Monday, September 28, 2009

Oh brave new world: laptops, day one

It was announced on assembly on Thursday last week that the Year 9 laptops would be distributed on Friday.  These are the netbooks being issued as part of the Digital Education Revolution, a federally funded program.  I thought I"d document here what day one was like; this is such a change we're ushering in,

Friday morning you would have thought Santa Claus was coming multiplied to the power of ten.  The buzz around the school was palpable - not just year nine students.  Before school in the library, the noise level/fizz was significantly higher than usual, fuelled anticipation boiling over.

Up to the period after lunch, the library was a zoo (ie. madly busy).  Booked classes were coming in as per bookings, plus every period brought a new wave of Year 9 students to receive their laptops.  Each handout procedure involved a bit of logging in/checking.  Our computer co-ordinator had raided many Coles supermarkets for 99c recyclable bags (some Simpsons, some Harry Potter, some High School Musical) and so each student got a bag containing the laptop, charger, handbook etc. (good idea).  The laptops and so forth had been stored in our library security lockup, and so there was mad buzzing in and out of there all day, bags and boxes and students coming to ask questions.  One of my assistants stayed at the borrowing desk by the security room door all day to control traffic there.

By lunchtime they all had their laptops, and the library (where there are 60 wireless access points) was full of kids.  I was grateful that the computer co-ordinator stayed around all lunchtime, so was available for questions/assistance.

It's a learning curve for us all.  Lunchtime was crazy-busy, loud, fizzing with excitement.  I figure you go with it, day one, and just delineate the lines as is necessary without stomping on the joy (a rude little twerp is a rude little twerp regardless, as I had cause to point out to one impertinent boy).  One thing I did decide pretty quickly was that our reading retreat area - which only seats about 18 - is going to remain for (book) reading - laptoppers have plenty of desks/tables to use and I am keen to keep this area for comfy silent individual reading, to serve those students who love it for this.

Some students couldn't log on to the internet.  Judging by the number of students in the library, it was almost certainly because we had well over 60 laptoppers in.  So memo for self and students: log in early if you want to be in the 60.  The range of the wireless units is such that they are likely to find that outside the library they'll find 'hot spots', so it won't need 60 inside the library to mean those 60 access options are used up.  Not all the school is wireless yet, but it won't take them long to work out where in the playground they can find other hot spots.

As I have had a major role in drafting the school's laptop policy, I was detailed, in the period after lunch, to talk about this to all of Year 9 together.   I went through the guidelines we had established (these had been discussed at executive and staff meetings) and aimed to do this in a positive way.

To start, I asked them all, "Who here knows how to drive a car?" (Bear in mind none of these students are old enough for a learner's permit, but many would have access, on their own property/acreage or others', in our semi-rural location, to try driving on private land).  As I expected, lots of hands. 

"Leave your hand up if you have driven a car."  Still plenty.

"Leave your hand up if you have driven a car on a public road."  All hands vanish.  "OK, so that's what we're looking at here.  There's what is possible, and what is acceptable and appropriate."

And on I went; but this analogy did seem to be a useful one to make.  The guidelines/responsibilities are based on the NSW Department of Education and Training documents and school policies.  We will be revisiting our draft document about a month into next term, to see if it's serving our purposes or if there is anything else we need to clarifyadd/revise. 

Tough audience, I must admit, over 200 students crammed into the library so they could see our screen (I had prepared a PowerPoint, so there was something for their eyes to see, rather than just having them listen to me) - they were BUSTING to be on their laptops.  On the other hand, it's useful to have clarified the guidelines/boundaries right at the start, so we all know where we are.  And I appreciated the round of applause the students gave me at the end (however much of it was fuelled by relief that I had finished!!).

Based on info from other schools where the laptops have already been rolled out, there are challenges ahead for the library, during break times for example.  The way things are this week is likely to still reflect the initial excitement.  I'm sure some students will test the boundaries.  We could see, amid Friday's zoo, that the seminar-style layout of tables in nonfiction was working well.  Likewise some students just settled into a corner with their laptop.  My current thinking is that general library rules still apply, so a bunch of noisy gamesters can hie themselves out the door, but if a kid is being quiet and not disturbing others, then they can carry on.  As I spoke with them all on Friday, I made the distinction between the playground (out there) and the library as a learning space (in here, where I was going through the rules/responsibilities).  The Principal has reiterated that the library is my domain where I am delegated to set the rules/standards of behaviour. 

We have clarified with our students that they are to respect copyright, so pirated games/video are unacceptable anywhere.  I am sure in this first week (it's our last week of term) there will be further clarification/reminding happening.  I'll wait to see how big the crowd gets at lunchtime- I don't want to restrict numbers, but at the same time I do want to preserve an acceptable.manageable environment (for reasons of safety/doable supervision, for starters).  This week, I might have both my school assistants (I have 1.5 each day) on duty at lunchtime, so we are all three on deck (normally it's one plus me).  I'm not sure what extra teacher support I may get at lunchtime, if any.

It's a learning curve.  We'll see how we go, and look for a path forward that serves us all.  Right now, that student excitement is a great opportunity in our classrooms, the challenge being to build on it and harness it to enhance their learning and thus their opportunities in life.

It's an adventure! 




Stu said...

Great story Ruth! We need more teachers like you blogging about this important - dare I say - "Revolutionary" event happening at all NSW Public High Schools. It's stories like these that will help to quell the concerns that are out there. Thanks for sharing.

Victor Davidson said...

Love the car analogy. I also stress having your own user name and password as comparable to being an "authentic" user. I think Year 9 will now be the least likely cohort to share passwords.

Plus the "7 things in the first week" is perfect for Year 9 teachers who are feeling lost and disconsolate. Thank you Ruth.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story. Keep us informed. I've certainly being enjoying the journey at my school

Mitch Squires said...

It sounds like you've had a well thought out and thorough start to your laptop journey. I hope it continues on smooth sailing for you...

John said...

Great story filled with the positive message that the revolution will certainly bring to NSW. Let new dawn begin.