Managing laptops, or managing students?

Management of technology and management of laptops are very different things.  In this post, I will share some of my views on the management of laptops in a 1:1 class.  To begin with, I hear so much rubbish such as “you must circulate to see what your kids are doing in a 1:1 classroom” or “in a laptop class, watch their eyes” or my favourite “you have to make your lessons interesting so the kids want to stay on task”.  I am sorry but this is NOT management of laptops – this is management of students, and that part of our jobs has not changed.  Before the advent of the laptop, every “good” teacher was doing both of these already.  What has really changed???

It is however true that laptops give kids a whole new set of ways to get off task.  They will probably always be more proficient at avoiding detection, so why spend too much of your time trying to catch them.  As I said in my last post, when I eased up on being the homework police, I feel I ended up with a higher homework completion rate.  When you do catch someone off task, ensure there is a consequence ready to go.  I live in Hanoi where mirror glasses are about a dollar and a half.  For a first offence (being off task) I have a student wear mirror glasses for 2-5 days, when in my class.  The other kids give them heaps and we can all see whatever is on their screen.  For a repeat offence, tablet is taken away and they are given a pencil and paper for the lesson.  For a third offence, it goes to management and parents get involved.  We have a chat at the start of the year, and the occasional reminder, and I have yet to get to the third level of consequence.  We have only been a tablet school for 5 years though, so time will tell.

Pencil and paper

Some rights reserved quacktaculous

My advice is to keep everything online, including all your students work.  If you can avoid a school Portal (some schools, such as mine insist on using these) then get your kids to store all their work on something like Google Documents.  The work becomes accessible from everywhere, with no issues such as ”the dog ate my memory stick” or “I forgot it” or the myriad of other excuses we sometimes get…

Laptops are just a tool.  Management of laptops is about management of students and about management of classroom (and outside classroom) time.  Getting kids to copy notes from a board or to attend lectures to take notes on their tablets is not leveraging technology – tablet make transferal of one set of notes to the whole class simple.  Think of staff PD in a school.  As soon as they have you doing dumb stuff, how many of us suddenly have the urge to catch up on Emails etc.  Kids are no different.  Why not leverage this and have 1 -2 note takers (maybe even with their notes visible on the screen), while you introduce / outline a new topic.  The rest of the class can then focus just on what you are saying.  All kids (or just a group each night) can then work collectively to improve the quality of these notes. 

Not all solutions have to be high tech. This can be seen from anywhere in the class. Photo by blog author

My school appears to just be coming out of a phase where they tried to restrict eveything, so they could be in control.  To my mind, this was a spectacular failure that took away many of the advantages of having  a 1:1 program.  We were told to do all work on our school Portal (ugly SharePoint).  It did not matter that there were (and still are) a myriad of excellent (and free) programs out there that would enhance learning.  The concern appeared to be that if we went there, the school would no longer have “owned” the content.  It was never about the content – it was about the journey.  They even went as far as blocking Youtube.  I view that is “they gave us laptops to leverage the incredible material on the internet, then took most of the internet away from  us”.  Thankfully, our newer administration seems to be more on-to-it, in this respect.  Last week, after some lobbying (tee hee) we had the YouTube ban lifted.  For those teachers here with YouTube Channels, kids can now access then in class, as well as from home.  I see this as a victory for teaching and learning.  In retrospect, they were just locking the kids (and teachers in)

Why would you lock away the internet in a 1:1 school. Image generated using sign generator

Reverse teaching (or flip-class) seems to be one of the latest buzz-words in education.  Get the kids to learn the content at home.  Create your own content, or find that of others on the net – videos / podcasts seem to be particularly popular at the moment.  This can be a spectacular success, or a spectacular failure.  My view is that it depends on what you then do with all the class-time that you have now freed up.  It will work if you have a RANGE of activities that promote higher order thinking skills and that are fun, and that work to develop real understanding.

When is started to look at the readings for this week’s CoeTAIL course, they epitomised everything I personally don’t like about online learning (sorry Jeff and Kim – you guys do an awesome job) but several links were broken.  I revisit the Google Documents site, saw there was an updated version of the task, downloaded it, and was away.  Then there was the live streaming of Adobe Connect.  What a joke, but after trying to watch this on three separate occasions, I gave up.  You cannot watch anything when you have to wait for 15 seconds, every 30 seconds.  If we are going to store digital content for our kids to use, we have to become experts at digital content.  Not necessary in its creation (although it helps) as there is tonnes on the net, but at reducing file sizes for optimum viewing and download speeds on the net.

Earlier in this post, I said that I believe you need a range of activities for flip-class to work.  I recently finished a unit with my Grade-nine kids on Respiration and respiratory systems.  They had built websites, made analogies, posted and peer commented via Voicethread, and then done the same with misconception videos that small groups had created.  The previous year I had also had the kids write their own digital test, but that had been a bit of a failure, so I left it out this year.  Maybe next year I will give it another go.  To end this unit, as is customary in my classes, I got my kids to fill out an anonymous school report on my teaching, the units and how we had covered them.  A couple of repeated responses were interesting:

  1. While some kids loved the fully online unit, other really did not like it.
  2.  Several kids commented that they liked this unit because it was done differently than our previous units (which were all different in their methodology).  A few kids complained about a course they did last year, which was online, but every lesson was the same.

Some rights reserved by zephyrbunny

In the end, tablets are just a tool.  We are not managing tablets as much as we are managing the little (or not so little) people that we are entrusted to teach.  As was always the case, they need variation in what they do, if we are to keep them interested.  When I spark the kids in a 1:1 class, I am constantly surprised by just what they can produce, as with tablets, many of the barriers for the high fliers are well removed.  There is the potential however for there to be less of a safety net for the weaker (or more easily side-tracked kids) so the ability to manage students is (and will remain to be) more important than ever.

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6 Responses to Managing laptops, or managing students?

  1. You offered several insights that I will use as I move ahead with combining laptops with independent in-class activities. The summary point that I found most useful was that we should look at these issues as part of classroom management, or helping students make the best use of their time in class. Thanks for sharing your journey’s ups and downs. I will apply the lessons that you have shared. Is it possible that administration is on a journey that is parallel to our own. They may also be learning how to apply their knowledge of school management to a new environment, which, like a 1:1 classroom, must at first appear to be a dramatically different environment. I will remember that it is still about how we help our students to learn.

  2. Avatar of Geoff Odell Geoff Odell says:

    Wayne, I like the use of mirrored glasses. Very clever. But I think what I think is very true is that there have to be clear, consistently enforced rules. One teacher last year was telling me how much trouble laptops have been for her. She says she gets frustrated with kids getting on Facebook during class. I asked her what she does when she catches them. She said she tells them to get back on task. That’s it. No consequence. I bet the number of violations would cut down if the kids were held accountable. Teaching 101, right?

    I appreciate your thoughts as I haven’t had the chance to work in a 1-to-1 class yet. I had a laptop cart last year and was able to experiment with some stuff, but I’m always on the lookout for new ideas. Keep sharing!

  3. Fel says:

    Ingesting post, but I’m trying to figure out if you’re serious or joking about the mirrored glasses… do tell please. Joking right?

    • As bizarre as it seems, serious. It has worked a treat, kids (not caught) love it and it helps gel the class. I got a student to wear them today, so I could take a photo, which I will now add to this blog post.

  4. Avatar of Becky Becky says:

    Wayne, I got quite a kick out of the mirrored glasses. I’m not sure how that would go down here at Taipei American School, but an awesome direct consequence. I completely agree with your point on there still needing to be variety in a laptop school. Over the last couple of years I’ve found that a heavily intensive on-line or IT project is best followed up with markers and paper. I’m wrapping up my COETAIL courses as well. Do you happen to know of any other COETAIL science bloggers? It is always interesting to read curricular specific reflections. You can find he here: link to

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