The primary school where my children are enrolled have taken steps towards preparing the school for the introduction of information and communication technology (ICT). The governing body are thinking of equipping teachers with laptops and Gauteng Education department have equipped the school with a set of tablets. These are exciting moves for our school and leadership are to be commended for their bold steps.
Now, I don’t want to be a wet blanket – but I’d like to suggest a little caution to parents and management before the school goes ahead and invests too much money in ICT’s. Before budgets are blown on laptops, tablets, data projectors, software etc. it is important that the school look at the following:
- Manage expectations of staff, students and parent
- Find an educator who’ll act as a champion, not a technician
- Install suitable infrastructure that will support the vision for the incorporation.
Computers and education are presented by many people as a given. Silicon Valley believes that they have a new technological solution for teachers that will help them solve all their problems – from admin to assessment. The business community, concerned that schools are still stuck in an industrial mind-set, want empowered employees, comfortable with working on tools of the 21st century. Parents like schools equipped with new technologies because they demonstrate that the school cares about children future.
Rapid adoption of computers, laptops, cell phones and tablets across society have left an impression that technology is driving change in education and schools have to adopt technology or they will be left behind. Yes, here’s no doubt that ICT can play in education. In the classroom, for example, ICT can take on a range of roles – library, noticeboard, intercom, jotter, simulator etc.. There’s also no doubt that ICT makes it possible to participate in learning environments that transcend classroom walls. Where we all get a bit lost, is when we focus on “what the device can do”. Instead, a school that is thinking of incorporating computers into premises should be asking is – “what aspect of ICT will best contribute to improved learning?”
Introducing ICT into a school requires more than equipping teachers and students with devices, infrastructure and the internet. If a school is not clear about what they want students to accomplish with these devices, if students and teachers are not ready for these activities and if there is no groundswell of support amongst parents, staff and students for using these devices in the manner envisioned, then it is likely that in the medium to the long term, this initiative will be costly and underused.
Find a champion
It’s assumed that computers and education are inseparable and much marketing makes the point that technology alone can deliver desired benefits to education. Technology does not make – except by lucky accident – a good teacher. It simply magnifies practice. If technology is well used, then it’s effects are noticeable. However, Ill-considered use of the technology may have results which are the opposite of what was originally planned. So before we start talking about equipping a school with tablets or laptops should be clear about how teachers are intended to use the devices. I’d suggest that the school finds a champion that that communicates the overall set of goals of the project, the components that will be required for success and the schedule for rolling out the stages of digital learning. Such a champion should be able to address the following questions
What do you want teachers to accomplish with their own computing device?
- Distributing content
What digital content will teachers be expected to use with their own computing device?
- Content supplied by the department
- Content that has been purchased from a commercial publisher
- Content that they have authored themselves
- Content that is licensed as an Open Educational resource
How do you envisage teachers using the device?
- Distributing learning materials
- Distributing admin information
- Projecting Interactive learning materials
- Delivering multimedia
How are teachers going to collaborate with their devices
- What are teachers going to use to connect to each other (email, instant messaging, social media and intranet)
- Is the school’s infrastructure sufficiently prepared for network and wireless access?
- Is the school going to pay for Internet access
- Who is going to be responsible for managing the various services
- Who will be responsible for technical support
An enabling infrastructure
School buildings need an infrastructure that can support an influx of devices accessing the network. With both tablets and laptops it is important that as many wireless access points as possible—at least one per room. If the school’s programme take off then children will be bringing their devices (cell phone in their pocket and an iPad, tablet, or eReader) and it may be good to plan on two devices per student.
Tablets are portable – their lightness makes them easy to carry around the school. The inbuilt multimedia capacity within tablets make it easier to record sound, capture and record video and record Tablets have access to a range of educational apps and for special education, apps on tablets are more suitable to support students with speech, communication, wring and reading issues. When it comes to functionality – laptops have more processing power than tablets and can be used to support larger programmes and projects. Laptops also have more memory than tablets. Research on laptops is preferred by students because it’s easier to swap between various sources. Data entry remains easier on laptops as full keyboards are ideal for entering, capturing and working with data
Draw on the many sources of experience and expertise
The school can and should take advantage of the many resources out there to assist schools with preparing themselves for getting the school ICT ready. The Laptop for Teachers project is a government sponsored project intended to provide educators with Laptops. Microsoft’s Partners in Learning programme, has a great set of resources to assist teachers get on top of technology. Their School Technology Innovation Centre (STIC), located at SciBono is a wonderful resource for infrastructure. While I have not yet met the folk from Tablet Academy, I have been impressed with their advice on Twitter. They offer a free consultancy service. Last but not least, don’t forget SchoolNet . With over 20 years’ experience in schools, they are an invaluable resource.
Computing at schools should never be about the technology. Students behind screens or teachers projecting a multimedia presentation do not necessarily mean that learning is taking place. Computers might enable good teaching, but incorrectly used, their capacity to distract is great. If the schools goals are clear, an educator, and not a technician is leading the project and the leadership of the school can see how ICT infrastructure could be another building block in accomplishing those goals, then the school may see results from their spending on ICT.