A couple of primary schools I’ve visited recently have both taken the decision to remove their ICT suites. This seems like a good idea, as you may know, I am not a great fan of the ICT suite (see this post
). In the case of these two schools, though, the removal of the suites was not part of a planned process, they were removed out of necessity and in some haste; either because the school found itself short of classrooms or ‘natural’ damage (flood) meant the suite could no longer be used.
In both cases, and I’m sure in many others, the school had to look to alternatives to deliver its ICT provision. In both these cases (as, I’m sure, in others), the school opted for a banks of laptops and netbooks. Interestingly, both schools have procured two banks of laptops and netbooks with portable charging trolleys to replace one ICT suite. This has had the immediate benefit that two classes can make use of technology at the same time instead on just the one at a time that could use the old suite.
However, it has been the netbooks that have caused problems. I am not certain but I very strongly suspect that the schools purchased the netbooks because they appeared to be a cheaper version of the laptops. Big Mistake! I have nothing against netbooks but I do firmly believe that they are not laptop replacements. To use netbooks effectively requires careful planning and changes to the ways in which ICT is used.
Superficially, a netbook looks like a slimmed down laptop but it is not. Currently, a netbook has less memory and storage than a laptop, it has less power (and lower battery consumption) and lacks an optical (CD or DVD) drive. It relies far more than a laptop upon a wireless connection to access resources and services on a network (LAN or Internet), hence the term ‘net’book. If you wish to make effective use of netbooks, then you need first to ensure your wireless infrastructure is suitable for the job.
I accept that a netbook is more easily portable than a laptop and that its smaller size and lower weight may make it more suitable for younger learners. However, it would be quite wrong to see a netbook as being a laptop for younger pupils. A netbook is an item of educational technology in its own right and can be suitable for learners of any age or stage of education, it is probably better to regard it as a more portable and, certainly, a more ‘personal’ device.
So what can we learn from the experiences seen in these two schools?
First of all, replacing an ICT suite (or any major change in ICT provision) needs to be carefully planned and prepared,
Secondly, netbooks are not straightforward replacements for desktop or laptop devices
Thirdly, netbooks are not suitable only for infant or younger learners
Fourthly, adopting and using netbooks requires a full rethink and planning in how ICT is used in a school
and Fifthly, if you want to use netbooks or laptops, first ensure your wireless provision is adequate
Let me also add another question; should the school be continuing to provide this kit or should it be enabling the pupils to provide and use their own kit?