Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wikis In Education

Simply handing out netbook computers to students without rethinking the way we teach is a waste of time. I fear that many devices intended for high schools as part of the governments Digital Education Revolution Plan will end up collecting dust. Inservice training for teachers is the only thing that will make the devices truely useful. Teachers need to see how the netbooks can be used to enhance learning. Teachers need to learn new strategies in small chunks and have successes with these strategies. That is why I have been called in assist with the netbook trial at OLHC Primary South Lismore. I have been working 1 to 1 with teachers each week and helping them move forward from where they are at in terms of IT use and I am really enjoying it and starting to see changes already. I have started playing around this week with wikis and how we can use them in the classroom. We are starting with a wiki where teachers can plan a unit of work collaboratively. Each teacher can add content, suggestions and resources and we should have a really useful unit of work ready for next term. I have chosen to use Wetpaint and I like the way you can add some useful widgets such as a Photobucket slideshow. I also like that you can email Wetpaint and ask them to remove all advertising if the wiki is for educational use. We are also looking at how students can use wikis for their work. There seems so many possibilities. The Wikis are private at the moment but we will make them public when we are happy for other teachers to see them. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

This Textbook Is Broken

I had a link to a video entitled " This Textbook is broken!" sent to me today by Chris from his Betchablog. It says a lot about the future of education and how kids view using textbooks.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Software Success

I have been busy for the last two weeks deciding which netbooks we will use for the school trial as well as assessing, evaluating and trialing open source software applications that we can add to the student netbooks. We narrowed the choice to the Intel Classmate 3 and the HP Minibook. HP Minibooks won out because of durability, a 4 year on site warranty, price and features. As for software, there is no end to the amount of free software you can easily download for Ubuntu. Some of the highlights so far Open Office 3, which can save and read in word.doc format, The Gimp, which is an excellent Image manipulation program, iTalc which lets you view and control other computers in your classroom network including seeing what all users are viewing and locking screens. There are just too many more programs to mention here. And yes, there is no need for authentication codes or money. The other pleasant part is that when I couldn't work out how do something using The Gimp, for example, I posted a question on a forum and had solution really quickly. I have never had that kind of success with Microsoft software problems.

To add to this, the process of downloading and installing the software is very simple. Ubuntu uses a Synaptic Packet Manager to manage all downloads. You search for the software you want inside the manager. It looks for the software download site on the internet. It downloads and installs it with one click. Simple.
I only had one major software problem that looked to be unresolved. The school uses Promethean IWBs in all classrooms and I couldn't find Promethean software and drivers to support Ubuntu. If we couldn't get around this it would mean that teachers would have to keep Windows running on their computers so they could use their IWBs. It was the only piece of Windows software that we couldn't do without. I sent a lot of emails everywhere trying to get some help and fortunately Promethean decided to release a Linux version of their software and drivers. I downloaded it easily and so far it works like a charm. So far so good.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Is There Anyone Out There?

I have been scouring the internet unsuccessfully this week looking for other schools who are using Linux, Ubuntu or Edubuntu. I have had a lot of open source software evangelists and techies wishing me luck and saying how important the project is but it appears that most schools seem to think it is too much of a brave new world to move to Ubuntu in preference to Windows. A couple of computer support staff in schools have told me their bosses have let them load Ubuntu onto an old standalone computer or two just to show them how it works but nobody out there seems to have taken up Ubuntu across their school. This has created more feelings of excitment for me but also the feeling that I am travelling on my own.

In other news about the project, the jury is out on which netbook we are going to use for the trial. I have been playing with the Intel Classmate 3 . One teacher asked me, "Are you going to choose the Bob the Builder laptops?" The classmate has some good features such as a handle but I get the feeling it is not as robust as the HP Minibook. I didn't like the twisting hinge and the Classmate's keyboard and felt it wouldn't last more than a year in the hands of primary students. I tried out the classmates touch screen and tablet PC features also but thought they were a bit of a gimic and wouldn't be supported by Linux software anyway. We will have to make a decision soon as to which device to adopt. I have also been waiting to hear which devise the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) decide to buy for High School Students as the sheer numbers they order will reduce the price greatly I imagine.