Is technology leaving kids behind?

October 5, 2011 at 10:21 am | Posted in Education | Leave a comment
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I have just read this post (Is education technology doomed?) on Edudemic.com. In it, it suggests that by pushing the barriers in education with using technology we may be leaving kids behind. Kids from families that cannot afford high-end computers/tablets/mobile phones and connections to the internet. In essence, this is true. These families are disadvantaged. However, I think, instead of seeing this as a problem that means educating kids in this way is not a good idea (I don’t believe that is what the post was saying, but it could be read into it), we need to look at ways to overcome this problem so that we can continue to bring our education systems/practices into the world of today.

A couple of years ago, I bought an old computer for about $12. This included the monitor, keyboard, mouse and CPU. It was definitely not a high-spec computer. It wouldn’t run the latest version of windows on it. It wasn’t fast and it didn’t have a large hard-disk. I installed Ubuntu Linux on it, and it ran like a dream. How much did Ubuntu cost? Nothing. What came with it? A stack of different programs to do pretty much anything you wanted! And I could download many more free programs.

Why am I writing about this? I’m wanting to get across the idea that perhaps schools need to re-evaluate what technology they use. No, not everyone can buy the latest computer with the most up-to-date software on it. But, I could do just as much on the computer that cost me $12 as I could on my $1000 desktop PC. The physical machine wasn’t as flash, but it worked, and worked well. If schools could consider these types of options (and I know this is happening already), then technology can become more accessible to those who cannot afford it.

As for the internet. Well, the cheapest dial-up plans I know of in New Zealand are about $10 a month. Not too difficult for most to scrape up. Yes, I know not everyone will be able to, but many can. I also no that dial-up is not great for watching videos etc online, however a lot of other things can be done. Remember also, that if you’ve never had the internet before, then dial-up is a lot faster than nothing! I spent many years on a dial-up connection quite happily. It’s hard to go back, but to move forward from no connection, dial-up is fine.

The cheapest broadband plan I know of in NZ is about $25 a month. Again, quite a few people will be able to find this in their budget.

So, my suggestion is that schools think about their clientele – their students and families. What can they access? What can they afford? Come up with a plan or strategy that will benefit those families where they are now. Perhaps you decide as a school to use open source (or free) software only. Perhaps you partner with computer firms to get good deals for your school and students? Perhaps you buy a few cheap computers with Linux installed and loan them to families?

Don’t give up on technology because not everyone has access. Work with your Board and community to find a way forward for all involved.

iPad 2 requirement at high school

July 19, 2011 at 11:05 am | Posted in Education | 4 Comments
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This article about a high school in North Auckland requiring Year 9 students to purchase an iPad 2 has raised some interesting comments, both on the article itself, and also in my Facebook stream.

I happened to attend this high school from Year 9-11, so I’ve got Facebook friends who are alumni of the school. The comments so far on facebook have been quite negative – against the compulsory requirement saying such as ‘teacher’s teach children – not iPad’s’. There were also comments about the closed and over-priced nature of Apple, and that if we are to use technology in school’s we should be using open technology.

I have mixed feelings about asking parents to find $800+ to buy new iPad’s for their children for school. It is a large expense for a lot of parents. However, I do believe if a school is really passionate about using technology in education and is willing to provide the technical support for both students and teachers and the professional development to implement them successfully, then this could be an excellent move.

On the other side, I do agree with one of my facebook friends who suggested open technology such as what Albany Senior High School have done. This gives access to far more families as firstly the hardware is more affordable, but also with a lot of open source software – it is free.

What I would say, is that the school has made an important decision here. It has chosen to go with Apple and the iPad 2. It now needs to follow through with training and expertise given to staff; technical support for students; and an expectation that staff use them in possibly a majority of their teaching. If these things don’t happen then I would say that the negative comments are right. It is imperative that the school uses them wisely in order to see an increase in both engagement and achievement across the board.

We do live in the 21st century. Let’s make sure our schools are using the technology that is available. I’m a PC user who also has an iPad. It is a fantastic device with a lot of potential. There are other devices that are coming closer to it now, so there is choice in the world. Schools do need to consider whether they have an expectation like this, and they need to carefully think through what hardware to use and whether open technology is a way to move forward or not. It’s a tough decision, but it is time for a lot of schools to move forward.

 

Minutes after publishing this post, the following links were brought to my attention:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10739410

http://orewa.school.nz/dms/images/news_articles/Letter_to_Year_8_parents_24_June.pdf

It is important to note that from the letter the school is asking for students to bring a computing device to school. The preference is an iPad 2, however, they could bring a netbook, laptop or other device.
A computing device seems to be compulsory – not an iPad 2.

The low cost computing challenge

July 31, 2009 at 9:52 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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I was wondering if I could do everything I need/want to do on a computer with only free software. So I’ve set myself a challenge.

I only had one computer at home, and I didn’t want to cause a hassle with the rest of the family, so I jumped onto TradeMe to see what I could find. I wasn’t looking for the greatest/latest computer, as I had read that Linux can often run on older computers. I spent $12 on a computer. It has a 20Gb HDD, 384Mb RAM, 850MHz processor – it’s not that greatest computer in the world! I then bought a 15” monitor for $1 (which the fantastic trader ended up giving to me for free)! I already had a spare keyboard and mouse, so I didn’t have to worry about that. So for $12 I had my computer to try this out with.

Okay, so I do already have broadband, so I was able to download the latest version of Ubuntu Linux to install on this computer, but you can request a free disc (or buy cheap from a number of distributors). Included in Ubuntu is Open Office and a whole stack of other programs.

So far, so good. I have spent a total of $12 and have a fully functioning computer with an office suite.

Oh and by the way, Ubuntu is great at finding things you plug in to the computer. I connected wirelessly to the internet using a USB wireless adaptor that I already had, and it installed it instantly! Windows didn’t do this as easily for me!

 

A number of the students that I teach don’t have computers. Money is often a factor in this. I have demonstrated already that for less than $20 a computer can be set up with a fully functioning operating system and office suite!

 

I’ll keep you posted on how things go!

Everything you wanted… for FREE

July 21, 2009 at 12:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Okay, so maybe not everything, but a whole lot for sure! I’m talking about Open Source software. Everything from operating systems to office suites to games, utilities, and much much more!

This could be a great thing for educators/teachers and the community. Schools could save money, and families could be using the same software as their schools.

So what exactly is open source software? I’m not an expert on this topic so a definition can be found here, but here is my attempt to explain what it is. (Feel free to comment to clarify or negate this definition if you want)

Open source software is fully functional computer software where the source code has been made available for people (who know what they’re doing) to add to, change however they like to make the product more suitable to them. What this does quite often is to make an excellent piece of software collaboratively. Instead of the source code being in the copyrighted domain, it is placed in public domain.

A requirement that is sometimes put on this software, is that if you change the source code, you need to share it. You do not need to share it for free, but no royalty fee needs to be paid.

That is probably not a great explanation, but what it means for us is that there is heaps of software available for your download for free. And it’s GOOD stuff too!

A couple of things you could try out for starters:

OpenOffice – An office suite including software for word processing, spreadsheets, databases, presentation and publishing.

Inkscape – A vector graphics editor.

Some of this software is more complicated than what you might be used to, but some is just as easy if not easier! Have a play, see what you think. This could save you a lot of money!

If you want to find some more software try:

Sourceforge

Enjoy!

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