Monday, May 21, 2007

The Kopu Digital Opportinities project, of which I am facilitator, will not be getting rid of their laptops as some schools in the USA are doing: "Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops". This article demonstrates a sentiment best expressed in a quote from Jamie McKenzie's article: "When schools put the cart before the horse - buying technology for the sake of technology without asking critical questions about purpose, use and the classroom impact of such tools - they are inviting disappointment."

In addition to not providing adequate PD for teachers, I believe these schools also made a mistake in providing one-to-one laptops. As I mentioned in the Computer Ratios section of my Inquiring Mind website I believe a 1:5 or 1:6 ratio in the classroom is best, made up to 1:2 when needed by mobile laptop pods. I also believe a combination of desktops and laptops works best in the classroom, giving the benefits of both while minimizing their negative aspects.

Too many computers can cause technical difficulties and frustration for teachers and students. Teaching teachers and students how to cope with minor problems so they do not interfere with teaching is very important. Professional development in the use of the computers to support teaching and learning is essential.

At Opoutere School we have been part of the Kopu Digital Opportunities Project for two and a half years and have been using a combination of desktops and wireless laptops in the classroom with good success. We have a ratio of about 1:3, which we increase to 1:2 or better by borrowing laptops from other rooms when needed. We are planning to purchase a mobile pod of mobile laptops to share amongst the classes so borrowing from other classes will no longer be necessary.

Although there have been a few technical issues it is nothing we can't cope with. Each class has students who have been trained to look after the computers and can deal with most issues that arise.

Laptops seem to have a life of about 3 years before they need to be replaced or at least need replacement batteries (and often power cords and CD/DVD players), so there needs to a plan in place for their replacement. We are investigating leasing which may be a useful option. We are also switching to child-friendly laptops which have toughened screens and reinforced edges to minimize damage.

The combination of using inquiry-based learning, aided by internet-capable computers, has resulted in greatly increased motivation and engagement levels from our students (long after the novelty has worn off) and improvements in their information literacy skills, along with many other benefits. We have no intention of throwing out our laptops any time soon.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cambodia Pt 2
The Microsoft Innovative Teachers' Regional conference in Cambodia was a very interesting experience. The conference was a great opportunity to mix with teachers from other countries and share experiences. It was amazing how many areas of commonality we had. It was also interesting to see how advanced New Zealand is in terms of ICT use in classrooms.

I only visited one school in Cambodia but it was an unusual one. The school was floating on a barge on a lake (Tonle Sap) and the pupils mainly came from the floating village on the lake. They even had a floating basketball court and floating playground. Most of the pupils only attended school for half a day so they could work the rest of the time.

Education is free in Cambodia but only very basic facilities and equipment are provided. The teacher's desk was dominated by a large donation box and all the desks were inscribed with the name of the person who donated them. They had a blackboard, maps on the wall, a few teacher textbooks and a few exercise books but very little else. There was no electricity and certainly no technology. The students were all very friendly.

Teachers earn about $US40-50 per month but the Cambodian government has promised to increase this amount by 15% p.a. and has committed a large amount of its budget to education.

My time in Cambodia was certainly very educational, for both the conference and the experience of the country itself. It is not somewhere to which I would like to return, but I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit.

Don't forget to check out my Inquiring Mind website which is regularly updated.