ICT in paradise

Some of you may know this already but thanks to a kindly IT department (and the fact that no-one else wanted them) my science class is now awash with 10" tablet computers. I have had them for a month or so, and they complete my set, so to...

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Some of you may know this already but thanks to a kindly IT department (and the fact that no-one else wanted them) my science class is now awash with 10" tablet computers. I have had them for a month or so, and they complete my set, so to speak.

I’ll explain what I mean by the ‘set’. I also have access to as many laptops as I might want and naturally enough have an interactive whiteboard. Actually I have two boards, one at each end of lab, and both of course attached to a colour laser printer.

Every student has a smartphone of their own, and we have a fast, filtered wireless Internet and the students are clearly supplementing this with their 3G accounts, occasionally even using their dongles in the laptops. As it’s a science class, I have every electronic sensor (for automated data collection) you can imagine and can easily do you an ECG or measure your oxygen levels.

Finally I can do all my admin (registers, reports, communication and course management) over wireless from my phone in the cafe although I prefer to use my laptop in the lab.

I mention the above not to brag but to highlight that if I got out the ‘big-school-catalogue-of-shiny things-you-may-or-may-not-need’ I would be hard pushed to find anything else I ‘needed’.

In other words I have achieved the Holy Grail of ICT-in-Education or, mixing religious traditions, having been freed from the suffering of ICT deficit I have attained Nirvana. And all this by the way is in a common-or-garden state-funded FE college.

The question now is: I have all anyone could wish for ICT-wise, so is it actually worth the taxpayers’ money? Below is a summary of what we do with the stuff.

Desktop computers

We have one in every room, and plenty in the library but hardly any of my students use them except to print off work or use the expensive drawing packages I need for design work. To do either, we have to log on to a Windows Domain to access the print server and keep the right side of the per-seat user licences.

Laptop computers

We are using these more now that we boot them as workstation only. Freed from the domain, they now work well and can access the Internet and even YouTube!

The domain is not missed, as no one uses the shared or public drive to store work anyway. They have OpenOffice installed, but by and large most of us have migrated online for word-processing. The laptops are in constant use by one or another for various tasks including by me to run the data-loggers.

Tablets

Interestingly these are used often by the students, especially those who prefer to hand write their work. Handwriting is becoming, amongst my students, increasingly popular and they like to have the tablet to access the Internet as they work.

I think this trend is due to an anti-cut and paste plagiarism ethos. Simply, if you hand write, unless you simply copy word for word, you interpret rather than reproduce work you find on the Internet and thereby are safe from attack by teachers armed with cribbing software.

In other words, as in all labs, handwritten is authentic and typed may or may not be.

Strangely, although they can, no-one has put an app on the pads for whatever reason.

Interactive whiteboards

I fire mine up each day. I have long given up attempting to use them for writing on and I never do slideshows. What they are simply great for is web stuff, from Google images to YouTube.

Want to see an amoeba hunting? A few seconds and there it is, just amazing. However, at £250 a bulb pop, I never leave it on all day.

It’s also good for large scale display of electronic instruments, microscopes and the visualiser. It’s just the interactive bit that's silly. I have a conventional whiteboard as my main writing area.

Smartphones

They mostly use these to keep in touch surreptitiously with their friends, but never to YouTube or anything else that blows their data plan. What is instinctive is for them to use the camera for equipment photos and so on, and these soon appear in experiment write-ups.

I find them useful for group emailing students from the course management software (Moodle) with stuff like ‘Assignment X is now available’ as they check their phone’s mail.

Software

We never ever have used ‘educational software’. I am planning to use the one really good simulator called ‘Crocodile Clips’ when I get to the electronics modules. Awesome app.

As for word processing, I’ve no idea what they all use. If MS Office is there, they will use it locally, but they are as likely to use Open Office and mostly don’t differentiate between them. In reality, they may just as well be using a Google or Hotmail account to type stuff.

That’s it folks. Are you impressed or underwhelmed? After all, you paid for it.