This week saw the rollout of our final batch of laptops to our Year 7 and Year 12 students.

It’s interesting to see how students react to receiving their devices – a mixture of laptops, some with DVD drives, some without etc – as some were super excited by the idea and others were quite lukewarm. Some instantly asked if they could still use their Mac at home (to which I mentioned that I too cross between the parallel universes on a constant basis, from iPhone to laptop to iPad to iMac and back). Some asked about installing programs like iTunes and so on. At the moment students don’t have administrator rights on their machines, any views out there on this? Would love some feedback.

Without going into too many technical details, eventually the kids got on. Hopefully they used this weekend to take some of my crumbs of advice like organising their folders to be useful (2013 – subjects – topics/assignments) and to get use to all the little idiosyncrasies of the machines. (Aren’t mousepads temperamental sometimes??)

As the guy in charge of finding opportunities for innovative teaching and learning using ICT, I was keen to be a part of the rollout process and check off the list of things we needed to discuss with the girls about appropriate use of the devices and so on. However, I still can’t help feeling that sometimes with technology the priority is getting devices (the cart) into the kids hands without talking about teaching and, especially, learning (the horse).

Having been lucky enough to chat to a range of teachers from many schools of all stripes, I worry that with Federal funding, public or private grants, heavy investment in devices and overwhelming focus on what sits in the students’ hands, we’ve lost  sight of our horses by standing around looking puzzled at the cart.

The dilemma is this: concrete things like laptops show that schools are ‘using ICT’ to the general public, on paper and to other stakeholder groups. However, having laptops in hand does not mean that innovative or valuable learning is taking place. Without solid ICT infrastructure and a teaching and learning framework that utilises a 1:1 program, you may as well pack up the lot. That or just expect kids to go on FaceBook and Tumblr whenever they open the lid.

One of my goals is to have such a framework in place by the end of 2013. We will have gathered data and discussed goals and possibilites as well as building solid infrastructure (Term 1);  tested, experimented and explored new and innovative ways to connect kids with learning experiences (Term 2 and 3) whilst preparing for the onset of the Australian Curriculum – which I think is a perfect moment for schools and teachers to rethink how they do what they do; and develop a new framework for teaching and learning that exploits technology to its maximum to create what Marc Prensky calls ‘powerful’ learning experiences.

The laptops necessitate their use by pressuring teachers to adapt or replicate what they already do in digital form. This is a valid and useful stepping stone to redesigning how learning happens inside and outside the classroom. There must be a whole-school approach to teaching and learning in order for technology to be utilised to its most valuable extent. If one teacher is innovating in a Maths classroom to present information in a new way it is wonderful, but are students doing anything innovative? If the History department has a truly engaging and immersive unit for Term 2 of Year 8, what about the other terms or other Years?… Are our students wandering between pedagogical and learning frameworks that have no connection to each other? If they are, surely it doesn’t matter what device they have in their hand – it won’t be effective and it won’t be a valuable use of their time.

Hopefully by the end of the year we have a plan of how to move forward as a school so that students come to a school that is connected, collaborative and creative – using technology to amplify each aspect.

So carts do often come before horses in the ICT/learning relationship at schools, but if we are smart we can reign in the horses before they bolt and truly reshape what education is for our students.

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