“One Netbook Per Child” Project Now Started

Now that netbooks offer low cost, portable computing – and will only get better – how can schools best exploit them?

That’s the question behind a new East Lothian project starting this term.  There’s been a lot of discussion of the potential of these technologies over the last year or so and we now aim to make a start on learning about the real-world possibilities. We’re deliberately trying to push this as far as we can beyond what we already do to improve the chances of identifying new benefits – and force ourselves to learn our way past any barriers that emerge. That’s why the project willinclude, for example:

  • a focus on web-based collaborative working, using services such as Glow and edubuzz
  • issuing netbooks on a one-to-one basis to every child (92) in the Primary 5 cohort
  • giving children ownership of the devices, and allowing them to take them home
  • encouraging connection to home or other wi-fi networks, such as in libraries, where possible
  • encouraging multimedia use through provision of a few Flip video cameras in each class

We have been fortunate to have full support from our IT department for the project. The arrangement is that they will enable wireless network access for the netbooks in the school, but cannot offer software support – if any configuration problems arise, the devices will simply be restored to factory settings by the teacher.

Today Elizabeth Cowan and I met with the Primary 5 teachers at Kings Meadow Primary who will be involved to make a start on planning.  The day included an intro to Glow from Ian Hoffman of the Glow team which included useful examples of work going on elsewhere.

Published by

David Gilmour

Learning Technologist East Lothian Council

15 thoughts on ““One Netbook Per Child” Project Now Started”

  1. @Stuart: The netbooks are absolutely standard, apart from asset tagging, so staff and students can install software if they want to do so. What we don’t want, though, are lots of locally stored data files – that’s what the net – whether Glow or web – is for. The netbooks are Linux, and won’t be attaching to the school Windows servers.

    @John: We’ve gone for the Asus Eee-PC 4G. In white, much to the disappointment of one teacher who liked the pink ones. WE decided we just had to get on with it, and prioritised cost (so Linux), robustness (so SSD) and battery life (so small screen).

  2. Sorry to be so negative about something some others obviously believe is a wonderful opportunity But I’m really disappointed that more money is being wasted on screen time for kids. I feel I am being pressured into letting my daughter bring home technology I don’t really want to encourage her to use just because such excitement has been built up about it in school and all her friends are going to be taking theirs home. There are so many kids who struggle with basic reading and writing skills that surely homework is a good chance for practice with a pen not more of the screen time most already get. Having spoken to many P.5 parents I think you’d be surprised how many feel the same however we weren’t asked before the decisions were made. (nothing new there)

  3. How can East Lothian Council justify any spending like this when there are so many budget pressures in all council services, including schools?
    Have you asked parents whether this is what they want from the Council’s education department?
    Come and listen to the debate in Parent Council meetings to find out what parents really want! Smaller class sizes, no more budget cuts, etc, etc….
    Also. you say you are fotunate to have support from the Council’s IT department. I would have thought that this should be a prerequisite, not a “nice to have”….

  4. @Gillian: Thanks for your comment, and please don’t apologise for being negative. I’m obviously sorry to hear that you’re disappointed, but pleased that you have taken the time to raise your concern.

    I can quite understand that you don’t want to encourage your daughter to bring home and use more technology. The aim here, though, is definitely not just about providing increased screen time or about encouraging yet more use of technology as an end in itself. If that was the case, no school would have been interested.

    The reason the school have kindly hosted this project is because school staff know that technology, carefully used, can provide powerful educational benefits.

    Central to these is its power to engage the current generation of students by making their classroom experience seem more relevant to the world they inhabit. The excitement you’re seeing about the project is an example of that effect. Learning experiences which don’t include adequate use of ICT can make a significant contribution to student disengagement. Computing devices (including such things as mp3 players, digital cameras, games consoles as well as more familiar computers) play an increasingly large part in students’ personal lives, and most are also experienced internet users. By moving the classroom environment closer to the technology environment they inhabit out of school, we expect to increase its perceived relevance and improve engagement in learning tasks.

    This project will help with basic reading and writing by enabling a wider choice of learning activities to engage children. For example, it will enable children to collaborate on shared writing tasks and provide peer feedback. Those with wireless internet access at home, for example, will be able to work together on the same homework document or presentation at the same time, and provide one another with peer feedback online. Their teacher will be able to clearly see who contributed what.

    Buy why do this project, and why now? There are two key strands coming together in this work.

    Firstly, what you can do with networked computers has become much more important than what can be done on individual machines. In particular, you can learn to research using network resources, and to collaborate with people in other locations. This trend was behind the development of Glow, an award-winning Scotland-wide private schools network which provides network services including collaboration spaces (Glow Groups), video-conferencing (Glow Meet) and student email for all learners (Glow Mail). Glow provides a baseline level of access to all students and schools in the country, and so aims to avoid the kind of pockets of inadequate provision seen in the early days of computers in schools. Since Christmas, we can now provide access to Glow for all East Lothian staff and students. But having access is one thing. Being able to get access to it is another. In school, there’s the question of access to computers. They’re expensive, and so numbers are limited. At home, some students are on the wrong side of the digital divide, and have no access to computers at all, let alone internet access.

    That leads to the other strand of the project. Now that networks are more important than individual computers, how do we provide students with network access? What we don’t want is to rely on a shared computer suite, we want students to have access as and when required in class. The best we’ve been able to do to date is to provide schools with shared trolleys of expensive, relatively fragile, laptops. As network access has become a priority over functionality, manufacturers have responded to the problem by producing low cost, lightweight, robust “netbook” computers which prioritise quick access to the network. The Eee-PC was one of the first of these. These machines offer the potential for achieving significantly improved access to computers in schools for the very limited budgets available; many of them can be bought for the cost of one traditional laptop. The costs of them are coming down, and they are even being provided free with some mobile broadband contracts, just like mobile phones, which will lead to students inheriting parental cast-offs. Students are already starting to appear with them in East Lothian schools. Of course,we don’t know exactly how this will work out, but we need to start learning what works and what doesn’t to inform future decision making.

    Another very important problem we have is with children who, for whatever reason, do not have access to these technologies at home. That’s not just about ownership: often, even although a family has a PC, children will not be able to get access. We are now at the stage where lack of access to computers and the internet out of school risks disadvantaging a child’s education. Netbooks, because of their low cost and portability, have potential to help bridge that gap. That’s why we need to start learning about the practical issues involved.

    I would be pleased to meet you, and any other parents or carers with concerns about the project, and will email you separately about that.

  5. @Clare:

    The main cost of this project, the purchase of the netbooks, has been funded from the central education ICT budget, together with the Scotland-wide Glow project, as this is part of finding out effective ways to embed use of Glow and similar network tools into everyday learning activities at home as well as in school. The cost of the project devices is low, much less than a class set of current laptops, and they will be redeployed in the most effective way possible, based on project findings, at the end of the study.

    Although the top priority is improving the educational experience of learners, it is also about becoming more efficient. If, as networks become more important than computers, schools can get most of what they need from simple, low-cost computers, then we can save money by adopting them. Their power consumption is very low, too, and they don’t produce significant amounts of waste heat.

    When parents ask for smaller class sizes, and no more budget cuts, they do so because they want the highest quality of educational experience for their children. These days, effective embedding of ICT into teaching and learning is an essential part of that. In East Lothian, exploiting information and communications technology (ICT) to improve learning is a key part of our education strategy. Because the rate of change in this area is high, and we are in unexplored territory, it is impossible to accurately forecast future technology needs. Netbooks have been around for a year now, and are becoming so well regarded it seems clear they have a valuable role to play. In that context, we would be neglecting our duties to East Lothian’s children if we did not start finding out more about that potential.

    I would be pleased to meet with you, or with the Parent Council, to discuss your concerns and will memail you separately about that.

  6. Hi David. Just a quick comment for your blog as one of the teachers running this pilot. Today my pupils all worked well on the netbooks, seemed to pick up how to use them quickly and it left me wondering if maybe we as adults are worrying too much and the children are just all taking it in their stride! They were only issued with them yesterday. I am excited about them and new ways can enhance their learning experiences

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