Connected Students

One to one laptop programs have been around here in Australia for quite a while now. Gary Stager spoke extensively about that last year when he was in Australia, pointing out the work of David Loader who pioneered the first school notebook program at Melbourne's Methodist Ladies College back in 1990. I've visited a couple of schools who have ventured down that track - St Albans Meadows in Melbourne and Holy Family here in Adelaide - and the model seems to be the same whenever one talks about 1:1 in today's schools. Firstly, head over to the Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation (AALF) website, plan your school's path forward using their excellent 21 Steps To 21st Century Learning and decide on a suitable affordable model of laptop to roll out.

I really enjoyed the sessions with Travis Smith late last year and took his advice of "don't rush your school community into things" advice to my site as we grapple with our own proposals for a 1 to 1 program. We are close to running a 1:1 classroom trial for the year in a key classroom to answer a number of the questions posed by our parent community. But what if the tried and true model of 1:1 laptops has already had its day?

Quite a few high schools around Adelaide have already jumped into the breech, rolling out parent funded laptops to their Year Eights. Through my contacts, I've seen some of the laptop choices (ranging from a 10 inch netbook to a Apple Macbook) and heard some of the stories. Paraphrased quotes and stories following below:

"My son was proud when his class received their laptops in the first week and he knew how to log on and get using it straightaway while some of his classmates struggled. Unfortunately, it hasn't been called upon in classes since."

"My sister had her laptop in her backpack when she went down to the beach after school with her friends and it got stolen."

So, the popular move is to use a one size fits all model. Working for a large system, I understand the thinking behind this - control, control and more control. It's seen in the way we set up wireless and networks in schools where digital certificates and complex logons manage and restrict the connected environment. This way, the school owns the laptops, can manage the software licensing, keep technical issues down to a minimum (which is lucky because most schools operate on a shoestring budget when it comes to technicians) and keep track of laptop movement via library barcodes. We can feed our filtered "safe" internet through these networks onto identical, predictable machines that equalise the connected experience.

But is this the only scenario?

I lurk on a mailing-list called Oz-teachers where the regular contributors debate topics in such an in-depth and authorative way that I feel more comfortable dipping into their conversations via my Gmail. Brett Clarke is an Oz-teachers frequenter whose observations really challenge my fairly conservative (conservative as in limited in scope, not as in right wing political leanings) world view. On a number of occasions, he has posited that 1 to 1 as a managed roll out is a concept that passed its start by date. Recently, he stated the following:

If you're at a school that didn't already catch that wave several years ago, then just skip it and move on. The kids will thank you  for it and the staff won't have to learn the whole laptop thing and then learn what it means to go mobile 12 months later...

Another gem that has me wondering about what we should be doing in the primary when investing for the future:

I'll say it again - now is NOT the time to be starting a laptop/netbook programme in your school!

This is not to say schools shouldn't have some laptops - but not high ratios - just for the few situations where the tablet may not be the most convenient/appropriate alternative...

I'm also intrigued by David Truss's BYO Laptop program as a concept. I know from conversations with my students that a sizeable number of them already have a laptop of their own. I then wonder what their parents' reaction would be when the school announces a laptop program that dictates a particular model and cost. I can hear it already.

"Why can't my child just bring their laptop to school?"

There would need to be several major shifts in thinking to be able to say yes.

Firstly, our wireless network would have to change its security settings so that non-networked laptops could gain access. There would be the issue of software licensing and a well thought approach so that office software like OpenOffice or possibly GoogleDocs become ways to avoid breaching proprietary software licenses. The biggest shift would have to come from teachers who are comfortable with familiar programs, network paths and occasional use of computing technology.

There are times when I think that the students are more ready for these shifts than we are.

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5 thoughts on “Connected Students

  1. David Truss

    Hi Graham,

    I think that if you are going to dictate a model and cost of a laptop, then the only way to go is to either provide the laptop or have a set payment plan with a warranty that you’ve set up, partnering with a laptop company… but for BYO Laptop, if you want kids to ‘bring their OWN’, the best you can do is have minimum requirements. Being a new program and not really having full buy-in from my parent population, I know that minimum requirements were key.

    We spent the first few days getting Open Office on all the student computers as well as a free anti-virus, and had a lot of discussions with my 3 teachers about using this tool as a tool and not a crutch, as something we use and put away at different times. Our biggest issue has been bandwidth and blocking, which has actually gotten worse as this country clamps down and intentionally slows things down!

    I must clarify that I’m the only one in my company that rolled this out… in China… at a private school… without a district policy, or a district network to hold me back. Still, I think BYO Laptop has viability on a larger scale and the reality is that if a school district buys into a laptop program then a large expense needs to be put out and I think where most laptop programs have failed is in spending all their money on ‘hardware’ and not enough on ‘headware’. A BYO program is significantly cheaper than any other laptop program, even if you have to subsidize some families, and just as we don’t provide pencils, and won’t provide mobile technology which students also bring into our schools… we need not invest so much in a tool, when really where it belongs in this day and age is on the student supply list.

    And finally, I think you are absolutely correct, “The biggest shift would have to come from teachers who are comfortable with familiar programs, network paths and occasional use of computing technology.”


  2. C Haynie

    I recently learned that my elementary school will be getting one to one laptops for grades 4-6 next year. I had many concerns addressed in this article. I also stated that I had concerns about the actual use the laptops would receive by all of the teachers. I am afraid that, like the statement in the article, after the time is spent learning how to log on, there will be classrooms in which the machines are not used again, or with limited use.
    As a Title 1 building in the Midwest US, I also voiced concerns regarding requirering students to complete online tasks at home if no internet service was available in the home. I am ready to embrace the possibilities that this opportunity opens in instruction, but I also worry about the logistics of it all.
    Thanks for the food for thought.

  3. Paul Luke

    G’day Graham – In the world of tech there just doesn’t seem to be the ‘sweet spot’ anymore – or the right time to jump in. The landscape continually changes. Whatever the 1:1 device there will always seem to be other supplementary devices to fit the desired learning. Having played with an iPad for a while now I am increasingly leaning towards the views / rationale expressed here
    as the preferred 1:1 device.
    The less reliance on technical support the better. Cost factor is important. I think the iPad has a shelf life of two years before the next iteration. On the school front – the critical factor for success (IMHO) is the reliability and strength of the wireless network. Having investigated this considerably over the course of time – we must not underestimate the work that needs to be factored to enable efficient and effective online access. Cheers, Paul

  4. Graham Wegner

    Thank you all for your valuable feedback. Obviously, it is as much about expectations for learning and how teachers facilitate that learning, that then feeds down to the correct device for the job. And David points out, the school must dovetail with its community so that it is best served by the right decisions.


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