It is not about the device! Or is it?

The extract below comes from an article I recently wrote for our College Newsletter. We are a 7-12 secondary high school where all Year 9-12 students have been given netbooks thanks to the funding of the Digital Education Revolution. However, these devices are slow, fragile and students tell me too bulky for them to carry in their school bags.

 

At the end of 2011, a commitment was made to purchase devices for Year 7 & 8 students in 2012. I cannot see why it is any less important for Year 7 & 8 students to have a device. There have been some extraordinary events at our school this year that have meant the purchase was not a priority until recently; however, within the last month, the matter of purchasing devices for Year 7 & 8 students has been fairly restored to the top of the agenda list.  For reasons I won’t go into, we are not going down a BYOD option and I know, “It’s not about the device”; however, it still is important! Here is the extract ….

 

As Neil Postman says in Technology: The surrender of culture to technology: “Every technology is both a burden and a blessing; not either‐or, but this‐and‐that.” This is the moment I am living right now.

 

Over the course of the last few weeks I have had many discussions with teachers, students, parents, CSO personnel and colleagues beyond the Riverina. I have asked many questions and listened to all and sundry about the pros and cons of laptops versus tablets, and the plusses and minuses of Microsoft Office as compared to the Apple suite of programs. The more I listened, the more I understood that there is no one device that will serve the diverse learning needs of a whole year group, let alone two year groups.

 

For the purposes of schooling, the technology (the device) needs to support the pedagogy (teaching and learning methods), not the other way around. The device needs to support our intentions for our pedagogy to be more and more student-centred; that means, providing students with greater choice of subject matter and pace of study. It also requires teachers to involve students in more decision‐making processes which result in memorable experiences where students ‘learn by doing’ with relevance to the real world. Examples of this approach would see students:

·         CREATE podcasts, video documentaries and websites;

·         COLLABORATE via wikis, blogs and Google share documents; and,

·         CRTICALLY ANALYSE the work of their peers using chat options and online media.

 

My desire is for Mater Dei students to more and more engage in activities that result in them Creating, Collaborating and Critiquing. They collectively need to move away from pre‐occupation of computer work being just “Word and PowerPoint”; and it is great to see that some are already doing this! The Google suite of applications is one option which supports “creating, collaborating and critiquing”. At the direction, and with the support of the Catholic Schools Office, the Google suite of applications will become available to all staff and students of Mater Dei from the beginning of 2013. Over the last few weeks when speaking with Year 7 & 8 students, I introduced them to the Google suite of applications and they were genuinely excited by the possibiliti
es. Furthermore, they were looking for a device that is ‘instant on’, connects quickly to the internet, portable, light (the lighter the better), had a keyboard and the battery needs to last the whole school day. Basically, they were telling me, “We want a tablet device.” The problem is that the Google suite of applications is very limited when applied to tablet devices. So, at this point we have two options:

          Option One: Pursue ‘lightweight’ laptops which turn on quickly and can access the full suite of Google Applications; however, laptops that are durable enough for school bags, generally weigh a tonne!

          Option Two: Wait until the Google suite of applications effectively can function on tablet devices, but no‐one can give a direct answer as to when this will be.

 

I am well aware that I am ‘on the record’ on saying that, in 2012, we will have portable devices for Year 7 & 8 students. I am still very keen to see this become a reality; however, I do not want to buy a device for the sake of buying a device. Also to be considered is that over the course of the next six months there will be some significant events including;

i)                    In September/October of this year there will be the release of a Windows Tablet which, by all accounts I am told, “will be a game changer”.

ii)                  By the start of 2013, the College will have a fully functioning Learning Management System.

iii)                As already stated, there is the knowledge that the suite of Google applications will be made available to students from the beginning of next year. I am told, “There will be an Google App for Tablets one day”. Yes, but when?

iv)                The College will be in receipt of a significant amount of government funding which directly contribute to the purchase of devices for Year 9 students in 2013. Some say we would be mad to spend our own money now when, in six months, the government will pay for them.

 

So, I refer to Postman’s quote at the beginning of this article, “Every technology is both a burden and a blessing; not either‐or, but this‐and‐that.” I think it prudent to ensure the device that we do purchase best supports our developing student‐centred pedagogy, and is therefore more of a blessing than a burden.

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