The Laptop Learning Environment

3.2 Laptop use in the Classroom

The nature of the 1:1 laptop environment is that students will have their laptops with them and available for use through the school day. This does not mean though that they will necessarily be used in every class. Like other learning tools, the use of laptops will depend on the particular learning activity and this is at the discretion of the teacher. Laptop activities will blend with others such as writing, reading, discussion, debate and testing and students will find that their use of laptops will vary from day to day.

3.2 Handwriting, Writing Skills and Laptops

The nature of school and state wide testing continues to dictate that students are required to take the bulk of tests by hand rather than with their laptop. With this in mind, it is school policy that handwriting skills and handwriting activities will remain as regular activities across the curriculum. This is particularly the case in senior years as students prepare for the external exams such as the HSC.

However, this is not to say that the use of laptops for writing tasks causes a deterioration of handwriting skills. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, research from a very large scale study (Silvernail and Gritter, University of Southern Maine, 2007) of the impact of 1:1 laptop use on writing skills in the U.S. state of Maine over a five year period has found that laptop use has a positive impact on writing skills. It is argued that as students learn to take advantage of computers for writing, their writing strategies change. Revisions of drafts become easier and accepted as a normal part of the process, improving the overall quality of writing. The study concludes that using laptops for developing and producing writing helps students to become better writers both when using a laptop and when writing in longhand.

Ready access to on-line resources provides students with a wealth of material to assist their study. At the same time it has focused attention on problems of plagiarism across NSW and education on this issue is a part of the curriculum. This occurs at all year levels and in Year 10 all students complete the compulsory ‘All Your Own Work’ before commencing HSC studies.

Students are expected to approach writing tasks using their laptop with the same attention to spelling, grammar, text type and format as they do when handwriting. Spelling and grammar checking functions on the laptop are important learning tools as they provide students with immediate feedback on their writing.

Touch typing is considered to be an important skill for all students as it increases both speed and focus on what is being written. For this reason touch typing forms part of the curriculum in Junior and Middle School.

3.3 Computer Games and Other Distractions

Good teachers provide compelling learning experiences, know their students well, and know what they can get up to. Therefore, classroom management with laptops is not really different to that without laptops.

There are many temptations for students to stray from task in class, and laptop-related distractions such as computer games, the internet in general and social networking sites are clearly implicated here. For this reason the playing of games and use of other purely social tools is banned through the school day and at prep time for boarders. This is part of the agreed terms of use of the laptop and breach of it will be treated as a disciplinary matter.

Similarly, unless specifically directed by the teacher, listening to music through headphones during class time is not allowed.

In the home, it is recommended that purely recreational use of the computer be treated in the same manner as other ‘screen’ activities such as television and limited accordingly.

3.4 The Homework Environment

School policy indicates that students should expect to receive an average of 10 minutes of prep (homework) per night for each year level, four nights a week. That is, a student in Year 8 should expect to receive 1 hour and 20 minutes of prep per night, from Monday to Thursday nights. Weekend prep will be less clearly defined and will include study, revision and assignments for senior students.

Not all prep will require the use of the student laptop and it will not be necessary for Junior and Middle School students to take computers home every evening.

  • In Junior School the weekly homework sheet will indicate whether homework requires the use of the laptop. At other times, students may leave the laptop in their classroom.
  • In Middle School, the student diary will record the required prep and the nature of that prep will indicate whether the laptop is required. New storage and charging facilities to be installed will enable both day boys and boarders to leave laptops in their home rooms.

Use of the laptop beyond this should be limited and balanced with other social activity, including physical exercise. Should excessive use present as a problem, parents are advised to have the computer left at school when it is not needed for prep. The relevance of the laptop for prep will be evident from the prep recorded in the student diary.

3.5 How to see your child’s work

We believe that it is important for parents to be as involved in all aspects of their child’s work as possible and parents are encouraged to regularly spend time with their child asking them to explain the work on the laptop. This is likely to include movies, podcasts, web pages, simulations, cartoons, drawings, photo essays, artworks, musical compositions and animations. The creativity expressed in this work will be supported by the interest of parents as well as teachers and and looking through it on the laptop should be as regular as looking through workbooks.

Parents should also have full access to both the laptop and their child’s work. The laptops are the property of the School and funded by parents and we expect that all students will make passwords available to parents (but not to any other person).

Parents who have difficulties in accessing their child’s work for any reason should contact the computing department for guidance.

3.6 HSC and Appeals for Misadventure

As we are all aware, computers can “lose” data. Though this is now a comparatively rare occurrence, it can happen.

To avoid problems, particularly with important assessment tasks, students are encouraged to regularly back up work on the supplied external hard disc.

However, a computer may crash during a save operation, or for some other reason beyond the control of the student, may cause work to be irretrievable. In this case, the school’s assessment misadventure policy will apply.

3.7 Student consultative committee

A student representative committee with members from Years 6 to 12, prefect supervision and the Director of IT co-opted as required has been established to assist in the formation and ongoing revision of policy regarding laptop use and access limits.

The central role of the committee is to act as a student voice, in the spirit of the Round Square ideals. Issues such as timed access to the internet, restrictions on game playing, copyright and excess usage are discussed.

The proceedings of this group are used in discussions with staff to provide a clear understanding of student rights and responsibilities.