Jump to content


Photo
- - - - -

Teaching History in a Laptop Classroom


  • Please log in to reply
10 replies to this topic

#1 Richard Jones-Nerzic

Richard Jones-Nerzic

    Long-term Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 510 posts

Posted 18 June 2003 - 09:07 AM

I would like to begin with a question that was put to me in a conversation exactly four years ago this week. I had previously sent off a tentative application to be the Humanities teacher at a new international school to be opened in the south of France and I was being interviewed by telephone. There had been nothing in the advert about laptops, but I was now informed of a recent decision to equip every student with a portable computer. ‘We will be’ I was told, ‘the first fully laptop school in Europe’. It was Friday evening, I was relaxing after a hard week’s teaching and my Chinese dinner was going cold, then came the question: ‘How will the fact that every student has a laptop computer change the way you teach and how your students learn?’ In this seminar, I would like to share some of my experiences of teaching history in a laptop classroom, but I would also like to encourage some speculation from all members of this forum about how they would answer that question put to me four years ago.

In a sense what we are concerned with is the (potential) history classroom of the future. A laptop classroom means that each student ‘owns’ a portable processor that they bring to school in the morning and take home to work on in the evening. This portable is replaced and updated every 18 months and is equipped with industry standard software. In school, students are taught in classrooms where everyone has network access to high-speed internet/intranet resources and lots of personal and shared storage space. Each classroom also has a ‘beamer’ (a video/multimedia projector) and a range of essential peripherals for printing, scanning, burning etc. Digital still/video cameras are readily available for students and teachers to use. Other specialist resources are available in designated areas of the school for design, music, art or other multimedia work. Ok, so that’s the ‘laptop classroom’, now what do you do with it?

After about 6 months of working in this hi-tech environment, I wrote an article for the European Virtual School History Department about how the nature of teaching and learning was changing in my classroom. Although the article strikes me as rather wide eyed and breathless today, there are a number of conclusions I made then, which have been borne out by later experience. As I said at the time, ‘how laptops make a difference becomes obvious when we consider what laptops replace’. Doing ‘well’ in history is still largely calculated by how well the student performs within the artificial constraints of the lines of the traditional exercise book. Replace the exercise book with a laptop and you open the way to a much more flexible, multi-media, multi-intelligence based learning. Howard Gardner himself recognised this possibility when he wrote, as early as 1984, that:

'… the potential utility of computers in the process of matching individuals to modes of instruction is substantial…the computer can be a vital facilitator in the actual process of instruction, helping individuals to negotiate sequences at their preferred pace by using a variety of educational techniques…' Frames of Mind (1993) p.391

The laptop on its own does nothing but facilitate; it is the resources (software, websites etc) that the students are able to access and process that make the difference. At the moment a student relies on those things physically in the classroom with them at that time: a teacher, textbook, and other students. With a laptop, students have access to other teachers, other students, and a choice of different resources all available at times not constrained by classroom bells. Our recent experiments in the Student Forum suggest some interesting future possibilities for this type of learning. Access to web resources that teach through empathetic simulation and decision-making I find particularly valuable. My current favourite is this BBC simulation of an archaeological excavation. In addition, a laptop can help ‘scaffold’ student learning by helping them overcome difficulty with lower order skills and the tyranny of the blank page, allowing them to concentrate on the historical skills that matter. In this I have been impressed by the electronic writing frames used by Andrew Field and others (see Nazi Germany example), that allow students to produce well-ordered notes or essay plans in manageable steps. For the brightest, a hypertext curriculum will always offer extension activities and links to pursue something that may have caught the student’s interest. (See my Year 9 or GCSE examples)

But what has impressed me most over the last few years is how the laptops can be used as multimedia portfolios for the students’ as producers. This is where the advantage of the laptop over the exercise book becomes clear. An exercise book of handwritten words is a (closed) written dialogue between teacher and pupil. A student who expresses their learning through a website or multimedia presentation is no longer necessarily bound by the limitations of their linguistic intelligence and is engaged in an open dialogue with anyone in the world who cares to listen. In addition, apart from memories that soon fade, what record of their learning does a student in a traditional classroom take away with them at the end of the year? A laptop allows the student to record in a transferable format, evidence of a wide range of different learning successes; this means pretty much anything that can be produced electronically or captured on digital still/video camera: board games, role plays, speeches, debates, re-enactments, simulations, class teaching, movies or of course, websites etc.

Let me use just one example to illustrate my point. Since I started teaching in the early 90s, I have done a Nazi propaganda activity with my Y10 GCSE class. It started with students in groups producing scenarios, posters and dialogue etc. for the movie that they would then try to persuade Goebbels to fund. Last year I resurrected the activity in a laptop classroom with the students producing promotional websites. The difference in quality and student motivation was marked. Students were able to use digital video editing to actually make a scene from the film and integrate it within the website. Most interesting of all, the students who achieved the commendation awards from their peers were not my A* students. Careful editing of digital images, acting, web design and artwork are not the preserve of traditionally strong history students, but they can be used to express good historical understanding. (see work here)

There is one final important characteristic about a laptop classroom. Unlike the exercise book classroom, a laptop classroom resembles the multimedia ‘real world’ our students inhabit and will be employed by when they leave school. There is a very apt quotation in a John Simkin’s article, taken from Dale Spender’s book Nattering on the Net: Women, Power and Cyberspace, that highlights what is now the central problem of the traditional exercise book classroom:

'It's a teaching/learning model that is out of synch with the rest of the world. Many of today's students can tell you in no uncertain terms just how “unreal” (and boring, and silly) the educational context is. Traditional educational theory, practice and organisation are each day becoming more irrelevant and unworkable: just as the scribal model became obsolete after print was invented.'

Richard Jones-Nerzic
International School of Toulouse, June 18, 2003.

Edited by Richard Jones-Nerzic, 18 June 2003 - 09:42 AM.

All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke


European School Brussels III
International School History

#2 jo norton

jo norton

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 220 posts

Posted 18 June 2003 - 01:53 PM

The laptop on its own does nothing but facilitate


I am fortunate to work in a school that is fully commited to the use of laptops in class. We have 3 portable laptop trolleys that can transfer classrooms. This has proved very successful - motivating and helping pupil progression. The laptop facilitates access, as Richard says. It allows pupils to skip straight to the higher level tasks, for example pupils look at two extracts and have to analyse them by changing the text font and colour to show opinion and fact and to identify the historiographical school that they came from. If this was done traditionally on paper pupils are sometimes unwilling to risk a wrong answer - laptops offer the undo button, and many chances to explore the answer. Laptops also have an excellent function - pupils have to shut the lid when listening to the teacher, making it easier to see who is on task!

#3 John Simkin

John Simkin

    Super Member

  • Special member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,779 posts

Posted 19 June 2003 - 07:20 AM

I have had the pleasure of visiting Richard’s laptop school in Toulouse three times. This has included time spent observing lessons and talking to staff and students. It is the most exciting development that I have seen during my time as a teacher.

The laptops definitely helped but there were other factors at work that might have been more important. For example, it is a purpose built school that has a quite unique design. This plays an important role in what goes on in the school. It was only opened four years ago so the head could handpick her staff. As a result the school has a committed team who have a strong desire to cooperate with each other. They are also not scared to try out new ideas and are not hampered by the restrictions of SATs or the National Curriculum.

I would recommend anyone interested in curriculum development to pay Richard’s school a visit. There is no doubt that when every student has a computer with them at all times, it dramatically changes the aspirations of the teacher.

Jo Norton’s point about having a portable laptop trolley is a good one. I have used computers in the classroom since 1983. I started off with only having access to one computer. Since then I have taught in schools where you could book a computer room. However, I am convinced that until students all get their own computers, the portable laptop trolley, is the best strategy to employ.

#4 Juan Carlos Ocaña

Juan Carlos Ocaña

    Member

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 15 posts

Posted 20 June 2003 - 04:25 PM

To some extent, I, like most of European teachers, feel like a citizen from a former communist country watching Western TV... I mean, at my school there are two computer rooms that you have to book and where students normally share computers (2 students - 1 computer). A lot of European schools are better provided of computeres, but I know that lots are worse off.
However, Richard's article shows us a reality that, hopefully, won't be so far away.

But what has impressed me most over the last few years is how the laptops can be used as multimedia portfolios for the students’ as producers.

I would highlight the dimension of "students as producers of materials". Apart from the fact of having a multimedia porfolio, using a computer provides students the ability of producing their own materials. From my experience, students are highly motivated when they can create materials, specially if they will be available on the internet.

a laptop classroom resembles the multimedia ‘real world’ our students inhabit and will be employed by when they leave school.

I have often wondered about the enormous gap that our students feel between "reality" and a classroom organised around a blackboard. In this sense, laptop classrooms simply make our students to bridge the gap. Laptop classrooms are more "real", students don't have to travel back in time.

#5 Dan Moorhouse

Dan Moorhouse

    Six Star General

  • Admin
  • 3,537 posts

Posted 20 June 2003 - 05:08 PM

Having a whole curriculum based on aceessibility to ICT resources such as Laptops would be a fatastic opportunity. A quick glance at the previous seminar on ICT in History suggests that the possibilities are virtually endless. There's plenty of evidence of extremely good use of these resources on Richard's website but there are things that some people may be a little unsure of. Therefore I'll raise a few queries about the way that it runs on a day to day basis, answers to which I hope will prompt a little more discussion:

1) Ultimately the students will have to sit a written, rather than typed, examination. What's the balance between typed work and handwritten tasks?

2) Given all of the ICT resources, how regularly do you make use of none ICT based tasks in lessons?

3) Has such regular use of ICT resulted in the loss of any 'wow' factor?

4) How is the work marked? Is it stored electronically with you typing comments on the end or printed out for the hard copy to be annotated?

5) Most of my own students like to copy and paste from the internet. how frequent is this in a laptop classroom and what strategies are used to prevent it from happening?

6) What happens when the network crashes?

#6 Carole Faithorn

Carole Faithorn

    Carole

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,279 posts

Posted 20 June 2003 - 10:21 PM

1) Ultimately the students will have to sit a written, rather than typed, examination. What's the balance between typed work and handwritten tasks?

A bit of a sidetrack here .... An Examinations Officer will no doubt put me right on this one, but I think it may be permissible for pupils who do virtually all their work on a laptop to do so in the examination. We certainly have a number of pupils who do this - and I don't think that all of them necessarily are certificated as 'Special Needs'. Therefore I think that the concern underlying your question may be unfounded.

#7 Richard Jones-Nerzic

Richard Jones-Nerzic

    Long-term Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 510 posts

Posted 21 June 2003 - 01:36 PM

The laptop facilitates access, as Richard says. It allows pupils to skip straight to the higher level tasks, for example pupils look at two extracts and have to analyse them by changing the text font and colour to show opinion and fact and to identify the historiographical school that they came from. If this was done traditionally on paper pupils are sometimes unwilling to risk a wrong answer - laptops offer the undo button, and many chances to explore the answer.

I'd like to deal with this observation about literacy first, before coming on to the equally important issues of practicality raised by Dan.

In 1996, laptops introduced into 29 “pioneer schools” in the United States produced results that will have delighted even the most ardent of educational traditionalists. Children were apparently more motivated, spent longer on their homework, had higher literacy levels and enjoyed significantly improved ICT skills. The research concluded that:

'Laptops lead to more student writing and to writing of higher quality. In response to an open ended question, more than one-third of the surveyed teachers named writing as the academic outcome or skill that has been most directly affected by use of the laptops. Some teachers said simply that writing had generally improved; others said that students were doing more writing more often.' (Rockman et al, 1998)

My experience supports all these findings. Take for example an activity based on a traditional skill like writing a history essay. As teachers, we know that many students find it difficult to put their ideas together before putting pen to paper. We also recognise that not all students have the patience to draft and redraft their work before they do so. A laptop with a word processor and a student with an electronic writing frame, eradicates these difficulties and allows the student to concentrate on what has always been important: the argument, the analysis and the evidence. As a bonus, the essay produced on a laptop also allows the teacher to make interventions in the ‘work in progress’ without the soul-destroying red ink of exercise book ‘corrections’.

I use the Longman's 'Think Through History' series which is designed perfectly for a laptop classroom (Yes, I use books!). The series takes the students through a series incremental steps which are invariably recycled for the final 'enquiry'. Often the final enquiry can be something relatively sophisticated such as a thematic, analytical essay, but if the student has been working electronically this becomes a straight forward 'cut and paste' job, no laborious rewriting. The student is focused on the structure and analysis, dragging paragraphs around until they fit. My favourite example of this is the Henry VIII booklets produced by Year 8. This is a clever activity that has students writing a fairly complex essay (booklet) for a primary school audience. Even my EFL students can cope with an 8 page booklet, partly because the 'steps' are so well designed but also because they are old hands with MS Publisher.

But I think it is also important to recognise that laptops help students with more than traditional 'literacy' skills. One of the enquiries in Y9 has the students draw up a chart to show the links between Quarry Bank Mill as a case study and the Industrial Revolution in general. In the book version of the enquiry, students produce lots of writing with hand drawn arrows to show the links. It is a complex task that requires chronological skills, a thematic approach to causation and philosophical reflection on the role of the individual in history. Instead I have the students build
websites. Can there be a better way of showing the complex web of interdependencies than by building a web(site) of complex interdependencies? The students may be developing their literacy or ICT skills, but they are learning history.
All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke


European School Brussels III
International School History

#8 Richard Jones-Nerzic

Richard Jones-Nerzic

    Long-term Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 510 posts

Posted 22 June 2003 - 12:35 PM

John Simkin

The laptops definitely helped but there were other factors at work that might have been more important. For example, it is a purpose built school that has a quite unique design. This plays an important role in what goes on in the school. It was only opened four years ago so the head could handpick her staff.

Purpose built to some extent. The decision to 'go laptop' came quite late in the day. Network points were strategically positioned in the floor but cabling would be far better coming from above. The architect wanted to create a 'cathedral for learning', all light and very high, sloping ceilings; a beautiful learning space but not very practical from an ICT point of view. It has certainly had an impact on the general reliability of laptop classroom. Also the 'poured concrete' building prevents from setting up a wireless network.

The staffing observation is highly relevant. It is important that students have opportunities to develop ICT skills across the curriculum on a regular basis. The burden of teaching the ICT skills is shared between all the teachers, which means the focus of a history lesson is usually history. The students generally acquire the ICT skills as they need them; to be able to solve a particular problem or to be able to make a particular type of presentation. I have a rule in class that they 'ask three before they ask me', which usually means they are learning more from each other than from me. Skills are then learnt through repetition and reinforcement. For this, being able to continue at home with assignments started in class is crucial. And unless you give all your students a portable computer, you cannot set homework assignments that require a computer.

Occasionally, there are ICT problems that none of us can solve, at which point I set a challenge. If a student presents me with a solution to the problem that explains 'how to' for other students, they receive a commendation. The best this year, came from a student who worked out how to make a
graph in Excel which showed the relationship between unemployment and political support in Germany 1924-1933. It's not as easy as it sounds. Which brings me on Juan Carlos' point

From my experience, students are highly motivated when they can create materials, especially if they will be available on the internet.

I doubt whether I'd get many takers for my challenges, if the students thought no one would ever read their 'how to' guides. The Internet allows me to extend the display boards of my classroom out in to the wider world and this does motivate. But it also allows the outside world into my classroom. This has interesting (challenging?) implications for the school as a wider learning community. Parents can access the hypertext curriculum and know exactly what their children are doing or, for example, what skills I'm assessing. And they regularly email me about it. But there are lots of other ways to use this openness as well. My reports include a number of pertinent URLs to help parents make sense of my comments. Grandparents around the world can see their grandchildren's exemplary work or the photos of the last trip or the video of the latest role-play. I have a student joining me from the UK in September, half way through his GCSEs. He has already sent me a first draft of his coursework set by me, has been involved in an online forum discussion with his future class and has copied up all work that he has missed as a consequence of following a different syllabus. All this is made possible by the Internet; the 'communication' part of 'ICT' that we (I certainly include myself in this) currently under exploit. (This forum excepted)

I will get on to Dan's points, but I need a break again...
All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke


European School Brussels III
International School History

#9 Richard Jones-Nerzic

Richard Jones-Nerzic

    Long-term Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 510 posts

Posted 23 June 2003 - 02:54 PM

Dan, at last...

1) Ultimately the students will have to sit a written, rather than typed, examination. What's the balance between typed work and handwritten tasks? 2) Given all of the ICT resources, how regularly do you make use of none ICT based tasks in lessons?


It varies between classes, teachers and students. In the first year with laptops, the humanities department made a conscious effort to get as much out of the technology as possible and we did not give our students exercise books. Part of the reason for this was the ‘wow’ factor you allude to, but also we wanted to get the pre-examination classes as up-to-speed as possible (in ICT terms) whilst we still had the curriculum time. Now we use exercise books and laptops. But in general, the younger the students, the more we use laptops. We give the students a choice where possible but not all the work using the laptop is ‘typed’ and could not alternatively be done by hand. One of the curious consequences of having laptops is that I do a lot more roleplay than before. Because I film the work, keep a record and occasionally publish it, I am convinced the students take it more seriously. I often do a two-week assignment, where the end piece of assessed work is oral or performance based. I would be much more reluctant to do this if I didn’t have a permanent and easily transferable copy of the work.

After Xmas in Years 11 and 13, the students have to learn to write quickly and this is the only occasion when I might insist they work without a computer. I was not aware of the possibility mentioned by Carole of doing exams with a computer but I am very interested in hearing from anyone who knows more about this. Percentages? I guess there are some students in Y7-Y9 (11-14) who use a laptop pretty much all the time for history. In IGCSE (14-16) 80-90% of the time and at IB it varies most. Students who are new to the school might only use the laptop for producing essays or when they have to do some video editing or produce a website. In the end of year exams (all year groups, handwritten), it is only the IB class that I can identify from their handwriting. In a recent comprehensive review of the laptop programme, we surveyed parents and students about laptop use. Students only used a laptop more in ICT lessons than in history: 97% said they found the computer ‘useful’ or ‘very useful’ in history.

3) Has such regular use of ICT resulted in the loss of any 'wow' factor?

Yes for both teachers and students. When the school opened the laptop ‘wow’ lasted about three-six months. Now staff and students are very blasé. The ‘wow’ soon gives way to the gripes about load-up times, battery-life and a thousand new ways to blame your laptop for your inability to get your homework in on time. I try to avoid saying ‘you don’t know how lucky you are’ but can be difficult sometimes. The loss of ‘wow’ is generally to be welcomed but has led to a significant increase in our insurance costs, as students now treat their machines like they treat their PE kit.

4) How is the work marked? Is it stored electronically with you typing comments on the end or printed out for the hard copy to be annotated?

This varies between teachers. Although not the environmentally friendly answer, I prefer to mark stuff on paper. I can scrawl all over this and then students are expected to make corrections. I used to have students email me, but this gets unwieldy. Of course, much they produce cannot be printed easily, so these I mark in electronic form. We have had to develop ways of assessing websites. But one of the best things about students producing electronic work and saving it to the server is that it makes peer evaluation very easy. Everyone can access everyone else's work at the same time.

5) Most of my own students like to copy and paste from the internet. how frequent is this in a laptop classroom and what strategies are used to prevent it from happening?

I used to call this the ‘Encarta syndrome’. In the early days (10 years ago) students wouldn’t even bother changing the font or the © Microsoft at the bottom of the page. And even though students are much more sophisticated now, it’s still easy to spot and rarely happens. I had one good example this year from a student who had only been in the school for two months. I failed her, spoke to mum (by email) and had a quiet chat with the girl. I doubt she’ll try it again. The key is making the assignment criteria very specific and actually reading the student's work. This second point isn’t meant to be flippant.

There was another incident last year that is interesting in this context. In the first year of IGCSE history coursework, the board recommend you follow a standard assignment, which I did. Within 10 minutes of setting the assignment one of my Year 10s had found ‘A’ grade answers to all the exact same questions with a straightforward Google search. Of course none of my students used the materials because they knew that I knew about them. I wrote to the board to warn them of this problem but they didn’t reply.

6) What happens when the network crashes?

Plan B. This involves textbooks, the ‘beamer’, the whiteboard and room full of kids with laptops. But actually the network has rarely gone down. This is not the big problem of reliability, the laptops are. We have a 10% surplus of replacement machines but this is sometimes not enough. In a class of 20 there is invariably one student who has something wrong with their machine. Patience with technology is vital in a laptop classroom. As it happens, I am not convinced that laptops (as we understand them today) are the future for education but they are a useful bridge to that future.

Edited by Richard Jones-Nerzic, 23 June 2003 - 04:07 PM.

All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke


European School Brussels III
International School History

#10 Carole Faithorn

Carole Faithorn

    Carole

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,279 posts

Posted 25 June 2003 - 11:04 PM

I was not aware of the possibility mentioned by Carole of doing exams with a computer but I am very interested in hearing from anyone who knows more about this.

I fear I have been misleading on this (though not intentionally). According to our Exams Officer it is a requirement that candidates permitted to use a laptop in exams must be certified as having Special Needs (ie there must be an Ed. Psych. report). In addition the report must state that the candidate has particular difficulties in writing quickly and legibly. Apparently the Exam Boards are not equally sympathetic to such Reports.

Sorry to mislead you.

#11 Richard Jones-Nerzic

Richard Jones-Nerzic

    Long-term Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 510 posts

Posted 24 August 2003 - 12:35 PM

Towards a speculative conclusion and select webliography

So are laptops the future of education?

If you believe the dominant research, the answer is an unequivocal 'yes!' As Jamie McKenzie of the educational technology journal From Now On has argued: 'A decade after the creation of so-called laptop schools (ones where each student owns or carries an individual laptop), it is difficult to find anything but glowing reports and testimonials regarding the benefits of equipping schools in this manner'. But as he goes on to argue: 'Visit some of those schools and speak with rank-and-file teachers and the pictures projected to the outside world sometimes contrast with the images that emerge from within. At times it feels like "The Emperor's New Clothes."' (After Laptop)

To some extent he is right. Part of the problem is that the launch of laptop programmes always comes at great expense to somebody: local authorities, fee-paying parents, sponsors etc. The institution is inevitably on the defensive having to justify the enormous expense, almost before the programme has been launched. Clearly it is not in the school's interest to admit that the programme has been anything but an unqualified success. Our laptop programme costs my school the salary equivalent of about half a dozen experienced full time teachers, maybe more. Given the choice, what would most parents prefer: smaller classes or computers? Given the choice what would most teachers prefer: higher salaries and smaller classes or laptops? Of course we can always turn to the research to prove that laptops make a difference. However, the problem with much of the early research is that it tends to be sponsored by those with an obvious vested interest. The Rockman project for example, was co-sponsored by Microsoft and Toshiba.

So what are the problems with laptops? Tom Daccord, an American laptop history teacher and creator of www.besthistorysites.net has written about some of problems that most laptop teachers will recognise:

'After the first few problem-filled classes my enthusiasm for the experiment had dipped considerably. Laptops are not as reliable as desktops and students were interrupting class regularly to announce (or complain): "I can’t get on the Web!" or "My mouse is stuck" or "My e-mail won’t work"…It takes at least a few minutes at the beginning of each class to call up the appropriate file or page and begin the daily lesson. I have to boot up my own machine as well and connect it to a projector. When a machine malfunctions (mine or theirs) the lesson is interrupted and the class can be thrown off its rhythm…The machines are also a considerable distraction. The kids are always tempted to check e-mail, or jump on the web, even when they are supposed to be taking notes. And it is difficult to know exactly what the kids are looking at --unless I stand behind them. (Thus, I make them sit with their backs to me during tests). I am always wondering if they are really taking notes when they are typing so furiously! I circle around the class periodically to check, but they can hide what is on the screen pretty quickly.' (http://www.besthisto...e_wireless.html)

Despite these problems, I still believe - and I suspect that Tom Daccord might agree with me here - students should have access to computers whenever and wherever they need them. For all the reasons listed in my original posting, I want my students to have access to their digital work, the software, a processor and the Internet whenever they or I want access. I would hate to have to go back to teaching history in an 'exercise book' classroom. Until recently, I could not really begin to see an alternative to laptop technology in the short-to-medium term. I carried a laptop wherever I went and worked with it in preparation and presentation of my lessons. I could see no alternative for the kids. Very recently however, I stopped carting my laptop around. So what has changed to allow me to consider alternatives to laptops? Two things: new desktop PCs and portable storage devices.

We recently had new desktop PCs installed enabling a much more sophisticated degree of multi-usage that customises each user's programs, emails and storage. Now when I log-on, it really is my computer. The technicians assure me this means much higher levels of network security and protection from petty vandalism, because the new operating systems allow everything to be much more easily traced by the network administrators. How much ICT time is lost in traditional computer lab because someone in the last class disabled the PC she/he was working on? With the 'ownership' of laptops by students this problem does not arise, but neither should it if each student is working on a 'different' desktop computer. Of course, because it is a desktop, it is also much more reliable than my laptop. Nor do I have to reboot it or reconnect to the network or the beamer every time I start a lesson. This eliminates some of the problems encountered by Tom Daccord . Another advantage of laptops is that the lid can be closed and the machine pushed to one side so that it does not take up valuable classroom space. Traditional desktops do not offer that flexibility, but my new desktop has a flat screen and this leaves me with a clear desk. I now find that my laptop just gets in the way.

The second innovation is even more important. The whole point of laptops is that they allow 'anytime, anywhere learning'. ©Microsoft. The students work in a lesson, the bell goes, they close the laptop lid, they leave and complete what they were doing somewhere else. Similarly, I used to plan my work at home on my laptop and bring it into school to use in lessons. But then last Christmas I used a 'Pen Drive' for the first time and now the laptop stays at home. This thread from earlier this year, explains the basics of what we are calling 'USB storage devices'. 100+mb of genuinely portable memory, no driver installation required, the ultimate 'plug and play': as Nicky says in the thread: ' I use a USB device which is fantastic. This is because sometimes I want my information in school but do not want to cart in my laptop - can be plugged into someone else's laptop!' I have a computer at home and in the classroom, so why carry a few kilos of fragile screen, hard drive and heavy battery around? In September our students will be having new laptops. This latest version will not have a floppy drive, but instead each student will be given a USB storage device. If they have access to a computer at home and we provide one in school, is it really worth the bother of them bringing a laptop to and from school?

A brief look beyond the laptop classroom.

I would argue there are three practical problems with using laptop computers for teaching. The first is the fragility that results in the sort of unreliability that Tom Daccord describes above. The defining characteristic of the laptop is also the source of its weakness, the portability. I am as careful as most of my students, yet I have still managed five reported breakages over the last four years. The second weakness is ergonomic and results from the proximity of keyboard to screen. This makes it impossible to maintain good posture whilst working. Thirdly there is the problem of weight. Although significantly lighter now than a few years ago, a laptop is still an additional few kilos added to an already overweight school bag.

At the moment we manage these practical difficulties. A good (but expensive) insurance policy, an effective maintenance/loan system and a supportive pastoral system, can keep breakdown disruption to a minimum and neutralise any health risks. But what if we want to look beyond these difficulties? Of course, the manufacturers will say the answer lies in more robust, lighter machines with that are ergonomically improved. But in my view I only really need a laptop if I want to work while I travel, or if there is no computer at my place of destination.

If students do not carry laptops, each of them will need easy access an Internet connected computer outside of school. Typically this will be at home but it need not be. In school, classrooms will need to be equipped to provide flexible computer access to every student. In the medium term this might have to be through laptops on trolleys and a wireless network, but eventually classrooms could be imaginatively designed with discrete monitor points, which do not restrict more traditional forms of learning or any possible configuration of pupil grouping. The history classroom of the future must be a space that allows for role-play drama, games and students carelessly wielding scissors and glue. Personally, I'd think that students might be expected to carry their own keyboard. This would continue the laptop classroom ethos of responsibility through ownership and probably limit vandalism. But otherwise I'd would like to think that their school bags will return to being filled with books, a pencil case (with USB storage device) and a games kit.

Select Webliography

http://notesys.com/L...ite/papers.htm
Papers about the use of laptop computers in schools

http://www.fno.org/a...terlaptop.html
After Laptop by Jamie McKenzie

http://rockman.com/p...ptop/index.htm
The Microsoft Toshiba funded ‘Rockman’ project.

http://www.besthisto...ch/index.shtml
Tom Daccord a History teacher in Massachusetts, USA writes about his experiences of teaching history in a laptop classroom which in many ways mirror my own. Especially here. See his comment 'it is clear that the ibooks have transformed the way I teach and have changed the dynamics of my classroom. With these computers my students are much more actively involved in the learning process and I rely much less on passive teaching methods. The computers enable my students to assume diverse roles in the learning process and provides them with many more opportunities to research, organize, and present material on their own. The machines help me put students at the center of the learning experience and encourage inquiry, initiative and higher-level thinking in the classroom.' Also here.
All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke


European School Brussels III
International School History




1 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 1 guests, 0 anonymous users