Pros and Cons of Teaching with a Class of Laptops

Two years ago, we dreamed about getting a class set of laptops. Right now, we have access to a mobile laptop cart and our school has pretty good Wi-Fi in the building. What next?

  1. We love having laptops in the classroom
  2. But sometimes, a class of laptops can be a huge headache.
  3. and so, we’re dreaming of iPads.

We love having laptops in the classroom.

Having access to a class of laptops has changed the way we teach. Here are some examples of things we’ve done in our digital classrooms:

  • Independent writing (journals) by blogging (i.e. WordPress / Edublogs.ca)
  • Independent reading (an online world of books, magazines, and resources that goes beyond your classroom library.)
  • Collaborate on projects using Google Docs
  • Take notes in class using notetaking software (i.e., Evernote/Google Docs) on a class laptop or their personal iPhone/Blackberry.
  • Research science fair projects using websites or online encyclopedias (i.e. Grolier)
  • Tweet their ideas about literature
  • Participated in online literature circles (i.e. Educircles)
  • Created podcasts using audacity.
  • Critique their non-verbal language by recording the performance using WebCams.

Sometimes a class set of laptops can be a huge headache

Having a class of laptops is wonderful… but there are some challenges:

It can take anywhere from minutes to half an hour for students to get their laptops working.

Most students become quite good at troubleshooting little problems, but imagine a day where everything seems to be going wrong, and you have 30 students asking for help… Sometimes a class of laptops is more trouble than it’s worth.

  • Microsoft Windows takes forever to boot up.
  • If the previous student didn’t shut down the machine properly, the laptop might need to scan the hard drive.
  • Sometimes logging in to our school network can take a long time (especially if it’s the first time a student is logging in on that machine.)
  • Sometimes the wireless settings on the laptop have become messed up and students needs to repair the wireless network connection or need to plug into the ethernet connection.

Maintaining a class of laptops is a full-time job

Fortunately, we work at a high school where there is someone on staff to maintain the labs, including the mobile laptop cart. There’ve been days that we have sent down seven or eight laptops to get reimaged or repaired. Sometimes the hard drives in our “rugged” laptops disconnect. Sometimes the batteries die and simply won’t hold a charge. Sometimes the darn things just won’t work.

Staying ahead of student vandelism is a game of cat and mouse.

Students get bored in class – even if they are using cool technology: they pop the keys off, scratch their names into the plastic (or screen), or just toss the laptops around.

Some of the tech savvy students like to check around and see how secure your image is. Some popular tricks that spread through word-of-mouth include changing the orientation of the screen or changing the name of applications in your start menu. (You can imagine what a creative student can do with Kid Pix, SMART Ideas 5, or First Class.)

There are software options to help monitor and track vandelism. If you teach in Ontario (Canada), you might be interested to know that all public elementary and secondary schools have access to NetSupport School Pro 10.5, which is licensed through OSAPAC.

NetSupport is pretty cool software.

  • You can lock all the computers in your lab when you are teaching. Now you know you have your students’ full attention – you don’t have to wait for them to turn off the monitors because you can do it for them.
  • You can broadcast your computer screen onto all of the computers in your classroom. Students at the back who can’t see what you’re projecting at the front can simply look at their own laptops. (You can even broadcast a student’s computer to the rest of the class so students can model what to do.)
  • You can take control of another student’s computer to help them through something. But quite honestly, we find it easier to just physically stand beside that student and coach them through it.
  • You can log into all of the computers in your room simultaneously using a common user account.This is especially useful if you’re bringing a class of grade one students to the lab and you don’t want to struggle through helping each student to remember their login information.)
  • You can shut down all the machines in your room. Now you don’t have to physically go around and make sure each machine is turned off correctly.
  • There is a key logger feature. When you turn it on, a little bubble appears on the student’s computer indicating that the keyboard monitor activity is being monitored. (That alone seems to stop a lot of vandalism.) Your computer then records all of the keystrokes. You can even type in a list of targeted words and inappropriate words. Every time a targeted word or an inappropriate word is typed in, it gets flagged and highlighted on the teacher’s computer. You can even sort the class list by the number of targeted or inappropriate words so that you can chat with certain students who are having problems focusing.
  • Finally, you can lock certain applications or websites from running. Last week, students used the excuse that since the school board’s firewall didn’t block a certain website, it must be okay. Now you have another way to help students stay productive.

We’re dreaming about iPads in the Classroom. What will the digital classroom of the future look like?

The thing about technology is that it’s constantly evolving. We love our class set of netbook laptops. But if we were to invest the money now, we would seriously consider getting a class set of iPads.

Sure, we understand that laptops are easier to lock down, deploy and maintain. There are also lots of great programs that we have installed on our Windows machines that simply aren’t available on iPad. And we recognize that if we’re having problems monitoring students now, just imagine the problems you’d face with an army of students playing angry birds while you were teaching.

But here’s why were thinking iPad.

  • Students can get to work right away. You push the button, the machine turns on. Period. No waiting around for Windows to boot up, hard disk checks, or authenticating users over the network. Some of our students have spent literally an entire period trying to get their mini laptops to work.
  • Most of the programs that we’ve used in the classroom only require access to the Internet. With Google Docs, students can create and edit documents that live in the cloud all through their smart phone, iPod, or iPad. There’s no need for students to use Open Office Writer or Microsoft Word if their work lives in the cloud. (Yes, we know that flash enabled websites don’t work in iOS and yes, we know that most of the Internet uses flash, and yes we know that the new PlayBook has a properly working browser on their tablet. We know and it’s something we would happily consider if we ever had the money to buy a class set of tablets.)
  • It’s a better e-book reader than Kobo – at least according to kids. We have a few Kobo readers in our school. It’s a nice way to read e-books, but this is a generation used to touchscreens. Students drool over iPads. ‘Nuff said.
  • iPads are light and tiny. Our laptop cart weighs a ton – try moving that out into a portable. In comparison, imagine taking out a Tupperware container of iPads. Sure, you’d have to have a way to a way to charge all of the iPads, but the tablets themselves are quite light.
  • Apple has just released a way to set up parental controls on iPad (iOS 4.2), which lets you prevent students from installing or deleting apps, using YouTube, or going to the iTunes store.

We’re saving our pennies to get an iPad.

This post was written using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Premium Wireless.

  • There are 1329 words in this post. Dragon made 43 word errors. So, we had an accuracy of 96.7% in this document.
  • If you include punctuation and capitalization errors, Dragon made an additional 14 punctuation and capitalization errors. So, we had an accuracy of 95.7% in this document.

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