Saturday, 13 March 2010

Classroom ICT solutions?

Mark Robson's workshop with the writing group got me thinking. We worked on short story strategies - very useful stuff, and I was very impressed that we were still going at five o'clock. The students would have stayed, but we grown-ups needed to get home! But what I particularly liked was the tech setup that Mark brought with him - a class set of AlphaSmarts wirelessly linked to his laptop.

An alphasmart, if you don't know, is a simple wordprocessor, with a shallow LCD screen displaying up to 6 lines of text. You turn it on, type, and send your work wirelessly to a central hub. I'd only really encountered the pre-wireless model before, as something issued to pupils by Learning Support. Couldn't manage to get work off it with a cable, and stuff kept on getting accidentally deleted. My fault - trying to use stuff without training.

But to see a bunch of keen writers tapping away, sending in their work at the touch of a button (well, two), having them projected onscreen and instant feedback given, was a real eye-opener. I'm more used to getting into an ICT suite, having to negotiate the number of machines and passwords that don't work, and collecting work via email or USB stick. Efficiency and simplicity are better.

With the approach of controlled assessment at GCSE, our department is looking at investing in a portable wordprocessing solution to complement an ICT suite. It'd be interesting to know what sort of experiences other teachers have had with using a class set of alphasmarts, laptops - or any other machine. One concern raised about alphasmarts is the screen size, and whether it allows for a real overview of what's been written.

But at the end of the day, the Word training I had emphasised how powerful a tool MS Office is, and how unnecessary it is to have when all you want to do is to get a bunch of teenagers to write something. Do we need to spend money on more licences, on machines which can access the internet, which have dvd capability, which can do everything? Or should we be looking at a set of different solutions for different purposes?

I read a lot of discussion on the BECTA research list about the iPad being the future of education, and I can see wonderful potential for teaching Literature texts there, as well as a host of other things. But sometimes, do we just need a keyboard and a screen?


My mission to turn the kids into Doctor Who fans continues well. They enjoyed Pyramids of Mars, and particularly the Hand of Sutekh. I'm hoping the robot mummies make their way into imaginative play along with pescatons, hornets and the K-1 robot...

After an enforced gap...

A few things have happened over the past couple of weeks - firstly, got ethical approval granted for the research, which is great news. Had some very useful training in using Word for academic writing (now I see what all those annoying areas at the top of the screen are for!), and got myself a shiny new laptop.

Obviously, laptop purchase resulted in catastrophic failure of home network, but, one new router and a nice long ethernet cable later, we're alright again. Thanks go to and tech guy at school; no thanks go to tech guys at linksys.

Big creative writing group event was Mark Robson's visit on World Book Day. It was just the sort of thing I'd been wanting to arrange since starting up the group - 'major-label' author leading a writing workshop with the students - and it went very well.

More later!