Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Computers in the Classroom

I know - I'm not a professional development person. But there are some things which just seem so obvious now. So I thought I'd share these bits.

If you're talking about security, you need to be absolutely clear as to what you're securing and why you're securing it. It must be justified, not just a default position in a school. This is because security takes away from user experience and the aim is to learn, not to take loads of time to get to a point where you're working. You're not working in Fort Knox. If you have a decent backup strategy in place then the most you'll lose is a days work.

Technology is a wonderful opportunity to give your students a voice. If you're looking at things in much the same way as you were i.e. the kids have an exercise book book which they write in and show you, then you're missing a huge opportunity. Giving the kids a voice means that they're suddenly interacting with the world at large. Others can comment and for the most part, you'll find that those comments will be positive and encourage further learning. It's easy enough to put checks in place i.e. allow teachers to vet comments before they appear.

You're not trying to train secretaries. Rather, with the rate of change, you're teaching how to learn and adapt. Which also means you must be able to learn and adapt. Watch out for phrases like "I can't learn that!". The more you open yourself to learning new things, the easier you're likely to find it, the more you'll be able to help your kids. I know there's a temptation to do the whole take study notes thing. Don't. I know it can be hard to remember the steps. But then you shouldn't need to. With a well designed interface it should be obvious. Look for cues on the screen. Try to find logical steps. Some things are always in the same places - i.e. save, open, new are almost always under "File".

Computers should be fun! They should engage learning, not be a great big chore. This means that you're probably going to have to accept that kids are going to interact with each other. And some of that might even be negative. The great thing about computers though - it's fairly easy for harassed kids to collect evidence of someone picking on them. Always provide some way of taking screen shots.

If things aren't working the way that you need to be working, then change it. I really do wonder as to how Windows has maintained a dominant position on the desktop when they can't even get the start up right. If you've got time to have a coffee while waiting for something to start up and then time to chat when you log in, there's something wrong going on. In other words, if you can, own it. If you can't, look at alternative platforms. Android is being ported to x86 platforms (i.e. normal commodity PC's) and there's Linux in all it's flavours. Look at the options rather than accepting that this is the computing experience you're stuck with. It's the experience rather than the platform that's important.

If you pride yourself on teaching your kids how to use X branded word processor / spreadsheet, you're missing the whole point. You're not there to market X brand. Get that idea out of your head. There have to be reasons for teaching it. And if that reason is "It's what they'll use when they get into the workplace", you're missing the point. We all know that things would have changed by the time they're in the workplace. All you're really doing is reinforcing the market position of X brand rather than having your kids take charge and do something useful instead. In other words, if you have branding around the walls, you're probably doing it wrong. It's about the kids.

If we're talking about literacy and reading, then getting the kids to give feedback on each other's work is brilliant! Bring on critical thinking. When they start to assess, they tend to find the same mistakes in their own work and are more prepared to correct it.

If you're using a computer lab, don't. Integrate them into the classroom. Go for 1/5 at least. So a class of 30 - have at least 6 machines around the room. Get them creating. It doesn't have to be writing. Animations (I've been showing off what can be accomplished with programming in scratch in terms of animation) is just a different voice. It's still a voice. Something the kids can be incredibly proud of.

If you do have a computer lab, then start using it differently. They get plenty of time in the classroom to do literacy. Being able to create documents with pink elephants (i.e. colourful text and the like) just isn't useful and lacks any sort of engagement. Explore what else is on there.

If the computers are locked down, then insist on an admin password so that you can explore and see what's out there. If the powers that be won't give you an admin password, look for cloud based solutions. Without an admin password, this could potentially be a problem - if they, for example, have ordained that you have to use a particular browser which doesn't work with that particular cloud solution. Basically, kick up a fuss. This isn't about your support guys. It's about the kids. Basically, own it.

There are more ways to input information than just keyboards. Cameras and microphones are engaging and can be used to put them into different environments (i.e. have them actually in a scene around the space programme or running away from dinosaurs).

Basically - think about ways computers can be used. If you don't like something, insist that it gets changed. If you lack the nerds to do it, find the nerd groups in the area - look for the words LUG, python etc. They're all over the place. Talk to other teachers and put in an appeal from as many of you as humanly possible. Programmers, for the most part, are just looking for that next great idea.

Ha! A much less depressing (though does have me on my high horse) post!

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