A blog about teaching and learning in a maths classroom.

Free of technical hassles

Monday, 09 February 2009 | 3 Comments

In a previous post I talked about the Digital Education Revolution – the roll-out of student laptops. There will probably be quite a few posts on that topic this year.

The front page article of the February 2009 issue of “Side by Side – The newspaper for NSW public schools” is, “$1.1bn boost to public schools” about the student laptop roll-out:

Department chief information officer Stephen Wilson said the laptops had the potential to transform education and gave students a standardised digital learning tool.
“Because of our systemic approach teachers will be free of technical hassles and therefore be able to innovate in the use of this device in the classroom, within schools and school communities” [emphasis mine]

Anyone who has worked in IT, anyone who is slightly technical or for that matter, anyone who has ever used a computer must read “free of technical hassles” and baulk. Sure, commonality of machine makes things easier. If they implement the same wireless systems in every school, that should make the IT administration easier too; but to suggest that we will be “free of technical hassles” is surely overselling the possibilities.

“Batteries that last a full school day”, may look great on a spec, but is highly unlikely. Particularly as machines age and students forget to charge their machine overnight. And, that’s just the start of it. If I do have a solution (meaning more than one powerpoint) in my classroom to allow students to charge their laptops, will they bring the power cable every day? Will they be able to do that with zero intervention on my part as soon as they get to class?

Another simple example that comes to mind is passwords. I could pretty much guarantee that for every lesson I have in a computer lab that requires internet access, at least one student will have forgotten their internet password. I suspect often that the numbers are higher, but students share accounts — the reason I know that they’ve forgotten their passwords is that I used to have access to reset their internet password and would offer students who had forgotten to get their account fixed up. (At the moment, that access is broken… sure… “free of technical hassles”).

Powering these machines and passwords are just two examples of where I cannot believe they will be “free of technical hassles”. I really hope there will be few technical hassles with these machines, but realistically I don’t think that will be the case. Furthermore, I can’t see the point of a Chief Information Officer suggesting such.

Instead of overselling, I’d really like to see a sensible approach to possible problems; equip teachers to deal with basic issues and ensure there is an easy support option in schools, and do this without placing even more work on over-stretched IT coordinators.

Posted in • TechnologyDigital Education RevolutionLaptops 4 Learning | Short URL:


Liz on  09 February 09  at  10:59 AM #
Not to mention the broken / destroyed laptops. Calculators don't seem to survive a year or make it to school on a regular basis - will laptops fare any better?
Tim on  13 February 09  at  03:25 AM #
It is possible that Mr Wilson was misquoted. However CIOs do like to talk about the supposed cost savings of their standardisation efforts, perhaps to justify the "big bucks": they get. The downsides of standardisation, such as imposing bureaucratic processes on computer users, are not factored into the cost estimates. For this project, it seems likely that the insistence on a standard laptop will result in a spec that is out of date before the laptops are delivered.


Simon on  14 February 09  at  10:09 AM #
Wow, I guess I just thought that execs of the DET were paid a less than industry wage like teachers. I read Mr Wilson's profile for his salary of $273,500. Not that impressive... sounds good, but the reality of what is happening in schools is not reflected.

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Simon Job — eleventh year of teaching maths in a public high school in Western Sydney, Australia.
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