What factors hamper the success of a 1-1 laptop program?

I don’t purport to have the answer to this question. I do have the predicament of a program that simply isn’t working.

Like all other DEC schools my school is in the final year of a four-year federal government initiative where all students in Years 9-12 are given a laptop. It is because of this so-called Digital Education Revolution that I started this blog. DER is why I started using Twitter. It is why I started looking to the Internet for learning tools for my classes. It is why I started my Masters. And it is why I am still a teacher. And whilst it certainly has started pushing teachers at my school in the direction of becoming the fabled ‘21st century teacher’, it certainly isn’t the success story I imagined it would be by the final year of the 1-1 program.

Each year I see teachers becoming more and more confident with their use of technology in the classroom. The number of IWBs in classrooms has grown tremendously … I guess that’s a start. Each year I have more and more teachers ask me about registering for edmodo because they want to connect with their students online to share ideas, resources and set assignments for electronic submission. Some teachers have even purchased iPads and have started using them in the classroom. Other teachers have taken to using tools like ClassDojo to help them create a positive learning environment. Lots more teachers are finding ways for students to use video cameras to create films that demonstrate their learning. These are big wins.

What I’m not seeing is an increased use of laptops in the classroom. I am seeing students in Year 10 – who have had their laptops for less than a year – asking to keep them in my classroom because they ‘don’t need them for other subjects’. I am encountering more students requesting to not use their laptops in my class. Why? Because it takes so long to load that they feel the waiting is hampering their learning. They only use it in my class and they can share with a friend and still achieve their learning goals. And I get that. I really do.

So is the loading lag the only reason teachers aren’t using the laptops in the classroom? I can’t say that is the only reason. I think that the main issues are still related to pedagogy and the pressures of a crowded syllabus and a high stakes external examination – the HSC. These two reasons mesh to make the use of laptops really difficult for lots of teachers. Add to that a machine that is unreliable and you can understand why teachers aren’t rushing to use laptops in their classrooms.

It has always struck me as odd that the so-called ‘edutech gurus’ criticise teachers for failing to integrate technology into their students’ learning and yet a quick look at the booking sheets for computer labs invariably finds them booked out. And it’s not just the TAS teachers making the bookings. It’s all subjects – LOTE, creative arts, HSIE … the lot! I should know – recently I was kinda reprimanded (in a nice way – I wasn’t named and shamed although I’m pretty confident everyone knew I was the one being spoken about) because I’d booked every one of my lessons into a computer lab for the rest of the term. My colleagues were understandably annoyed by the fact that they couldn’t get into a lab when they needed to. So why are teachers more comfortable taking their students to the computer lab than they are having students use laptops in their classrooms? I’m keen to find out why from the teachers themselves. But I’m pretty confident they could all be categorised under the three reasons I already listed above.

I must confess that I feel responsible (almost entirely) for the semi-failure of the 1-1 program at my school. Last year I hid in my classroom. I was unwilling to spend another 12 months doing ‘show and tell’ at staff meetings and trying to run lunchtime and after-school workshops that were attended by one person or neglected entirely. I hadn’t worked out how to ‘fix’ the 1-1 problem. In my lack of persistence I have done my colleagues and our students a disservice. I need to make up for that this year and I’m still trying to work out how. Of course showcasing Project Based Learning to the staff is one thing I will be doing this year. I spent so much time last year experimenting with student-centred pedagogies that I reckon I should start sharing that at my school at some point this year. I can’t even explain why I’m so anxious about doing that.

Anyway, if your school has been successful in ensuring all students in 10-12 are using their laptops productively in their classes when they are needed, I would love to hear your story. Does your school run 1-1? What do you do to make it work? What professional learning strategies have you used to target this teacher and student resistance to laptops? I want this last roll-out of laptops to really sing – I want it to be the best year yet for 1-1 at my school!!

Re-reading this post has helped me to remember one thing about my dilemma. I haven’t actually asked the students or the teachers how often they use the laptops or why they don’t use them. I reckon that sort of information might come in handy. And maybe I’m just naively trusting the words of my students who claim that the laptops aren’t being used … perhaps they are?

And then, as a final twist to the story, I think maybe the teachers and students are just ‘voting with their feet’ so to speak. Maybe they are sending a message to all us edutech wannabes and saying ‘No, we don’t want to use laptops in the classroom. That’s not how we want to learn.’ There’s something exciting and organic about that idea. They’re not saying they don’t want to use technology, they’re just saying that the 1-1 idea is flawed. Maybe it’s that the 1-1 thing encourages a teacher-centred pedagogy and an individual-worker mentality. Maybe the love of the computer lab indicates that teachers and students thrive on a variety of learning experiences and learning spaces. Why would a kid bring a laptop to school every day if they’re not needed in every lesson every day? It’s inconvenient. Maybe this is why laptop trolleys have had more success. Perhaps variety is the key. Perhaps.



A reponse to Darcy Moore’s post ‘Learning: A Digital Renaissance’

The following post was written as a reply to Darcy Moore’s post Learning: A Digital Renaissance (A Draft). Please check out his wonderful post and add your own reply to keep this valuable conversation flowing.

This is a timely post – as always. I am feeling a little like a middle manager at Kodak or Angus and Robertson who has started to think digitally, but the force of the existing power-structures and philosophies regarding education are so strong and well-established that I must ‘jump ship’ or sink with the ship into oblivion. I know that sounds melodramatic – and it probably is – but all I’ve been thinking for the last 18 months is ‘No one is listening. Change is too slow. Where should I go to?’. It is very difficult to stay and bail water from a sinking ship when so many of the other sailors – and most importantly the captain – have their back turned and don’t see the rising waters.

OK, I’ll quit with my lame analogy, but you get my point. I believe that thanks to your inspiration and guidance I have learned to ‘think digitally’ and really once you do, you can’t stop – can you? I cannot go into a class and stand up the front and teach to a test with a worksheet anymore. (My poor Year 12 students, haha!) My vision of education in the 21st century is such that students MUST be given the chance to work as teams. These social skills (as you rightly point out) are an essential part of creating a civil society. Our classrooms are no longer bound by the students and teacher within them.  We must give our students the skills to effectively reach out and encounter the people, experiences and ideas out in the world.

When the NSWDEC unblocked twitter I was skeptical. I thought it might be simply a grab at seeming progressive, to look as though they are ‘thinking digitally’ just like some of us teachers, even though the power-structures of large organisations like the DEC often seem to inhibit this type of thinking. But yesterday, I finally realised how momentous this decision to unblock social networking for teachers really will be.  Yesterday I created a twitter account (@younginquirers) for my Year 10 class – they’re going to follow writers and ask them questions about writing a quality narrative. Already we are following five wonderful writers, two of whom have tweeted the class with writing tips! So, it’s nice to see that my cynicism was unwarranted – DEC have done a great thing and I hope that this move towards ‘thinking digitally’ will extend further into our classrooms!

My biggest frustration with the current ‘state of play’ within the education system is the perception of teachers as being ‘in control’. I imagine that you can still buy books pretty similar to the one you mention in your post. They’d target the pre-service teacher. I bet there are lectures and courses devoted to ‘teaching and control’ at unis in Australia right now. I bet students have to read articles on the best ‘behaviour strategies’ to ensure you maintain control in your classroom. Well I have a prac student right now and she just taught her first lesson and it was wonderful! A Yr 11 Standard English class (13 boys, 4 girls) studying a play and she had them for the very first time last period on a Thursday – and she took them to the computer lab! This would be a nightmare to many experienced teachers let alone a young woman who has very limited teaching experience. The lesson was a wonderful success and there was no ‘behaviour’ issues. Was she standing there threatening the kids with a stick/letters or calls to parents/clean-up slips/detention? Did she yell and scream? Is she an intimidating individual? No! She just planned a damn-good lesson that was student-centred, encouraged team work, rewarded positive behaviours and completed work as well as speaking openly about positive learning behaviors in different learning spaces.  The very next day (whilst I was ‘teaching’ the same class) I checked twitter and discovered that she had tweeted me (she joined twitter and started a blog the first week we met – thinking digitally!) to remind me how many points each ‘team’ earned the previous lesson. I read her tweet aloud to my students who then helped me tweet her back with their comments – we now have a hashtag for my class’ communication with their prac teacher! The point I want to make is that my focus when ‘prepping’ my prac teacher for her first lesson was not about ‘how to manage behaviour’ it was ‘how to engage learners’. She didn’t ask me who the naughty kids were and how she should punish misbehaviour during a lesson because I didn’t bring those things up. The success of her first lesson proves that she didn’t need to know about ‘control’ – she needed to know about how these particular young people learn and why the content and skills being taught are relevant and can be made appealing to them.

So why am I telling you about my prac student? Because seeing her enthusiasm for education, her creativity, her willingness to take responsible risks, her flexible-thinking and her passion for our subject (English) I know that she will make a wonderful teacher who will make an impressive contribution to the lives of many, many young people. And hearing her say ‘my whole uni cohort is jealous of all the cool things I’m doing on my prac’ makes me sad. I mean, what are other master teachers offering their students? Are these young pre-service teachers not being given the opportunity to ‘think digitally’ because practicing teachers aren’t thinking digitally? It’s an opportunity lost. And then I get all self-critical and emo – am I being irresponsible by helping my prac student learn to teach ‘hands-free’? What will happen when she gets her first teaching placement and the HT hands her a bunch of worksheets, a textbook and a novel? Will she agitate for change? Or will her lowly position in the school hierarchy mean that it will take her (like it took me) six years to get the courage to make a stand, and by that time potentially have lost the flame of passion and creativity?

Sorry for the excessive reply, Darcy, but your post really hit a nerve for me. It’s really not just about the technology anymore … it started off that way for me with DER. Thanks again for inspiring me to think more deeply about what I do as an educator. It’s SUCH a hard job – imagine deciding that you’d stand on the front line and advocate for change! You’re amazing! I’ll add this reply as a post on my blog too and hopefully encourage more to share in your conversation.

Re-discovering online ‘gems’ …

Tonight I am feeling excited about putting the finishing touches on a PBL-style activities matrix for Year 9 novel study. (Haha, mouthful – gotta love edu double-talk) I’ll try to continue this blog post using Orwell’s ‘clear prose style’ and avoid turning into a machine or a dummy!

This task is something that has been gestating in my heat-oppressed brain for many, many months … since I had the pleasure of visiting SCIL at the invitation of Shani Hartley. My job this year is to ensure that we have up-to-date programs for Year 9 English. Because these students are netbook kids I’m having a bit of fun with the task. Problem is that the programs must be accessible for teachers who are not familiar with technology in the classroom or who may resist using it. At SCIL they use a form of learning matrix (based on Blooms Taxonomy and Gardener’s Multiple Intelligences) that gives students the freedom to direct their own learning. It was great watching Year 5/6 students confidently directing their own learning based on their perceived ‘learning styles’ (something that has not surprisingly come under fire by a team of academics led by Hal Pashler, see here). My prac student last year used a form of this matrix with mixed success.

My matrix blends the 5 elements of fiction (plot, setting, characterisation, themes and writing style) and gaming elements (I think, I dunno cos I’m not a gamer so don’t feel confident with gamification … maybe soon) and ICT-based individual and small group tasks. The whole thing is to be completed by a small group of five students within a given period of time (no duh, huh? lol). There are 25 different tasks to complete – each task ranging earning the students between 2 and 10 points. (Aside – many of the tasks have been adapted from a great teacher book, Ignite Student Intellect and Imagination in English by Sandar L. Schurr and Kathy L. LaMorte  (2009) ) Students get ‘completion’ points and ‘success’ points as well as possible ‘bonus’ points for presentation.

Here’s a look at the matrix:

My biggest challenge was creating rubrics for EACH one of the 25 tasks. That’s a LOT of effort – no one really wants to do that, huh? But I remembered a web tool I had been shown years ago – rubistar. It’s such a great tool, literally saving HOURS of time for teachers! And even better – it’s PERFECT for Project Based Learning where students often complete smaller investigations and products on their way to meeting a bigger challenge/answering an over-arching question. I am SO glad I typed rubistar into google tonight on a whim. Already I have created five really effective student and teacher friendly marking rubrics that will ensure my students know what is expected of them for each task to achieve maximum points.

Hoping that the teachers in my faculty like it and don’t think it’s just another example of ‘mental Bianca’! Oh, and even more importantly, I hope our students enjoy the tasks that have been created for them.