Seeing that we've had our twenty wireless laptops running for the whole eleven week term in the four upper primary classrooms, it is a good time to review the program and make some observations. For me, I'm really interested to see how it has changed learning for my students, how it has impacted on my teaching methodologies and any management issues it has thrown up.

trolleys.jpgIt's worth remembering how I (and the other teachers) managed prior to the laptop program. My school has a computing room with a class worth of desktops housed in the same building as the Resource Centre (Library) and it runs on a negotiated timetable catering for our 17 classes. I would always grab more time in that timetable than I was really entitled to a fair and equitable world and unlike many of my colleagues, would happily take the early morning slots. The time from the first bell until recess time is viewed by many of my colleagues as prime learning time - too valuable to burn on computing room time. (Shakes head in amazement - sighs in frustration.) So, I would always sign up for those unwanted timeslots especially on a Tuesday morning where a cancelled assembly could turn a one hour slot into two.

My class would use that computing time for mind mapping, web research, presentation creation and design, word processing or desktop publishing depending on the set and ongoing learning tasks they were involved with at the time. I would almost never use that time to just use a software program or website in isolation to my ongoing learning program and my students never got to use the room for "free time on the computers" as I have seen on more occasions than I care to recall.

With the introduction of an interactive whiteboard into my classroom in mid 2005, I started to increase my use of digital resources and tools. My computing room time became totally on-task time as any demonstrations or explicit instructions could be shown on the IWB prior to heading over to the computing room. However with the increased use of digital material via the IWB combined with the sort of inquiry based tasks my class were tackling meant that no amount of timetabled computing access seemed to be enough. This was part of the starting point for the introduction of a laptop program.

Being a public school with fixed funding, we did not have the luxury of even contemplating a 1:1 program (unlike some of my private and international school colleagues) but with flexible timetabling and thoughtful implementation, my principal and I figured we could get relevant technology into the hands of our students more often and as they needed it. We decided to start late last year with the twenty laptops housed in two secure trolleys in my classroom but timetabled across the four upper primary classes.

This would mean in an equal world that my own class would be entitled to the whole twenty for one quarter of the school week. In reality, this has been much harder to achieve. The first decision we made as a learning team was to keep both trolleys for each class booking (Tom Barrett has written about a different approach where their laptop fleet was divided permanently amongst his learning team's classes, giving his class full time access to 8 laptops) and negotiate a timetable that all teachers could operate on.

My co-planning partner (aka the teacher next door) made an interesting comment the other day about laptop availability. To paraphrase, she pointed out that it's hard to pinpoint exactly when you might need this technology at your disposal. When the laptops are booked in does not mean that the students can switch to that mode of learning. Sometimes when the students get really engrossed in their work and on a roll, the time will be up and the next class will knocking on the door demanding their slice of the timetabled pie. It would be really good to just have the laptops on standby, ready for the opportune time and know that there were no constraints on their use in terms of time or battery life. But this technology is a scarce commodity and has to be shared equitably. Interestingly, all of the upper primary classes have not given up their regular computing slots which was one predicted outcome I made prior to the wireless program.

There is no doubt that the students enjoy using the laptops. They focus quickly, are eager to show what they have achieved via the network and the IWB with their peers. Being able to use this technology at their own desk where they can access their exercise books, their personal stationery, their "brain food" and discuss ideas with their work partners free from wires and cables. Being able to pick their digital work and bring to a new position in front of their teacher or their fellow students is another big plus.

laptopping.jpgThe laptops also bring the dimension that I felt was missing in the use of IWB technology in the classroom. I could introduce a resource, an idea or a starting point on the IWB which allowed one student at a time to access and manipulate but once that was over, then the kids themselves would settle back to work in their non-digital exercise books. Now I can get the kids using the same stuff as I've just used on the board. For example, tomorrow morning we will be reviewing our progress for our Personal Research Projects, I will getting them to use the Lotus diagram tool on the Exploratree site. I could demonstrate it on the board because it is the easiest clearest way to show how a Lotus diagram can sort out information and then get them to do their work on a large sheet of A3 paper. But the benefit of working digitally will be that the diagram can be constantly refined and easily shared with the class via the class IWB. It's one thing for the teacher to have digital technology at his or her fingertips but the students deserve the same access.

We can't manage to make that digital technology ubiquitous - yet - but the wireless laptop program is a useful step in the right direction.

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10 thoughts on “Laptopmania

  1. alexanderhayes

    Wouldnt it be anazing if trolleys werent needed and every student has access to a bank of eeepc’s or OLPC’s and they could book them out semster by semester with a refundable deposit to take home and demo to Mum & Dad just how cool the connections were inside and outside.

  2. Allanahk

    Having access to laptops was the biggest single improvement to making our on-line connections more like a conversation.

    The more I see computer suites in primary schools the more they seem like dinosaurs of the the 20th century. I asked a secondary school teacher recently what was it that she taught- she said computer skills- I asked her in what context- she said she taught computer skills, there was no context.

    That is what you get if you have flash computer suites all over the place. If I had to do that I would go spare!

  3. Bill Kerr

    Very interesting report Graham, thanks. ie. how you have been juggling IWB, with computer lab with laptops on trollies and how you have been dealing with the access question. I’ll pass this on to others at my school since we have been talking about these sorts of questions as increased access becomes possible through Kevin Rudd’s “digital revolution”.

    I agree strongly with the comment from “the teacher next door”, ie. full access can lead to more than 2x the learning of half access. I base this on personal experience, described here – not that I had one computer per student but that I had exclusive access to computers because they were old and other teachers weren’t interested. My other thought would be that as computer usage in schools becomes more ubiquitous then the software teachers use might need to be rethought too, eg. I would recommend Scratch , for example, as software which integrates really well into maths, science, social ed etc. enabling that subject content to be enriched.

  4. Graham Wegner

    I think that the ultranotebook is the way forward for improved access in classrooms. I must admit that the ASUS eeepc is an attractive option from a pedagogical point of view – a class set of these or kids bringing their own in would really open up the possibilities for options like Scratch. (Although I suppose that’s not really an excuse not to be using it already!)

    The snag comes with the need to connect laptops within a school setting onto the school network – the vast majority of technicians will baulk at cross-platforming a Linux based machine onto a Windows based server. Politics permeates every level of school decision making – that is probably the biggest barrier to lower-powered, simpler-featured ultranotebooks. Plus the (mis)perception that you need to run “industry standard” proprietary software or risk disadvantaging the students – rack that idea up to teacher comfort levels perhaps.

    I definitely think that use of a personal computer as a learning tool will be hobbled by partial access and older methods of learning have to stay in place to cover the gap. And do we trust our students enough to give them a personal laptop for their own use? That would require a teaching force capable of effectively leveraging and modelling appropriate use of those same technologies.

  5. Chris Harbeck

    Interesting developments Graham. I can appreciate the timetabling issues that must happen when sharing the pod of laptops. My school has one smartboard. I was using it everyday and every class. I have to share though. The board was placed in different rooms around the school and use sporadically. I am all for sharing but it is important to teach users how to use the technology and have the kids actively interacting with the hardware. At some point the price of the hardware will match the budgets of the school divisions.

    Nice to hear of your successes. Keep up with the updates. I hope you have many more “steps in the right direction”


  6. gregc5

    yeah Graham … its the anywhere any time factor that we have found to be important too. Booking a laptop cart is not that much different to booking a lab??
    My aim is to have 2-3 desktops per classroom and pods of three/four laptops and a digital camera that can be used whenever and wherever they are needed. Part way there so far ….

    hay …. “the use of IWB technology in the classroom. I could introduce a resource, an idea or a starting point on the IWB which allowed one student at a time to access and manipulate…..” doesn’t this make my point about the cost/benefit of IWB’s …. lol.

  7. Graham Wegner

    I would put forward the idea that both are useful tools for the progressive teacher. The ability to display and interact with concepts, model information skills on the fly are all things I have found are better working at the IWB rather than be disconnected by tapping away at a keyboard remotely …. because I hope there is still room for data projectors in your IWB free school!

  8. gregc5

    LOL …. projectors are great … the Wii remote technology provides promise for lowering the price too (of the IWB concept). I do think IWB’s have great potential but just cost wayyyy too much at the mo to justify purchase.
    At the recent L@S conference they had prismatic projectors that then hang only a short distance from the actual board and project through a periscope sort of arrangement. Means kids/teachers are not having to think about not working in the shadow which is good too.
    Just pulling your leg … 🙂

  9. Michelle Harrison


    I really enjoyed reading your reflection about the impact of the portable computer lab on your classroom. It seems to me that you really wanted to use what was available to you regardless of when that time to use the laptops was available. I think it’s sad that some of your colleagues refuse to use the portable computer lab first thing in the morning because its “prime learning time” to them. My question to them is why not use the technology that is available to help enhance the lesson you are trying to teach during this very important time of the day? I really don’t understand how they can be so ignorant and not want to utilize the technology that is available to them. They should consider themselves lucky to have a portable computer lab to use when so many other school districts do not.

    I also agree with what the teacher next door had to say about laptop availability. The first school district I taught in had a portable computer lab. I was very excited to have such technology available considering it was nearly impossible to book computer lab time. Not to mention, the computer lab was in the library so that was also frustrating. However, I too, I had trouble deciding when to use this technology even though I was excited to be able to bring the computer lab to my classroom. I did not have a prearranged time to use the laptops each week, but I could understand how she felt about having the computers to use and not being able to determine when you might need it. I liked the idea of having the computers on stand by. It would be nice to use whenever you might need it.


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