As I have mentioned before on this blog I am fortunate enough to be involved in the introduction of a 1:1 computing environment at next term. As of September every child in years 3 and 4 (Ages 7-9) of our two form entry school will have their own netbook. These will not only be available in school, but also for the pupils to take home, one of the ideas being that they will facilitate an environment of 24 hour personalised learning, where pupils can access the resources they use in school at home and choose to extend their learning in their ‘free time’. They are also being introduced alongside a timetable hour of ‘independence time’ every morning, where children will be encouraged to follow their own interest through independent project work.
Whilst this is very exciting, there will be many challenges, and it is apparent that in order for our pupils to gain the most benefit from a 1:1 environment we will need to explore new ways of thinking about our pedagogy and their learning. I will be blogging about our experience both to allow others to learn from them, and to invite comment from those who are further down the line in implementing this kind of learning environment. Below I have laid out the challenges I have considered so far, and would welcome any suggestions of things I may not have thought about yet.
Managing Digital resources
Given the strong ethos of ICT use in our school I am expecting my new class to be fairly computer literate for their age, however I can see that it may take some time to get every child in the class to the same webpage or document to work on. Simply displaying addresses on the board for them to input is likely to waste an inordinate amount of time across the year, and I first considered a twitter account as a means for me to broadcast links to them all. However,given some of the content on recent spam followers of my own account I am reluctant to use twitter in this way (although as a broadcast channel for parents and the wider world I still have plans).
Luckily I found Edmodo, and I am very keen to use this not only for broadcasting links, but for setting and submitting tasks, and for general communication across the class. Edmodo is billed as ‘twitter for educators’, although I think it is actually much more than that. It allows children to in a class and receive (and send) short messages, calendar events, and assignments. The assignments feature is particularly good, as work can also be returned either as a file upload or a link, and marked online by the teacher, with an option to send marks and comments back to the pupil. A combination of this and Google Docs could allow us to set, submit and mark work paperlessly, and I intend to use Edmodo as a central pillar of our digital classroom.
Physical classroom management
Not the first issue I considered, but this is the first issue friends mention when I tell them about our project- just how we are going to manage having thirty laptops in the room. The most pressing of these issues to my mind is that of charging. The netbooks we are receiving should have around 3 hours battery life, which I can see not being enough for a full day’s work without charging. The first aspect of this will be to make sure pupils get into the routine of leaving their netbooks on charge over night. Hopefully the novelty of using the machines, along with encouragement from teachers to cement this as routine will keep the pupils keen to do this at the start. The challenge may be maintaining this routine later on. Likewise once the novelty has worn off, the issue of netbooks or power adaptors being left at home may become a problem. We are lucky enough to have two iMacs in our classroom, however I am wary of the idea of those who have forgotten their netbooks being allowed to use these (possibly more attractive) machines, and am currently thinking we may have to be quite hard line about pupils who leave their machines at home.
The other aspect of charging is the organization of putting 29 machines on charge in a classroom in terms of physical space to put them in and electrical sockets, especially as they will likely need a charge over lunch. As I have only spent a brief amount of time in our room so far I am waiting until I go in later this week to think through this one, although I would be very interested to hear of other people’s solutions to such use of space.
Managing pupil’s attention
Many teacher friends have voiced concern to me about the possibly distractions of every child having constant access to the Internet in class. I have to say I do not see this as any more of a problem than pupils having constant access to their voices! I am sure there will be off task activity, but I hope that this will not be as disruptive as my colleagues imagine, as it will not be like the novelty of marching the whole class of to an ICT suite for a limited time.
The other aspect of this is a characteristic of modern working environments, which our pupils will have to learn to manage- modern technology makes distraction and procrastination very easy and commonplace. I am sure they will get distracted by the Internet, as I certainly do! However this may be the opportunity for some valuable lessons regarding motivation, focus, and time management.
During my PGCE year I discovered the wonderful world of visualisers, and the potential they bring for sharing and critiquing pupil’s work before the ink is dry (and many other things…). However, when pupils are working digitally such sharing of work could easily become cumbersome. Although we will be largely using web based tools accessible from any computer, the process of a child coming up to the class computer, logging out and logging to a tool then finding the file they have been working on is far more cumbersome than simply putting their book under a visualiser.
Having worked with servers in my previous life as a technician I was aware of screen sharing tools such as VNC, and I wondered if these would be useable to send a child’s screen to the computer with the projector in a more efficient way. I am sure this solution would work, but I also came across iTalc, a free classroom management suite based on VNC. The main use of this software seems to be to allow a teacher to monitor the screens of all of their students to check they are on task. However, it also allows any connected computers to broadcast their screens to the main classroom computer, or to all of the other machines in the room. I can see this being very useful for sharing work in a straightforward way, I only hope it is straightforward to set up and our wireless network can handle the volume of traffic it produces.
Keyboard skills vs. handwriting
Although I expect our pupils to be fairly computer literate, if we do go down the road of them completing most of their work digitally they will need to be able to type with a fair degree of speed and accuracy. This will necessitate some time spent working explicitly on keyboard skills, much as is spent on handwriting in order for them to be able to effectively and efficiently work on their laptops.
Personally, I am someone who hardly ever writes. I keep notes on my iPhone (even shopping lists), and I sms/email people instead of writing them notes. Since I have been like this my handwriting has noticeably suffered, and I do not think this is something we can allow to happen with the children we are teaching, so I think handwritten work still has an important role. I recently attended a lecture in which Dr Jane Medwell presented research that suggested that handwriting is innately linked to the development of composition skills in young children Whilst it could be argued that keyboard skills could link to composition in exactly the same way I think we need to tread carefully in this area so as not to end up disadvantaging children when they do not have technology to hand (as might be the case when they get to secondary school).
Knowing how much is enough
Ultimately I believe our aim is to have technology on hand, and give children the skills so that they can choose to use it when they think it is most fit for their purpose, rather than producing two year groups full of pupils who use technology for the sake of it. This is something we will have to think carefully about when setting tasks, and recognise that seeing something on a screen is no substitute for real, practical experience. Personally, I think this might be more of a problem for me given my obsession with all things digital, and I’m sure my colleagues will make sure we don’t drift too far into the digital world!
All of these thoughts are merely ideas at the moment, as I do not start at Robin Hood until September, and I am sure some of them will take time to implement. I will continue to blog on how they pan out, probably in a more focused way, but I hope this general introduction to our project and my thinking at its outset is of interest, and I welcome comments and further ideas.