|Pupils can identify themselves to a locker using the sites’ existing biometric system
RFID tagging and biometric technologies are solving logistical problems throughout education with a notable example being increasingly efficient administration of e-learning projects. Primary and secondary schools are realising the true potential of iPad, tablet and laptop-based learning but only once issuance of the equipment and auditing tasks become automated so that teachers and pupils can focus on the educational potential of the technology rather than administration issues.
A major deployment by Traka of its iPad lockers has taken place at Hastings and St Leonards Academies (HASLA), two schools that are part of the Hastings Academies Trust in East Sussex. The academies opened in September 2011 after completing a two-year, £2.6m upgrade to their Information and Communications Technology (ICT) facilities with major sponsors being BT, East Sussex County Council and The University of Brighton.
Traka spoke to Mark Baker, Head of I.C.T. Services at HASLA, observed the technology in action and got feedback as to how over 2,000 iPads have been made available to 2,400 students across two campuses.
Pupils can identify themselves to a locker (more correctly an individual bay within the locker) using the sites’ existing biometric system and take responsibility for a ‘pool’ iPad owned by their academy. They can also use lockers for safekeeping and charging of their own private iPad (known as 1:1 units).
Mark Baker explained: “We decided that having a significant element of e-learning within the curriculum using iPads was the way forward, take-up by parents in terms of buying an iPad (they can be bought on a payment programme of as little as £7 a month) was not going to be universal. This could be for economic reasons or because parents feel that it would be inappropriate for their child to have an iPad at home.
Mark continued: “Over both campuses more than 250 iPads are on a ‘pool’ basis. Our initial research suggested that Traka were the company who seemed best qualified and most willing to work with us on an installation that would use our existing biometrics installation and readers which are used for cashless catering, photocopying etc.
“Traka looked like a strong, durable product and their technical team proved good listeners and interested in our needs. Their solution has been successful because it’s inclusive; the lockers are a manageable way of including all pupils in the scheme and they make e-learning viable. In an environment where not every pupil has a 1:1 device, a system like this is essential.”
|Traka32 integrates with the RFID tagging on the iPads to indicate when units have been removed and replaced
Integration with NRS (which is a major advantage of Traka) avoided the complications that would have been associated with multiple enrolment, scrutiny of two systems, re-keying, data transfer etc.
Mark said: “We had a legacy system whereby devices were dispensed by trolleys but they had to be wheeled around the sites, there were delays while teachers logged themselves in, problems with flat batteries and no sense of ownership. The Traka system means that the responsibility is now with the student.”
“At concept stage we asked Traka questions such as: ‘How will we know when pupils hand back items?’ ‘How do we stop them from borrowing more than one device or putting them back in the wrong place?’ ‘Can you prevent a pupil who already owns a 1:1 iPad from borrowing a pool iPad?’ ‘Are you sure you don’t need your own dedicated biometrics system?’ ‘Can you finish the lockers in customised colours to match our sub-groups?’”
The theme of ownership as a result of the Traka locker scheme has been echoed by the Principal of The St Leonards Academy, Jenny Jones, who has spoken of “confident, responsible, independent learners” and how e-learning “unlocks the potential of every child.”
Accessibility and inclusiveness
It was essential that accessibility to lockers should meet and exceed the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA.) The Traka locker installation at the Hastings and St Leonards Academies are accessible to pupils in wheelchairs, and verification using a keypad may be the preferred alternative option for pupils with impaired mobility.
Similarly, the requirements of the Data Protection Act as to how data about pupils is collected have been observed scrupulously. Parents who do not wish their child’s fingerprint to be taken may insist that a pin code is used on the integrated keypads. It should be noted however that the fingerprint is not recorded and could never be retrieved from the system. (Ten reference points looking at finger curvature and angles are used to create an algorithm.)
A major advantage is that no pupil at HASLA is required to carry keys in order to access digital equipment. Smartcards are another identification option used by Traka customers elsewhere in the education sector.
Traka reporting facilities Mark Baker notes that staff use the powerful Traka32 reporting software to perform daily checks and more thorough audits on Fridays and at term ends. Significant incidents are extremely rare and there is no question of HASLA ever implementing a ‘closed loop’ system whereby an iPad must be returned to its locker before a pupil leaves campus.
(Traka lockers do have the ability to integrate with access control systems and this option is often used in other types of educational establishment.) HASLA benefit significantly from integrating the locker biometrics with cashless catering and at other academic institutions it is common for Traka32 to integrate with library management and e-registration systems.
|The Traka locker installation at the Hastings and St Leonards Academies are accessible to pupils in wheelchairs
Full reporting functionality and real-time audit trails are offered by the core software. These are augmented by individual rules created by administrators in order to optimise effectiveness at their own site. Traka32 will immediately show if a pool iPad is missing. But most incidents are anomalies and innocent mistakes, a common one being that the iPad has been placed upside down in a bay which compromises the RFID reading. Traka32 integrates with the RFID tagging on the iPads to indicate when units have been removed and replaced. The software makes precise distinctions between pool lockers and lockers for privately-owned 1:1 units, so preventing units ending up where administrators are not expecting them. Traka32 can be run from a single PC or across a network. Other educational users – usually at further education levels – configure Traka32 so that students can report faults with a unit and prevent malfunctioning equipment from being reissued.
Staff at HASLA can ‘fire’ multiple lockers open both remotely and locally. They have the option to use conventional keys and the iPad lockers are used in conjunction with a Traka intelligent key management cabinet. There is a hierarchical system of rights management according to seniority and job profile.
"Below the waterline issues"
Any major roll-out of portable devices can have far-reaching consequences across a campus and Steve Warburton, Director of ICT, Hastings Academies Trust, spoke on this topic at the educational trade fair Bett in 2014 at which Traka were an exhibitor. It was at Bett that the Hastings Academies Trust first made contact with Traka in 2012.
Mark Baker takes a similarly broad view: “My focus is overall school infrastructure. It’s always a mistake to spend your whole budget on as many portable devices as possible without forethought. You need to listen to what your IT managers say about network resources. If you don’t have good wireless and Internet infrastructure the whole project will be a failure.
“As well as specialist manufacturers like Traka you have to partner with an ICT consultancy and we chose Novatia who in turn could work with the IT providers who were Capita (formally Northgate Managed Services) and Albion, our Apple premium reseller.
“Traka looked like a strong, durable product and their technical team proved good listeners and interested in our needs..."
“Traka were a vital part of the equation. The essence of their response was: ‘We’ll make loan lockers function alongside 1:1 lockers, we’re flexible on configurations and can work on short lead times to meet your deadlines. And there will be no need for a proprietary system of RFID readers across the campuses.’”
It should be noted that the HASLA sites are large and pupils may not wish to carry either a 1:1 or a pool iPad with them all day and will make smart decisions about which points of the day will require use of the device. (These choices can be surprising; the iPads are often taken to the sports field where the array of apps can give pupils skeleton freeze-frame tuition on anything from how to throw a javelin to how to swing a golf club.)
Reduced incidence of damage
The Traka lockers are a safe location and one where the units can be charged leaving no excuses for flat batteries. The integrated charging function uses a double-earthed power source which is securely built in behind an isolated wall and is also static protected. HASLA students simply plug a low-voltage power lead into the iPad when returning it. The lockers are strategically positioned away from main traffic flows of pupils but, as would be expected of any unit designed for a school environment, the construction is extremely robust. Users of the lockers can be as young as 11 and Traka consulted with HASLA in detail as to optimum design and ease of use.
HASLA were attracted to the fact that Traka manufacture streamlined lockers whose bays are specifically designed to accommodate an iPad though of course 1:1 lockers can be used to store other appropriate items such as watches, mobile phones and jewellery. The 1:1 users will always know which Traka lockers are available to store their unit by observing the display status. On a cruder system they would have to hunt around for a bay that was free. Use of the lockers has reduced damage to the iPads, and with the loan units being protected by Griffin cases, instances of significant damage are rare and always accidental.