Using #DERNSW Laptops now the novelty has worn off

Recently I met a teacher, while out shopping, and I asked if they were working with any DER classes.

“Yes, but the kids are just playing games”, they said.  “I think they’re doing less work now”.

I thought this was quite a strange and self revealing statement. “Well why are they?” I asked.

“You can’t see what they’re doing, so they just flick onto games.”

“What are you asking them to do?”

“Do their work on the computer.”

“But isn’t it your responsibility to ensure that they’re engaged?”

“Yes, but I can’t see what they’re doing.”

It went on in this manner.  I guess this might be a conversation being had in a number of settings as the novelty of the laptop roll-out wears off and teachers are facing the challenge of just how to work with them. All I could do was suggest that they made a point of moving to a place in the room where they could see most of the screens.

As we chatted the real problem emerged.  They had very basic computer skills, they were just expecting students to use the computer as a note book. Of course, OneNote makes this possible.  Students take to it quite easily and can make up a simple electronic notebook with little or no guidance.

After a basic demonstration of OneNote on a data projector, I encouraged one selective class to do this very thing, just to see how they’d go.  Most were able to set their OneNote book with ease.  There was some fine tuning necessary but all eventually achieved a functional means for recording information.

I don’t see this particular colleague very often and I hadn’t realised just how challenged they’d be once the DER roll-out occurred.

What’s clear to me is that apart from having basic skills with a range of software applications it’s also essential for teachers to be able to imagine what students can do with their laptops and then re-caste and re-image their approach and role with this in mind.  This is a central challenge for those of us working with the DER Laptops.  I’m hearing this regularly.

As often as possible I try to introduce something new, like demonstrating an additional feature of an application. Presently I’m working with Excel and Photoshop to present notions of spatial inequality.  A good place to start is the ABS Social Atlas , ABS Community Profiles and reliable old Google Map. There’s probably a lot of cross over with Maths here.

As a basic strategy with OneNote, as Term 4 has unfolded, I’ve begun discussing the possibilities for working with it.  Encouraging a bit of group discussion and throwing in a few ideas of my own led my small elective Geography class to come up with the Mindmap that I posted under the heading Student ideas on using OneNote with DER Laptops on Novermer 18. A week after that Adrian Ship from South Sydney High School sent me a Mindmap his Commerce students had done on using OneNote.  I was able to share that with my students and we discussed the various insights that each group had.  Adrian went on to post an excelent Blog on The Power of Sharing.

Staff development is essential and it starts with sharing.  I’m encouraging teachers to visit my class and I help as many as I can.  In response to Adrian Ships Blog on The Power of Sharing Stu Hasic makes these fundamental points:

Too many teachers feel isolated – like they are responsible for those 30 students in that classroom inside those four walls and door. If only they knew how EASY is is to share and to benefit from the resources happily shared by others.

Here is my challenge for you now that you’ve had your eyes open to the benefits of on-line sharing. Get all the other teachers at your school to follow suit. It’s no easy feat – believe me. I’ve been trying to do it for the past 11 years.

Difficult as it might be, sharing eventually creates connections and conduits that are tangible and can deliver just when everything might seem hopeless and insurmountable.  We have never before had such aparently limitless opportunities for sharing.

I’ve also made a point of sharing my knowledge with key students, outside the class room.  We’ll sit where there’s WiFi signal and explore some of the apps.  The last one I was working with was Adobe Portfolio.  I didn’t know about Adobe Portfolio until I watched an online video about it.

Then of course there’s Twitter. I learn a great deal from Twitter and find myself constantly using it as a source of bookmarks for my Delicious collection.  Incidentally I’m happy to network with any colleagues and share bookmarks. On Twitter recently I read this Tweet from  Simon Job, a Maths teacher, who wrote  “Lesson with #DERNSW in class of 18 (many absent): 5 forgotten, 3 with trackpads not working until restart, 1 no internet, 1 could not login”

Simon flags another set of challenges, most of which I’ve encountered perhaps not all at once at once but at times. I assume that not being able to get access to the Internet is likely to be less of an issue once the S2 WiFi is in place.  Students that forget their computers or come without a charge, have been a problem and we’ll certainly need to be firm about this as the novelty further wears off.  I certainly talk about the Charter, about taking responsibility for one’s own learning and the powerful possibilities that this technology unleashes, when this pattern repeats.

I could write a lot more but I think I’d rather learn what others have to say about this.

3 thoughts on “Using #DERNSW Laptops now the novelty has worn off

  1. The situation and conversation you have described is one that I am having on a daily basis working in a number of schools across Northern Sydney Region. I am amazed at how it can be that such a large number of teachers lack the basic skills that I take for granted. Until seeing and experiencing this first hand, I did not realise the huge task of professional development that is needed to get teachers to be able to use this technology in interesting and creative ways.

    On the flip side, there are a number of teachers I’ve met in my travels who are really pushing boundaries and doing exciting things with the technology in their classrooms. Their common trait seems to be a risk taking attitude in which they are excited to try new things, and not be afraid to let the kids show what they know, even when it far exceeds the ‘techo’ skills of the teachers.

    A new and exciting adventure is there and waiting for us all, but we need to embrace it and encourage and support those around us to do likewise.


  2. I believe that the leadership (Exec) will make or break the DER roll-out in most schools. Sure, individual teachers have a responsibility in their classroom, and can influence other teachers – but push to engage with the technology will come best from the executive of a school.

    Will the leadership help train up teachers that lack basic computing skills? Send them on a two day course or better still, given them time-off class with a skilled teacher to get up to speed.

    The leadership also needs to use the TSO wisely. Get the TSO out into classrooms to help teachers deal with technical issues like I mentioned and train up kids to be the ones to go to. I encouraged my TSO to visit my classroom to help with wireless issues, but he preferred to sit in front of a laptop and monitor from the library.


    1. On Executive leadership being critical, you’re right. Using the TSO wisely is also essential. Certainly their job description encompasses getting out into classrooms to help teachers deal with technical issues. I think training up kids to be the ones to go to is a great idea.

      I noticed a job description that came later from the PSA was attempting to resolve the position into a more admin support role. I’m going to ignore that. Now that we’ve had almost a Term of Laptops in the class rooms I’ll make sure our TSO gets out more.


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