My school is in the exciting (and somewhat daunting) position of now investigating possible ways of achieving a learning environment in which every child has their own laptop for daily use. The desire to move towards this particular model is highlighted by the current National Secondary Schools Computer Fund and by the proposed pilot for completion of some School Certificate subjects (and eventually HSC subjects), with specific recourse to using computers in examinations.
Certainly, exams that need to be typed are a good reason to start looking in this direction, right? We think that a one-to-one environment would definitely be a suitable goal within the next few years (and our school is not the oozing-cash-private-variety where such a goal has long been a reality!)
At the same time, I have a number of real misgivings about current approaches taken by other schools – where the computer fund is solely or largely used to directly provide a computer to year 9 students. You could summarise these misgivings as follows:
- Current 1:1 ratio calculations occur on the basis of including existing desktop and laptop machines (up to four years old), as well as recently-purchased laptops.
- Many schools have designated these for general school use. This designation recognises the need for students in all years to have reasonable access to new technology.
- The model of directly providing students with laptops may not be sustainable given these calculations.
- It is also unclear as to whether the National Secondary Schools Computer Fund may continue over the long-term. If it is not continued at any time, this would unduly disadvantage any students who have not received a computer as part of the grant.
- Giving laptops unconditionally to students may not ensure accountability and a sense of responsible ownership in relation to the care and use of the machine.
In light of these issues, I’ve now argued for a while that the National Secondary Schools Computer Fund grant is, for many schools, best spent in the continued designation of machines for general school use and KLA-specific use, and that access to the machines is most equitable when they are stored and maintained in the school concerned.
At the same time, schools need to explore ways that an environment where students own and bring laptops to school for daily use might be achieved over the long term. To this end, I’ve been interested in netbooks (and similar low-cost, light-weight laptops) viable options for students to purchase, and it is reasonable to expect that this technology could complement the current technology infrastructure in the school concerned. The specific advantages of complementing currently existing technology with student-owned netbooks can be summarised as follows:
- Netbooks are light-weight and have sufficient battery power to last extended periods.
- They are also very low-cost when compared with other machines.
- Recent software developments (for example, Ubuntu Netbook Remix and Windows 7 Starter Edition) recognise the need to develop light-weight operating systems that boot quickly and enable basic productivity and internet use.
- By using netbooks for basic functionality (for example, typing essays, managing spreadsheets and internet research), existing technology can then be maximised for the type of use that requires higher powered machines (such as when editing videos, recording music or manipulating images).
Perhaps many schools need to consider models through which the bulk purchase of netbooks might be negotiated to the benefit of interested parents and students. Possible parameters in which such purchases might be made could include any of the following:
- Partially-subsidised machines, where parents and the college co-contribute to the machine’s purchase, either as a one-off cost or in instalments.
- The negotiation of three or five-year warranties to ensure that repairs are possible and will be low-cost in nature.
- Site licenses of favourable operating systems and/or basic productivity software.
- Assistance with developing adequate technical support.
- Well-negotiated arrangements for purchases from reputable and reliable suppliers.
What are your experiences in advising on the purchase of machines in your school as part of moves towards one-to-one computing? I’d love to hear your thoughts!