July 6, 2013 – 6:48 pm
I’m writing this post to explore viewpoints on a school’s capacity to supply ICT to students – for I propose schools are at a “tipping point” in their attempts to achieve this by themselves.
A little context perhaps:
About 10 years ago our Department of Education set a target for schools to supply 1 computer for every 5 students. The majority of schools in Victoria I believe met that target over the ensuing 5 years. Schools chose to either construct computers labs that were heavily timetabled (often in secondary schools) or put computers directly into classrooms. The computer labs generally had teachers assigned to them to support class teacher and student skill acquisition. At that point I believed it was every teachers responsibility to be computer literate and therefore placed computers at the point of need in classrooms and designed a PD program to up skill teachers. We, of course, had varying levels of success as with any change process.
What governments and schools alike generally failed to account for was the need for speed – that is access or connection speed. Many people have access to computers in many different locations (libraries, homes, business or cafe’s) most of which do have high-speed to a single or a few points (large business excepted and they usually had accompanying high levels of IT staff and budgets). Schools, often with buildings in spread out locations generally with inadequate infrastructure, have hundreds of points with small amounts of technical support or budget and hence internet and connection access slowed causing many frustrations not usually experienced in other locations. You often heard students say it was faster to wait till home time before researching on the net.
So, like many schools over the past few years, we have spent our money on infrastructure to improve access, then speed of access via increased technical support and of course digital storage. I won’t go into the technical specifications but I will say that infrastructure and support consume about 60 – 70% + of our annual budget of around $50,000 – $60,000. The rest was on replacement stock of computers (often leased), interactive whiteboards, camera’s, printers and consumables. Our network as a result is quite effective and often only lacks a greater bandwidth going out to cope with the demand. I am for example able to Skype with our sister school in China over a wireless network with no loss of picture or sound interaction.
So why am I saying schools are at a tipping point?
Well I think expectations about the effectiveness or desirability of a 1:5 computer ratio have changed. I also think expectations of access to later technologies have also increased as the prices lower and make them more affordable in homes and business alike. I go shopping sometimes in large shopping centres, like Chadstone, and see lots of preschool children in prams playing with iPads or their parents iPhones. I go for coffee in the morning and see similar scenes in various cafe’s. So can schools supply this on a 1:1 basis?
The pressure of increased expectations to supply up to date technology is certainly being felt by schools. I want to be clear that I am not saying even if we could supply them that all teachers would know precisely how to plan for their effective use in classrooms. That, as they say, is a work in progress (wip in texting terms).
We are trialling this 1:1 computer ratio via a student leasing program in one classroom this year, a year 5/6 classroom. What I’m noting most of all in the classroom is the increased use of social media – e.g students posting literature reviews on blogs, collaborating using Google docs, using i garage to produce radio advertisements against bullying and working as teams on video productions of certain learning events (e.g. school Anzac Day Ceremony).
What I see coming is an increase in the use of social media that invites dialogue or feedback on their reflections and self evaluations of their work and efforts to produce it. This I think in time will naturally lead to digital portfolios and the increase in student voice during what we know as parent teacher interviews.
Our aim is to measure if there is any increase in student engagement with learning as a result of the use of digital technologies in classrooms and at home.
So for me the tipping point is clear – schools by themselves cannot and were not intended to supply 1:1 student access to technology – and this is certainly the expectation of many students from at least year 4 – 12 and onwards.
We are trialling a 1:1 student lease program this year as I stated before and a working party has been set up to look at the effects of rolling this out to a wider group as well as “bring your own devices” programs (BYOD).
I do think its reasonable for students and parents alike to expect schools to have a really effective network with good access to software and broadband but few, if any schools, have the capacity to supply a 1 to 1 computer ratio for students.
So I’m interested in schools a little further down the track in resolving these dilemmas passing a comment or providing advice for us.