Schools set up for the Google generation

IMOGEN NEALE
Last updated 05:00 05/06/2011
Albany High
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax Media

TECHS APPEAL: At Albany Senior High School, students can google, tweet and chat online in class. From left, Roxy Hall, Steph Howard, Alex Vaz and Caitlyn Mentzer have their phones ready.

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Some schools demand students leave their digital devices at home, but Albany Senior High School, north of Auckland, has taken the opposite approach, BYOD.

"That means, Bring Your Own Device," explains deputy principal Mark Osborne.

The state school's 750 students hook into a wireless network with their own laptop or mobile phone, or through desktop computers peppered around the classrooms.

"The mobile phone is already the most important computer in a teenager's life," Osborne said.

"It makes no sense to ban it. We haven't banned paper because kids pass notes. In five to 10 years, students will do most of their computing using phones."

He said it's not unusual to see students whip out their mobile phones and google the answer to a teacher's question.

It is a "high trust" approach to technology, and phones do occasionally ring during class.

When the Star-Times visited, two Year 13 students were quietly working side by side on a shared Google document with their mobile phones on their desks.

"I think because [teachers] aren't so strict, people don't abuse it," one said.

As they work, they use Google chat – a window that pops up at the bottom of screen and lets users send and receive messages – to ask the teacher and other students questions.

"It's really good because you don't have to chase people around," the student said.

Enthusiasts of digital technology in schools also argue it gives shy students a way to share their ideas with the class without having to put up their hand and shout it out.

At this school chat isn't limited to school hours and students will often fire questions to teachers as they're doing their homework.

Osborne says if answering a question means students keep learning, then it's worth it.

"The nine to five work-day died a long time ago," he said.

And while the three-year-old school may seem like an anomaly, its approach speaks to the government's roll-out of ultra-fast broadband.

The $150 million project will see all state and state-integrated schools get a "broadband boost" within five years.

Education Minister Anne Tolley said the new connectivity will make the education system one of the most wired in the world.

University of Canterbury Professor of e-Learning Niki Davis said the government is not rolling it out so students can get lost in cyberspace, but to help teachers use technology effectively.

She said a "very few" teachers were experimenting with Twitter-like technology in the classroom and most were trying to avoid it.

"I think a teacher tries to organise their classroom so they scaffold the learning of students. When they can't see what's going on, it can be really challenging."

However, she said it's only a matter of time before Twitter and instant messaging are used in most New Zealand classrooms.

And while the conversations they facilitate may be silent, that doesn't mean students aren't talking.

"Does it matter that it's not oral?" she said.

"There are advantages and disadvantages to everything. What we have to do is set up an education environment so that the innovations actually become helpful to education. It is quite possible that if we do nothing, they will get in the way."

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