[LINK] Computers for schools more than hardware

Tom Worthington Tom.Worthington at tomw.net.au
Wed Feb 20 17:09:58 EST 2008


In the last few days I bumped into an IT educator and a government 
policy person who both said that someone needs to do something to 
stop the federal government wasting a lot of money buying laptops for 
students. There are more low cost laptops coming out, a new one from 
the UK is claimed to be around $200 and suitable for education. But a 
$200 laptop is not going to solve educational problems, just create 
new ones 
<http://www.tomw.net.au/blog/2008/02/uk-educational-laptop-for-200.html>.

The ALP election campaign promised a school computer for every 
student. But the (now) PM was photographed holding up a laptop. As a 
result the PM's staff think that the government are committed to 
buying a laptop for each student to take home and there are computer 
companies queuing up to provide that hardware.  But this is not what 
the policy said and is not necessarily educationally desirable. The 
Australian Council for Computers in Schools will discuss what is 
really needed at their September conference 
<http://www.acec2008.info/item.asp?pid=7580>). Below are my thoughts 
on the topic:

ONE SUGGESTED APPROACH

Have a one third split of money for hardware, one third for support 
(networking and software) and one third for teacher education and content.

Cost one computer per student for each school, with support. My 
estimate for a minimal setup is $500 for a Zonbu type thin client (or 
ASUS type Laptop), plus $100 for school infrastructure (network, spam 
software, virus software, fire wall, servers), plus $2 per month per 
student for broadband access and software support. Such computers can 
run free open source software, such as 
Ubuntu 
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubuntu_%28Linux_distribution%29> or the 
educational version Edubuntu  <http://www.edubuntu.org/>, 
OpenOffice.org and Firefox.

REQUIRE SCHOOLS TO INVEST IN TEACHER SUPPORT AND INFRASTRUCTURE BEFORE HARDWARE

Require the schools to have at least two teachers trained in computer 
use and to install a set minimum of infrastructure security 
(firewall, spam and virus software). The schools should then be free 
to buy the technology they want, including electronic white boards, 
video projectors and the like, as well as computers.

CLASSROOM REDESIGN WITH BLENDED APPROACH TO COMPUTER ASSISTED LEARNING

Computers and other electronic aids should be incorporated into the 
school and not left in computer labs. The trend is to "flexible 
learning centers" equipped with computer screens, plus white and 
blackboards. where computers are available in formal and informal 
learning environments. Part of the course is by a teacher talks, plus 
group interaction, work in groups at computers and individual work. 
The course materials are available for the teacher to show on screen, 
the student to see on their own and to see at home.

Kevin Miller, Architect, and Katy Mutton, Interior Designer from , 
Collard Clarke Jackson Canberra Pty Ltd have done some work on 
flexible class room design in Canberra 
<http://www.ccj.com.au/html/s02_article/default.asp?nav_top_id=57&nav_cat_id=129> 
as well as environmental design 
<http://www.tomw.net.au/blog/2007/10/green-buildings-in-canberra.html>.

The Victorian Department of Education has "Building Futures - 
Creating Flexible Learning Spaces" with design plans and examples of 
school plans 
<http://www.education.vic.gov.au/about/directions/buildingfutures/LSFCaseStudies.htm>. 
The case study of Chaffey School has a useful plan showing class 
group areas, break out space
lecture/data area, discussion and projection areas 
<http://www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/assetman/bf/LSF_Casestudy_Chaffey.pdf>. 
The case study for Belmont High School shows one type of modular 
desks being used together in different configurations for groups of 
six and 12 students 
<http://www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/assetman/bf/LSF_Casestudy_Belmont.pdf>.

ANU DCS is planning to refurbish some old computer labs into a 
flexible learning center for IT students in the next few months 
<http://www.tomw.net.au/blog/2007/07/mit-icampus-looks-usable-in-australia.html>. 
Perhaps the Federal Government would like to contribute a modest 
amount to turn this into a demonstration site for educators?

FUND SUPPORT FOR EDUCATION COMPUTERS, TEACHERS AND COURSES ONLINE

In addition there should be several million dollars of funding per 
year to a new university based institute to produce open source 
customizations of software for schools and support materials. In 
addition the existing non-profit education support organisations 
could do with a funding boost:

* Education Network Australia  EdNA <http://www.edna.edu.au/>, for 
teacher support.
* TVET Australia Limited (TVET) licensing education materials 
<http://www.aesharenet.com.au/whoAreWe/>.
* Australian Flexible Learning Framework 
<http://www.flexiblelearning.net.au/flx/go/home/projects/pid/266> for 
their Flexible Learning Toolboxes for Vocational Education and 
Training (VET). Some of these online courses are also suitable for 
upper secondary school use.

Also there is the ACS affiliated organisation, the Australian Council 
for Computers in Education (ACCE): <http://www.acce.edu.au/item.asp?pid=1082>.

DON'T FORGET DISABLED USERS

Non-government organisations, particularly Vision Australia 
<http://www.visionaustralia.org.au/info.aspx?page=587>, are providing 
advice and support for students needing specialized IT support. See 
also: "Teaching Web Accessibility at an Australian University" 
<http://www.tomw.net.au/technology/it/webteaching.shtml>.

WHAT NOT TO DO:

* ACCEPT SECOND HAND COMPUTERS FROM THE PUBLIC SERVICE: There was a 
rumor that the school computers would be second hand public service 
ones. This is not a good idea. These computers are not necessarily 
suitable for schools, will have a higher maintenance cost and may not 
meet energy standards.

* BULK CENTRAL ORDER FROM LARGE COMPUTER COMPANY: Different schools 
will have different requirements, so one big order is not a good 
idea. Within a school there may be different types of computers used 
for different purposes. For example low cost thin clients may be used 
for web access, but more powerful computers for graphic design.

* ONE BIG MICROSOFT BULK DEAL: Most of the computers will not require 
MS Windows. Therefore a bulk licence for all the computers is not 
cheap, no matter how good a deal Microsoft provides. A bulk licence 
for the computers some schools choose to run Microsoft software would 
be useful.

---


Tom Worthington FACS HLM tom.worthington at tomw.net.au Ph: 0419 496150
Director, Tomw Communications Pty Ltd            ABN: 17 088 714 309
PO Box 13, Belconnen ACT 2617                      http://www.tomw.net.au/
Adjunct Senior Lecturer, ANU  



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