The whole world in our hands

This video appeared last week, vanished and has now returned. Laptops (Netbooks) in schools are a welcomed investment and if nothing else will finally driving some modern infrastructure in schools. It is unknown how many laptops, when or if there is on-going funding to reach year 12. Elections will probably have a lot to do with that. So is this a public information film or advertising. It obviously cost a lot of money, and is that where public money should be going? It presents like Huxley’s Brave New World, mixed with edgy sound track, cross-processed images and plenty of handy-cam angles, complete with Nathan Rees in a school at the end reinforcing the message of who made this happen. It reminded me more of the ‘you wouldn’t steal a car’ anti-piracy ad than information – it  offers mixed messages and assembled by a committee, not a creative vision.

Students are script-reading to their peers is pseudo ‘cool’ tones.

“No cyberbulling, no sharing of personal information, pictures or emails without permission” say the students also pointing out it has security features so the school can shut it down and take it off students who are not using it correctly. Apparently it is bye bye paper and hello music and games at lunch.

To me this kind of spin-doctoring that puts public education at a disadvantage and does not reflect reality and the viewer assumes this aligns to outcomes, pedagogy and professional development of teachers.

And then comes the hookline of assurance.

“We’ve got the whole world in our hands” and ”technical support comes from schools”

Quite clearly they are net books not laptops, students won’t be playing games at lunchtime on a DET network anytime soon as access to the new world is though the filtration system. It seems likely that most students will break the ‘rules’ in lieu of any formal ‘digital citizenship’  or educational programme (they don’t recognise the same boundaries). The technical support needed to maintain this fleet of laptops is going to be epic. Anyone who has experienced 1:1 knows just how hard it is to scale and maintain over lengthy periods. It seems much of the effort will be applied to ‘securing’ them, nor exploring. Yet the ad presents as if this is all a given and Mr Rees is unleashing something really innovative. It has the potential too, but no certainty.

This is what irks me – not the machines or the opportunity but use of this media to deliver a clearly political message, which is less than the whole truth – either as an ad or public information.

I am not sure who it is aimed at, and I’d love to know how much it cost. I don’t want ‘better than nothing for my children’ and I want them to stay in quality public education and no amount of post-production is going alter the reality that this is a futurists view, not a realists. I want to love it, but I can’t – there is a long way to go and this is quite simply premature and misleading, high on rhetoric and low on evidence. I notice that comments will of course be moderated until someone re-posts it.

++update++

I just read Shelly’s post about Blizzard deciding to blow up it’s entire World of Warcraft game in order to make a new one. Well worth a read if you’ve not been to Teach Paperless before.

“For thirty+ years, we’ve treated schools like boardgames. And every few years, we’d announce that the game was changing, but we kept using the same board and the same pieces. We changed the rules, but forced the players to use the same old dice”.  He goes on to explain why fundamental change is needed “Because our kids are dying to take on new adventures. After all, they live in a world where they expect upheaval and change; they don’t understand why so many of us are so afraid of it.”

17 thoughts on “The whole world in our hands

  1. Some clarifications:

    – The video “vanished” because the first version was not the final release. It reappeared as the final release.
    – It *is* known how many laptops there are. It’s a four-year program, based on FEDERAL funding. It will supply 267,000 netbooks in that time, with each new Year 9 getting their allocation. if you’re in 10,11 or 12 this year, you ain’t getting one. So yes, it will include this year’s year 9 which will be the year 12 in the fourth year. All high school teachers will also get one. Beyond that? It’s federal money. We are budgetted until 2012. There’s a federal election in 2010 and another in 2013. Who knows what will happen, but if it’s proven successful, it would be a brave government to stop funding it. If it’s not successful though… anyone’s guess.
    – Yes, the students are script reading. It’s an informative video of students (and their teachers) about what’s coming, what they can do and what they can’t do, and what they shouldn’t do. Cards are being laid on the table up front. It’s interesting that teachers have been excluded from the video.
    – Students play games right now in school (flash games in particular). They’ll still be able to play those games on these devices. But the filter is necessary.
    – There will be one and in a few large high schools, two on-site full time technical support officers for the laptops and the wireless. Is it enough? In peak times, probably no, but these people will be working as a team. In the city, high schools are close together. During peak times (rollouts etc), they can commute and work together. They are backed also by a region-based DER support team, plus the resources of the DET Service Desk and regional IT Services Units. It’s not just one person.
    – You’re correct. The video is also a political message. You’d be naive to think otherwise. People want to know where the federal DER money is going in New South Wales. I daresay it’s being spent better here than in most other states where they just handed out cash to individual schools to do their own thing. How many “education revolutions” do we want??
    – These students, from Newtown Performing Arts HS acted in the video for experience and the location was their school. The production is where the cost is and I have no idea what it cost or who was contracted to make it.

    Have a read of this for more details: http://paralleldivergence.com/2009/08/20/is-this-technically-the-best-11-rollout-in-the-world/

      • I’ll give you one simple example of why the filter is necessary. We are talking Public Education, but it shouldn’t matter in a private setting either. Government provides laptops to 200,000 students who are all minors. There is a law that says it is illegal for minors to access pornography. The unfiltered internet provides access to masses of the worst pornography with a few clicks of the mouse. The government would be making pornography available to minors (students). That’s illegal. The filter is necessary.

  2. You put some of my thoughts into words. I would have prefered the production costs to have been spent on the ground, in schools, realistically with the right equipment my class could have made this short clip for my school community, as an act of evidence of how the Federal DER money is being spent. Instead we have a political statement that doesn’t have parents, students or teachers as target audience. I would have liked the money to be spent on providing adequate training for teachers and 100% coverage of year 9 teachers, instead of 25% of an entire staff with quality access to the machines prior to attempted merging of ICT into nearly every classroom.
    I am trying so hard to remain positive about the whole thing. The worse thing is watching colleagues who don’t already use ICT to engage or delivery learning or use ICT personally. Many of them will drown while the ads float off the air.

  3. Dean, you sum it all up really well here. I was thinking muchthe same when I watched the vid. I left a comment and it went to moderation. Will the students filtered Internet give them access to YouTube? Flickr? Twitter? Myspace? Facebook? Any social stuff. Sure not all of these things are used well in the educational context, but I think if there is to be a digital education revolution that filtering should occur, but there should be a focus on the best use of all these probably blocked sites. Else we may end up with a bunch of digital misfits entering the workforce……

  4. I think it is important to sell it to the community.

    Sometimes parents think working with students online, or doing a lot of computer based work, is a soft option. I’ve had these conversations recently at a parent teacher evening. They weren’t necessarily direct but the concerns were clear enough.

    Perhaps the video does inflate the capabilities and fail to address the challenges. To this extent it is ‘spin’ of a sort.

    I showed the video to a very well established television producer today, someone with international recognition. Their response was ‘fabulous’. Hopefully it will encourage positive and supportive awareness in the community.

    How we manage the 1:1 use of laptops remains to be seen and will be very challenging. We’ll be doing a lot of basic ICT teaching within our respective learning areas. This is probably something that’s long over due. ICT hasn’t yet been effectively integrated into KLAs.

    • I don’t think anyone would question the production value of the advert, and it seems that what it is. I question the placement on YouTube and when we will see laptops in teachers hands and them having access to experienced EdTech staff to model pedagogy in order to capitalise on the investment. I suspect the world is about to get a shit load more powerpoints. We can’t apply old ideas to new problems. ICT skills are not the main issue to me, and I deal with that everyday. 3 or 4 simple applications (learned in 10 mins) can radically transform a classroom pedagogy. Its the approach to learning that needs throwing out. Not text books (as reported in the Daily Telegraphy today). There is little evidence that netbooks align outcomes with activities or assessment. We have to show teachers and students how to enter and work in online spaces; not purely social ‘friend based’ spaces. If this is aimed at motivation; then I am not sure it reaches that goal either. We can’t assume that students can access the internet out of school – or if they do; that won’t quickly ‘game the system’ and access materials at home that perhaps they should not – but of course they can’t as the security is in place. It will be interesting to see how much mainstream media is engaged as it moves forward, and how the DET YouTube channel handles the feedback – and to what extent the measures of ‘success’ will be based on.

      How do we know, that in year 9 – it made any difference to outcomes and wasn’t simply a political distraction. Will this have in independent evaluative process. What are the metrics and term of reference etc., This is public money on real live drama; not TV IMHO.

  5. Stuart, thanks for the detailed feedback as ever. I wonder about the focus on numbers – as large as they are; as they seem to change often.

    In December 2008, the Minister was promising $550 million in professional development, and claiming 197,000 mini-laptops would begin rolling out mid 2009. Every student 9-12 will have one. If they meant only year 9, they need to be clear about that in press statements and interviews in my view. I’ve done 1:1 in year nine; with high end Dells – and what transformed learning was the process of learning itself and the teacher ability to access content. Faith is a fantastic investment to make in young people. Unfiltered can work. Have a look at this student blog – http://tkak.wordpress.com/2009/05/ – take a look at the journey over the year. This is 1:1, Adobe CS4 and everything else Web2.0 – no Microsoft Office needed.

    Only limited information is being given as to the Windows 7 upgrade. I can’t for the life of me imagine how a 9th grade teachers are going to use Photoshop Elements effectively. And of coruse Flickr is banned. I’m struggling to understand the logic behind giving them FW and DRW at all in a world using Wikicode and online editors. They can’t publish it outside the walled fortress, they are still predominantly PASSIVE in thier use of ICTs and HTML is hardly cutting edge. Pedagogy will change how?

    Research over the last decade in the use of laptop classrooms widely reports that where process of inquiry were used in classrooms they had the most positive impact on student learning and attitudes. This is not the norm in pre-laptop classrooms. Other research has not supported the educational benefits of laptop use at all. But as someone recently told me, draw enough circles and we can prove anything. Public money does need to be accountable – in terms of OUTCOMES not SPEND – something Mr Costello pointed out last month. It’s not the investment going in, it’s what comes out (the benefit of hindsight obviously following his fall from office). The heart of the matter to me is still this focus on numbers and rules – in a world rapidly rejecting them.

    The numbers relate to machines; not learning outcomes. One is very transparent, the other opaque. Yes new tech in the hands of students – but revolution? I don’t see it (yet). It requires pedagogical modeling in the context of the classroom and well as persistent, high quality equipment and support. Who does the teacher call to get support on building a learning community?

    • Hi dskmag. See my point above relating to filtering. Sure, what we filter can be questioned, but filtering is necessary. Discussions are underway to see about unblocking the sites you refer to when students are at home with these netbooks.

      One of the biggest issues we need to consider is that with (say) 500 laptops in a school, how many are effectivelty going to be able to access internet-based web 2.0 sites like flickr, youtube etc when the biggest sized pipe we have right now out of a school is 10MBit/s? The solution put in place in terms of wireless inside the school means the netbooks will have great LAN connectively, but limited WAN connectivity in large simultaneous numbers. That’s why in the short term, local applications will be needed to deliver the multimedia creation ability without the bandwidth overhead.

      The 197,000 figure you referred to is correct. That is the number of students we have in years 9 through 12 right now. But NSW DET successfully argued for more funding and added their own funding to the equation to purchase more netbooks to cover all teachers in high schools (this was never part of KRudd’s plan nor budget), plus a contingency purchase to cover theft, loss, vandalism etc. Hence the bigger number I quoted.

      I recently read a (what I thought) brilliant article saying if you want to make major change happen in the classroom, if you want teachers to change, you have to make massive investment in technology – get that right first and force the teachers to get on board or miss the boat. No pussyfooting. It’s expensive, but it’s ambitious and possibly our best chance at making this necessary change happen. Let’s face it, for it to succeed educationally, teachers (and students) have to change – hence the challenge at the end of my article.

      Finally, maximos62 is exactly right, we NEED to SELL this thing. If we can’t get everyone excited about this, if we can’t convince them it’s a great thing, it’s going to fail. We can’t afford to let it fail. Not with the debt we’re running up as a country.

      Hope that helps.

      • I shudder at advertising the future, and understand the limits of bandwidth; but that is not the picture painted. That picture is of high-speed broadband and hyper-connectivity. My kids are in public school and can’t advocate enough that the government spends money on quality infrastructure and get the stuff in the hands of those who will be using it. In PD, if you go to a seminar you are far less likely to go back to class and try something new as you are if someone comes to your class and helps you. That is the on-cost and supposedly where the $550 million is going.

        Proximity to both the technology and the experts who can model best practice is the only way this works. The impression in this video is of massive access to the world, not fast around the walled garden. We need to be as Will Richardson says “punching holes” in classroom walls. This is why I have issues with sales messages of this type; they hide the reality. If we want public education to succeed, we need to be HONEST about our children’s futures, not try and sell it to parents who have no clue what the jargon means.

      • Sure, but let’s wait and see what this really is before we speculate and damn it from the get-go. This project is totally different to anything NSWDET has done before. For a start, it’s pretty much sticking to the projected timelines from close to a year ago. That’s certainly a first.

        Plus, I believe education is driving this agenda, not the technology. I am totally with you on breaking down the classroom walls, but child protection and duty of care – those terms we love to hate – are ties that bind for any educational authority.

      • I agree, time to start something then – let’s talk about running some workshops for DET staff about classroom practice and tech integration.

      • There are quite a number of workshops in the offing, covering all KLAs, all advertised at the DER NSW Intranet website. We also have just come off the Festival of laptops VCs organised by MacICT. Things are happening. We need to get teachers to get enthused. That’s where the selling really does need to come in.

  6. As a parent my personal view of the video is amusement, much the same as my year 9 son. I presume it is not produced by the same team that made the ‘click’ magazine I got with the laqptop charter. It is much better and contains a lot of useful information. Online version (which is quite different to the printed one) is here; http://www.schools.nsw.edu.au/click

  7. I found the video amusing I couldn’t make out was it trying to sell me the laptop or make me realise that from now on its all going to be copy / paste, fun and games in class. Its great initiative no doubt about that, but giving power to all the students is a big NO NO!!…You could almost bet upon your life that many students in failing public high schools, where teachers don’t give a dam about their students are in fact going to ruin/abuse the power. In my opinion this facility should only be provided to high schools (and students) who in past have proved that they are capable enough to make good use of the facility provided. Good schools are formed on the basis of good teachers and student who are willing to work with teachers, by implementing this initiative into those school will have a better outcome, but also with this there will be no use of having filters. So from my perspective its got to be chosen schools with GREAT teachers who should have their hands put upon this opportunity. Otherwise its going to be a waste of money, time, and effort…you would be setting down a path for failure

    • Aha TaNuj^… You see what you’re proposing, while sensible, would not be equitable! Mr Rudd wants EVERY student in year 9 through 12 to get this access, regardless of socio-economics, responsibility levels, academic skills, teaching abilities, school power facilities, furniture access and so on. What we have done in NSW technically is feasible, but it’s up to teachers, students, parents and individual schools to make it happen in their school. Pressure’s well and truly on.

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