachers, staff, managers and leaders. For deskless workforces, such as teachers and lecturers, maintaining communications can be a challenge, – even simple administrative tasks such as leave requests can become burdensome and protracted.

Automating routine management tasks can save time, streamline workloads and improve efficiency while also allowing managers and leaders to focus on supporting teachers with the real work. Workforce management solutions are an easy win in this regard. Not only that, but they can also help leaders take the temperature of their organisations in the moment. For example, ‘pulse surveys’ can pick up on work dissatisfaction very quickly. Achieving consistent two-way communications through technologies can give the individual employee a voice while empowering employers with the insights they need to address trends affecting their larger workforce groups.

Seeing the bigger picture

There is no single solution to the issues facing recruitment and retention of teachers. Technology is not the panacea, especially when teachers are rightly fighting for better pay. Teachers deserve salaries that reflect their vital role in society. However, pay is not the only issue facing the profession. Too often educators are looking at their workplace experience in comparison to private sector roles and seeing a whole host of tempting benefits they do not have access to.

Digital provision, innovation and modern workplace cultures that are increasingly embraced in the private sector are not often available to those in the public sector.  Again, this serves to highlight inequity of experience beyond the figure on the pay packet.

It is time to use all methods we can to create educational workplaces that reward staff. From how we engage technology, to pay, to employee experiences, it is a holistic approach that will save our schools and ensure teaching talent is rewarded and secured.

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