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Technology in Schools

New technologies are transforming the classroom, so what exactly do the changes involve and what do they mean for students, teaches and parents? Jodie McLeod finds out

Say goodbye to chalkboards, exercise books and encyclopaedias — the Digital Education Revolution (DER) is here and it’s transforming the way teachers teach, students learn and classrooms operate in primary and secondary schools throughout Australia. Connecting to the worldwide web via interactive whiteboards, downloading lessons onto personal student laptops, videoconferencing with classes on the other side of the world and social networking with students from other schools are just some of the ways new technology is being utilised in today’s classrooms.

Students of the 21st century have taken to the changes with ease. Technology is so integral to everyday life outside of school that it’s only natural to be navigating touch-screen whiteboards and video-chatting online with remote classmates. For many parents and teachers, however, learning to utilise, monitor and get the most out of technologies in terms of enhancing learning outcomes for students is a whole new world of discovery.

Over the next number of years, as resources develop and as the Federal Government’s DER unfolds, it will become clearer just how this will be done. For now, let’s take a look at the changes and how everyone involved is adjusting.

A new era of education
The Rudd Government’s $2.2 billion technology boost to Australian schools, known as the Digital Education Revolution, is set to help students engage in a new era of learning, equipping them with essential skills for success in the modern workforce. The $386 million initiative for NSW will see every high school student from Year 9 and above and their teachers receive a personal laptop by 2012.

The rollout of laptops began in 2009 with 92,000 laptops being distributed to all Year 9 students across NSW. Each new Year 9 student for the next three years will receive a laptop, which will be equipped with $5500 worth of software from Microsoft and Adobe. In addition, the NSW Government is investing $44 million to supply wireless laptops to all 25,000 NSW public high school teachers by 2012.

Providing students obey the Laptop Charter — a set of rules outlining proper care and use of the laptops — students will be able to keep the computer when and if they finish Year 12.

Teachers will also be upskilled as part of the plan, with the State Government investing $36 million each year in teacher training and professional development, including IT training. Of course, where there is technology there will inevitably be technical problems, but these will be taken care of by 400 newly employed IT support officers, who will provide on-site technical assistance to students and staff in NSW high schools.

Laptop learning

The DER laptops for Year 9 students are custom designed for use in schools, with large memory and storage capacity and an extended battery life. They are secure, with filters to block inappropriate material and encoding to ensure they aren’t a target of theft.

Chatswood High School’s Deputy Principal, Justin Hong, who implemented the school’s laptop program, says the laptops have opened doors for student learning. “We use the laptop as a tool for engagement,” he says. “The majority of our kids really enjoy working on them. They become attached to them as they would to their iPod; and if they’re engaging in lessons, the outcomes are better.”

Research shows the use of laptops in the classroom has a multitude of educational benefits. One study by software company Microsoft, whose software suite features on the Lenovo-branded Year 9 laptops, found that the use of personal computers in the classroom increases students’ motivation and fosters a more positive attitude toward studying.

Samantha Humphreys in Year 10 at Georges River College, Penshurst Girls Campus, received her laptop in 2009. She says it has made her more motivated to finish work in and outside of class. “I like it because it makes you feel really organised and it’s much faster for taking notes in class and doing homework,” she says. “I’ve learnt how to touch-type just since having the laptop, so I can finish work quicker now.”

Students can also personalise their laptops, making them easy to identify and creating a sense of ownership. Samantha has stuck a number of photos of friends on her laptop’s keyboard and sees her friends on the desktop image every time she opens it. Others in her year have covered theirs with stickers of favourite bands, idols and designs. “It’s nice because it’s your own personalised space to do work,” Samantha says.

The changing classroom

While the laptops are moving the classroom environment into the future, there is still some way to go in developing electronic teaching resources and understanding how to maximise student use of the technology in lessons.

To read the full article, pick up a copy of Choosing a School for Your Child New South Wales at your nearest Sydney newsagent.

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