School makes electronic kit compulsory

Last updated 14:09 18/07/2012

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Year 9 students at a Nelson college will be required to bring their own electronic devices to school from next year, in a move the school says will "revolutionise" education.

Garin college is making the devices mandatory for students and has suggested four options with price estimates: netbooks at $300 to 500; laptops at $500 to $2000; MacBooks at $1500 to $2500; and iPads at $500 to $800.

Principal John Boyce said Garin had been researching the move for about three years, had consulted year-eight parents and was ready to take the plunge.

"I believe that if everyone has a computer, the way teachers teach and the way students will learn will be revolutionised."

Lessons and exercises for about 100 year nines would be delivered via a learning management system called Moodle, enabled by fast internet delivered by the Nelson Loop fibre-optic computer network system used by schools in the region.

"Our teachers have had laptops for 10 years. We use them all the time. The Government just updated all our wiring. The whole school is wireless. It just seems logical," Boyce said.

He said the move would lead to a "flipped curriculum", where students would have a lot more control over their independent learning. They would read material put on Moodle by their teachers at night and come to school the next day with questions relating to what they had learned.

"Students will have all the information they need at their fingertips, so over the next few years there will be a real change in mindset. Education will no longer be about facts - it will be about students using facts, thinking, creativity and design.

"Even next year, I expect to see students deepening their understanding of what they learnt [the night before], rather than whole classes marching through material together."

A group of about 25 student "guinea pigs" were already using electronic devices at school by choice.

"They love it. They know they're going to be using [modern technology] for the rest of their lives, so why not start now?"

Jordan Howley, 15, said he enjoyed using his laptop because "we don't have to concentrate so much on what the teacher is putting up on a PowerPoint when we can look at it on our own screens".

However, he and other computer-savvy students said they were not sure if it was a good idea to make the devices compulsory. They said everyone should at least have the same type of device, to avoid jealousy among students.

Boyce said no family would be turned away if they couldn't afford an electronic device, with the school committed to helping families with financial constraints, possibly through sponsorship from its parish community.

The school was pushing for the cheapest, lightest, smallest device available with a keyboard, and iPads were a low priority, because they didn't support teaching tools that well, he said.

Students would be given a slice of broadband each week and would need to ask to get more, to monitor legitimate use. The school's proxy server would be able to block a large portion of online games as well as Facebook.

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Garin College is not the only school in the Nelson region embracing the digital age, with Stoke School adding 10 iPads, flat-screen televisions, computers and digital cameras to its resources last year.

Nayland College launched a year nine e-learning class on a trial basis this year, in which about 25 students use their own laptops to access teaching materials.

Nelson Central School principal Paul Potaka said his school would be surveying parents later this month to see what support there was for putting computers on its stationery list.

"The educational benefits seem to be self-evident, but there are so many other implications to consider, for example affordability, equity and security."

Boyce said moving to electronic devices for year nines was not the death of pen and paper.

"That was one of the questions from parents. Is handwriting gone? I don't think so. They will still need paper, because maths and laptops don't go together that well."

- Nelson

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