Mobile Technology


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.


I was fortunate enough to attend a Learning Technologies sponsored day with Travis Smith from Expanding Learning Horizons today. Interestingly, I was the only person from a primary school and I was fortunate enough to run into an old colleague and Moodle innovator, Jason Plunkett from Mount Gambier High School. I took a bunch of notes but Travis handed around a USB with his presentations, spreadsheet tools and other goodies so I won't replicate his content here but try to capture the essence of his advice and ideas from my own perspective as an educator exploring the possibilities of a 1 to 1 program for his school.

The blurb:
Travis Smith has over 10 years experience in the classroom teaching Psychology, Geography, History and English, and managed the very successful notebook program at Frankston High School in Victoria. He lectured at Monash University for many years in the Education Faculty and has presented at many conferences worldwide on the effective use of technology in the classroom. He was Deputy Principal at Frankston High School for two years before this year becoming the National Manager of Expanding Learning Horizons. The business works with schools Australia wide to assist them to implement 1-to-1 programs and develop and run effective professional learning programs for teachers within schools.

This workshop is aimed at teams of leaders from schools who are looking to implement 1-to-1
technology programs in their schools. Part of the day will revolve around case studies of what other schools
have done in their deployment of technology to students. This program will have a focus on the educational
value of technology programs for students and give leaders a chance to discuss and plan for the many aspects
of a successful and sustainable 1-to-1 program. It will involve a combination of presentations as well as time
to work in school teams on their implementation plan.

The morning started with an introduction from DECS's Peter Simmonds and a quick summary of where our system was in relation to the nation before Travis was introduced. His morning session was mainly focussed on the why for 1 to 1, and what it would mean for your school and your teachers. He described the use of laptops in the school environment as the biggest change in over a hundred years and the absolute need to be aware for progressive Professional Learning. Sessions after school for 90 minutes aren't going to cut it any more and the right sort of professional learning is costly but crucial. Travis's great quote was "It's all too easy to think that it's all too hard." He also pointed out that schools were the last place in the workforce still arguing about the role of ubiquitous computing.

He talked at length about the challenges a classroom of laptop laden students would have on the teacher. There are those who will fear the loss of control but this is too important to walk away from. It is important for teachers to be comfortable in software not necessarily experts and merely view the laptop as the tool to support your good teaching and learning. When teachers talk about not having time, it is important to remove the legwork for them. Effective classroom management is still the key to making it work, (my classroom, my rules) but there are big implications for the pace of delivery. He shared a sample of work designed in OneNote by a group of English teachers that utilised the power of digital resources and the higher order part of Bloom's taxonomy - creation.

Travis offered up a number of alternative ways that someone in a role like mine could re-think support for teachers. These could include term action research projects, curriculum planning with improved digital access and sharing success around the school in a more visible way. After a morning tea break, he talked us through "15 Mistakes You Don't Need To Make." This was timely advice from his experiences and covered aspects like pace of implementation, ownership of the laptops, who controls the software and laptop image, network readiness, technical and technician support, budgets, expectations for the community, student readiness and skill levels and re-thinking PD.

In the afternoon, we had time to work on our own school's planning. This was useful as Travis supplied us with a planning tool that asked a lot of key questions around readiness, and he freely offered a lot of conversation with me on my own school's possible directions and moves so far. All of the ground covered leaves me plenty to unpack and think through and take back to the rest of the school to work on. I certainly saw ways to improve on my effectiveness in my Coordinator role that I was unable to clearly see before today.

Tomorrow, I bring another classroom teacher with me and Travis is promising a lot of digital hands on as we look at what a successful 1 to 1 classroom looks like.

Travis's 1 to 1 implementation tool graphic.

Travis's 1 to 1 implementation tool graphic.

Being the ICT coordinator means that I get a heap of brochures, fax printoffs and emails for this product or another lobbing in my in box. I've lost count of how many times I've put a copy of the latest HDGuard solution into the recycling box. But I'm always surprised what different vendors think that schools should shell out their limited budgets on.

Today it was a publisher offering blackline master books for the teaching of "computing skills" and "inquiry learning". I don't even remember the company's name.

Then there was the pdf from this mob with their "low cost" student laptop. Honestly, should schools shell out A$599 for a 7 inch screen and 128 MB internal memory machine? Heck, I paid nearly $200 less than that for an Acer Inspire One with a 10 inch screen and 250 G hard drive, and I've seen them cheaper than that since then.

Obviously, plenty of companies are just flat out guessing with what is actually useful in a classroom, or they see us as the biggest bunch of suckers going around. I suppose the BER rorting just confirms to many in the business world that schools are just  fair game for any sort of financial exploitation.


It feels like ages since I've blogged and even longer since I've blogged anything worthwhile. Of course, the longer I leave writing here, the more the self doubt sets in and makes me wonder if I have anything worthy of pushing out to say. So, the counteractive cure to that is put up a grandiose title and have a bit of at length pontification about the current state of play in the edtech world.

I'm sick of Windows' complete vulnerability to trojans, worms and other nasties especially when I'm trying to get mid year reports written on my school XP laptop. Files don't play nice across platforms so doing it all on my favourite MacBook Pro wasn't really an option. Interestingly, I can plug in a USB flashdrive into the Mac and see all these weirdly named folders (Kalba, Doda, Gravity etc.) that I just know shouldn't be there but the Mac won't let me delete them. Plug it back into the XP laptop and they become invisible but the crazy stuff happens then. I have found that I can plug in, see and delete these nasties in my son's Ubuntu netbook. Another win for Open Source, I suppose.

I got another invitation in my inbox to be on one of those Top 100 Edublogs lists that seem to be all the rage. What disinterests me is how many policy, corporate and cause based blogs keep making those lists. I'm only interested in reading edubloggers who write for themselves, that are identifiable individuals with clear personalities and quirks - now that's a list I'd be honoured to be on. I find it hard to take sites that call themselves onlinedegrees or onlinembas seriously, especially when the internet is a great conduit for learners who don't want to follow a traditional credentialling process. Give me an empassioned teacher breaking free of the confines of their classroom over some politically driven ISTE-style bandwagon hopper. Jose sums it up better than I can anyway.

While I've been looking at how one might go about setting up, fund and implementing a 1:1 laptop program, David Truss has introduced a new concept that really resonates - the BYO laptop program. Not sure how it would fly in Australian government schools with the bureaucratic need to cover liability but it is worth considering. And I'm beginning to warm to the idea of iPads in the classroom, especially in the younger years.

Meh.. not really much to say. But it's a start. I'll see what gets my brain churning next.


We bought our eldest son a netbook to use at school. His primary school is not likely to move to anything resembubuntu1ling a 1:1 laptop program before he's in high school and he has enough learning issues to warrant limiting his use of pen and pencil. He has a very supportive teacher who is prepared to support us in adding this into the mix of a school with pretty traditional classrooms. But I'm hoping that having a digital tool at his disposal will help to boost his productivity in the classroom, enable him access to tools to help offset some of his learning difficulties and keep his learning on track.

My son loves computers and is fascinated with operating systems and sub-folders but tends to see a computer as a pastime, an outlet for fun rather than a focussed tool for achieving things. I thought that going with the Windows 7 default OS that came with the Acer Inspire netbook that we picked for A$450 would be too big a distraction in the classroom so I wiped that off and installed Ubuntu Netbook Remix instead. There is no wireless access in his classroom so the software options all had to reside on his hard drive  and be easy to navigate. The Netbook Remix does that very well.

If you are not familiar with Ubuntu (as I wasn't prior to playing around with it during this summer) then it takes a little getting used to.  But it so simple and logical - Aaron picked it up very easily and intuitively.




So, he has a clean, very fast running netbook that will give him word processing, an excellent file system for his documents, a nifty webcam that can take pics and video and I can add any number of educational programs (like Tux Paint, Tux Type, Marble, View Your Mind) from the open source Ubuntu community. It works well on wireless at home and because Netbook Remix was developed with the screen of a netbook in mind, you don't get the minitiaturisation effect we get on our netbooks at school running an XP desktop. I'm hoping that in time, this helps Aaron in his classroom endeavours and the netbook can become a digital repository of his learning.


This is now the third week of the school year. The class is settling, I'm putting one foot after the other in my share of the team teaching duties and there seems to be a lengthy stream of things to GET DONE as the year slips out of first gear and starts to become more structured and more routined. You know, class newsletter, check. Class photos up, check. Homework Grid ready, check. Parent Acquaintance Interviews organised, check.

You get the picture.

I'm trying to put my finger on whether this year feels different yet. It feels normal enough but in my visits around the classrooms when previewing our new ICT Use Agreements, the biggest buzz was around the idea of having permission from home to bring mobile phones, portable gaming devices and digital cameras to school. Nearly 90% of my class have a mobile but the big market share device around the school is definitely the Nintendo DS or DSi. It doesn't matter which classroom I walked into - kids from five to twelve owned these pieces of personal technology en masse.

Very interesting. In the primary school setting, maybe more of a potential gamechanger than an iPad?


I have been very reluctant to think too much about the world of learning / education / technology since school broke up two weeks ago. So I've actually been relishing every excuse to NOT go online and consider this blogging thing because that would mean re-engaging with this multi-tailed beast of learning in a more taxing and serious manner than I'm prepared to right this minute. That could change on a whim but I have enjoyed heading to the beach with the family (going for three days in a row tomorrow), watching a few movies at the local cinemas and overdosing on a whole season DVD of The Wire over the course of a week. We've given board games a real bash after Christmas and I've even moved up to Number Five on the blacklist on Need For Speed Most Wanted on the PS2, which is as much of a gamer I ever get to be.

The post Christmas catalogues came out and one item at Harvey Norman caught my eye - a turntable/tapedeck with USB connection for the conversion of LP records and cassettes to digital format - and so I went off to see if they had any in stock. They were all sold out before Christmas so I wondered if it was as simple as having the right cable to connect our old "boombox" to make it happen in a cheaper fashion. A quick Google turned up a surprisingly easy result that even a non-techy, non-geek could manage. I have a large collection of cassettes from my mis-spent youth that I rarely ever listen to because of the format they are tied to but as I'm entitled to make a copy of music I already own, I went down to Tandy this afternoon and bought a 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm plug to see if I could get this to work. $19.95 to get a better quality insulated connection and I was back ready to experiment.


The circa 1991 JVC tape deck was connected to my MacBook Pro, Audacity opened up and a few preferences changed before getting started. I had to ensure that I selected line in, not microphone, and check that it was enabled for stereo. Put in a cassette to test the levels and I was away. Now I just want these tracks for my iTunes so a bit of tape hiss is to be heard but that could be erased with a bit of work in Audacity as well. So, now I'm listening to Matt Finish's Short Note album for the first time in many years and hope to slowly convert my cassette collection over the course of the year. Of course, I only need to convert songs that I really want as in the 80's I was in the habit of buying a cassette for only a couple of tracks. Why cassettes? Well, it was the portable format of the time and I remember many a trip over to the West Coast of South Australia scrabbling for a new tape on the long trip. I am looking forward to seeing what I've forgotten about - but being the respecter of copyright, you won't find my offerings on Limewire anytime soon.


I think that the only thing worse than a tunnel visioned Web 2.0 evangelist is a tunnel visioned Mac enthusiast. And I say that after recent purchases of both a MacBook Pro and an iPhone. I mean, they're both nice pieces of technology but the frothy mouthed utterings of some of my PLN would have you think that anyone not using Apple products is mentally deficient. I almost laughed out loud when I heard a recent keynote make a statement about "Apple having education in its DNA". Pass me the bucket.

Anyway, one of the nice things about my new combo is the fact that I got a Gig of mobile internet data thrown in as part of my plan, and I can now "tether" my phone to my new laptop to access the web wherever and whenever the need arises. For the first time, I can be hyper-connected. I literally have the internet in my pocket, except for the fact that 3's coverage can be a bit spotty. Initially, I was unsure how far 1G of data would go in a month and I was cautious about how often I would tweet, check email or look up something to settle an argument in the staffroom. But interestingly, as Darcy Moore pointed out, the iPhone doesn't use a whole lot of data even when regularly accessed so I could rest easy about blowing this allowance within the allotted timeframe. So, really, I can now live the totally connected lifestyle with any digital whim a finger swipe away.

But I am a bit of a pathetic in this regard. I've come to the conclusion that my lifestyle doesn't lend itself to fully exploiting the new toys tools. For example, so far this month, I have only used 82 MB of my allocate 1024. I've tried checking emails, feeds etc in my lunch breaks, I've even used the Maps tool to find a nearby school location when I missed the turn off and this week, I finally worked out how to tether the phone to my laptop and used it to access the web for an entire morning working in the front office. But I haven't even managed to use up ten per cent of my allocation.

And it resets back to the full quota tomorrow.

With customers like me, no wonder telcos are making a killing.


I finally splashed out the other weekend and bought an iPod Touch, even going so far as to buy the 32 GB version. I had some thank you money from my involvement in PLP over the summer, our prime minister is encouraging Australians to spend their way out of the recession and I was curious to get a little taste of what the Mac zealots were always carrying on about. Well, it is a very enjoyable toy but my first impressions after nearly a fortnight of use is that it is really a consumption tool, as opposed to a creativity tool. I mean, I am tapping out this post rather painfully right now while this sort of task was considerably easier on my old Pocket PC using a stylus and hand writing recognition.
There's no doubt that it has liberated a fair bit of music from my old CD collection but now I need to buy a converter to liberate my extensive cassette tape collection and help fill up this little contraption. We'll also see how it goes picking up stray wi-fi next week on our family holiday in Melbourne.
Hmmmm.....maybe there is a Macbook Pro in my future even though I don't see how Mac loving Windows critics can claim any form of moral superiority when two proprietary systems square off against each other.

-- Post From My iPod Touch


We have 10,000 netbooks being rolled out in a trial in Victorian state schools. See here for Bill Kerr's analysis.

We have 200,000 laptops of similar ilk being rolled out by the NSW DET. A spirited debate on this news is currently happening on the Oz-Teachers list (start here) - but at times sniping about operating systems, industry standard applications and local vs system distribution masks the bigger trend occurring here.

And what happens here in South Australia?

Yesterday, the SA Secondary Principals Association revealed computers remained in boxes at some schools because there were not enough funds allocated to install cabling, power points or wireless internet connections needed to run them.

Why isn't our State Government helping schools out and building on the DER funded computing resources being allocated to schools? Apparently, it is up to individual schools to find their own way. You can criticise the NSW DET and Victorian Ed. Dept for their choice of technology, their contradictory policies around filtering and approach to social media tools but I am quietly wishing that someone here in Flinders Street was thinking forward to the concept of students with their own digital device as an integral part of their classroom.

I know this doesn't solve the issue of teacher development - how we ensure that laptops/netbooks etc become the new connected exercise book and pencil case for the current generation of students? Tony Searl in a recent comment hints at things to come:

Maybe DET NSW 1:1 could just be the tech tipping point that forces some reluctant hands. If 30 kids show up carrying their weapons of “mass connection” it’ll either end in tears or salutes, the past fence sitting/avoidance will be diminished as an option.

Maybe it won't just force the teachers to act - maybe education systems will be forced into action of some sort as well. If I'm in an upper primary classroom in five years time and they don't all have a laptop of some description - well, then there is some massive governmental denial going on.