Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Computers in the classroom: From a computer lab model to an integration model

Computers in the classroom
Moving from a Computer Lab Model to an Integration Model


      Until recently, our school had three computers in each classroom in addition to computer labs which teachers could schedule once a week. Last year, we decided to trial Macbooks on a 2:1 ratio from grade 4 and this year we have completely removed our computer labs, replacing them with iPads in the classroom on a 4:1 ratio for students in grades 3 and below. 


     The biggest challenge we now face, is how to move away from  "computer lab" mindset where teachers  set aside one or two periods each week to get their whole class on the computer, to an "integration" mindset where teachers use computers as a tool on a day to day basis to complement the curriculum. This shift in how we think about the role of computers in the classroom is not only a challenge for teachers but also for parents who question our decision to replace computer labs with iPads. 

     Ideally, we would have Macbooks and iPads for every student, making an integration model much easier to achieve. However, except for a few lucky schools, the reality is that most schools do not have this luxury. With integration being our paramount goal, we needed to carefully consider how the devices would be shared and made available. It is also important to think about what integration means and what it looks like in practice. 

Sharing Macbooks:

     With the Macbooks, we decided to place class sets in Computers on Wheels (COWs), and assign one computer to two students. For the most part, sharing of these computers has been successful, primarily because the 2:1 ratio enables teachers to usually get access to computers when needed. Teachers do need to plan their day so that they do full class computer activities during their scheduled part of the day and there are times where natural integration is difficult because of not having computers when you need them. With some flexibility among teachers, this issue has been kept to a minimum. 

Sharing iPads: 

     We originally planned to put all of our 124 iPads into COWs for teachers to share but decided against this because it encourages a computer lab mindset in that teachers would book out the class set for specified periods in the week which would be viewed as "computer" time. We instead decided to put 3-6 iPads in each classroom to allow for centers and for iPads to be available as a tool in the class when needed. Teachers were asked to share with other classes when they needed access to a full class set and also have access to a COW with some iPads which can be freely taken on a needed basis and returned when not needed. The idea is that teachers get extra iPads as they need them from each other and from a shared COW rather than just setting a scheduled computer time during the week. 

The response:

          So far, the response to how the iPads are being shared has been mixed. Some teachers have requested to have a set schedule for using the COW to get iPads as a class set for specific periods during the week and others have begun experimenting with integrating the iPads into their day to day activities. Part of the difficulty is that teachers are not quite sure just what integration means or what it looks like in practice. Most teachers have grown accustomed to taking their students to a computer lab during the week and it is hard for them to get away from thinking that they need to have scheduled access for their class each week. In some cases, students have gone to an IT specialist whose job it was to be the computer teacher. Technology, for the most part, has been seen as a separate subject which is not necessarily connected with other subject areas. 

Integrating computers in the classroom: 

     Successful integration requires a shift away from the computer lab model where students are scheduled for a computer time each week to an integration model where computers are used when needed to support teaching and learning. In outlining the role of ICT in the PYP, the IBO highlights the following key shifts in emphasis: 

     By shifting the focus to technology integration rather than technology as a subject, we can begin to use our computers to support the philosophy of the IBO's inquiry based approach to teaching and learning. ICT, in this sense, is a classroom tool, not unlike other classroom tools, which is  used as needed. There will be times when planned computer time is needed, but such planned time should be based on supporting curriculum goals. 

The role of the Technology Integration Educator: 

     The key to getting teachers to make the shift towards integration is ongoing support. Shannon Doak has written a great article on the role of  ICT and the integration educator. In aligning his own ideas with those of the IBO, Shannon argues that
 '[t]echnology is a tool which the classroom teacher in collaboration with the ICT teacher and more knowledgeable students, embark on a learning process in which the technology is used as artifacts, which helps to enhance the understanding of everyone in the learning community" 

     Extending from this, he argues that homeroom teachers should have access to computers whenever they need it.  The role of the ICT educator needs to shift away from a set schedule to one where the teacher is given the flexibility to support teachers and students when they need it so ensure more collaboration and team teaching. As Doak points out, "[t]he classroom teacher will cover the content and the ICT facilitator will cover the technology. This provides a great professional development opportunity for the teacher" and helps teachers to become better equipped to independently integrate technology into the curriculum. 

     Planning of curriculum itself become a collaborative process where the ICT facilitator plays a role in helping teachers find areas to appropriately use technology in formative and summative assessment tasks. They then enter the classroom when needed to help teachers effectively use the technology with students. Through this process, 
"technology and the integration of it within the unit of inquiry, will benefit the students and the teachers involved, as all will be within this new collaborative learning environment". 

       I have been fortunate this year to have been given a position which reflects the integration model for using computers in the classroom. We are still early in the year and I will continue to write about my experiences and reflections, in hopes of helping other educators to find better ways to use technology to enhance teaching and learning.