Jan 16

Why can’t we just use desktop computers? Thinking about laptops and tablet computers in schools…

What will your kids be using at school this year? Laptops, desktops, tablets? Or maybe a combination of all three!

Last year I worked with over 300 schools, and one pattern that I noticed was the lack of desktop computers in classrooms.

Did this mean there wasn’t any technology in the school? Of course not! What it usually meant, when I started talking with the school leaders, was that desktop computers no longer met the needs of the teachers or the kids.

Schools seem to be, more and more, buying tablets (iPads or Android or Windows) or laptop computers.

Why? Well, desktops are a bit ‘bossy’ really. By that I mean that they dictate where kids will work (sat in a fixed place), and often (as there’s usually only a couple of them in each classroom) they dictate WHEN kids can work on them too. Teachers have to schedule times to ‘do computer work’ as they have less resources and limited space. It’s often pretty hard to put a group of 3 or 4 kids around a desktop computer – but it’s easier with a laptop that you can rotate and pass between team members.

If you’ve been a classroom helper or managed to get your kids to actually tell you about their day at school (!), then you might know that when we have desktops in our classrooms, it also makes us plan our teaching differently. Monday morning, 4 reading groups. One with the teacher, two on independent reading-response activities. One on the computer. Hmmmm….what can I use the computer for?
Maybe…??? Or perhaps….?

The ‘computer activity’ becomes something the teacher has to come up with – and often it’s about making sure the kids get a fair go at ‘using’ the computer rather than what they actually do with the computer. Having to schedule computer use this way can stop teachers asking ‘what does this child need to learn and what tools would help her learn?’. Computers are just a tool – and a computer activity may or may not be what they need to progress their learning this week – but if they are scheduled on the computers, on the computers they will be! (And it will be an activity that they can manage independently and alone in a corner of the room too.)

Now image the same classroom teacher but with laptops (or tablets) at her disposal.

Literacy planning for Monday: 4 groups, 4 different outcomes aimed for. Each group has a task to develop their reading skills at their own level. In Blue Group, Sammy can type her response up, that way she can get her ideas out without struggling with handwriting (we’ll work on that later today).For Simon in Green Group, he can work on those tricky meaning-making strategies with that website I found, then I can conference with him at the end to see how he went. Tom and Rebecca really should re-visit those spelling patterns from last week, they are in their text for this week so it won’t make sense for them unless they can read those. They can do that on their laptops….and so it goes.

Laptops and tablets allow teachers to make individual decisions about their students learning. Who needs what, when and how? Desktops that require kids (often) to sit in rows and work on the same task as the kids next to them don’t help develop individual skills. And push kids into a more forced ‘computer-time’ activity that is easy to manage and meets the expectation of ‘my kids used the computers this week’…

Of course, some teachers make desktops work and of course, some schools can’t afford to do away with desktops (although with so many schools leasing computers these days, it’s not really that much of a financial change to move to laptops). But from my experience, it’s rare that desktop computers are used to help our kids learn ‘at point of need’ – which is what I believe portable (laptops) and mobile (tablets) computers let us do.

So when that letter comes home from school announcing a laptop or tablet program – it’s not just about new technology that seems fancy or modern. It’s about making sure your child gets to learn what they need, when they need it – with a portable tool that they take with them for learning!

What does your school use? Have you asked them why lately?

Let us know what you think about laptops versus desktops!  Maybe school classrooms are very different where you live :0)

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