Classroom laptops mimic workplace technology for Alberta students

Seeing dozens of laptops in a classroom is now common, Sana said, as is spying some students on social networks, playing games or watching movies instead of paying attention. ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images

TORONTO – Pen and paper is out and screens are in at one Alberta school board.

After testing Google’s new Chromebook laptop, the Edmonton Public School Board has deployed the computers across their 200 schools – giving some kids the chance to work with the technology at least once a day.

“I think the reason we use technology in the classroom is because it’s part of life,” said educational technology consultant with the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) Terry Korte.

“If they are writing a story we want them collaborating with each other, composing and re-editing and they can do that with Google Docs. Doing it by hand is really not at all like it will be in the real world or in a workplace. It’s a reflection of real life, of society.”

Google’s Chromebook, which only became available to Canadian consumers in March, operates on Google’s Chrome operating system, which is designed for web browsing and for using Google’s suite of programs including Google Apps, Drive and Gmail.

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Student and staff at the EPSB were some of the first Canadians to get their hands on the computers – and although the device itself has impressed the board, it’s the improved learning environment that it’s created for both students and teachers that has made a real impact.

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Edmonton’s Michael Strembitsky Public School was one of the early adopters of the program and has since seen huge developments in students since using the technology.

One of the kindergarten teachers in the school wanted to incorporate the technology in her classroom – so the class teamed up with grade three students to learn how to use a research feature on the laptop.

The five-year-old students researched bears, looking up videos and pictures of the animals, and shared their research with their teacher.

“That teacher shared with me her experience of working on the bear project and felt that the kids were much more engaged in the work. They are very visual learners at that age and seeing pictures of the bears excited them,” said assistant principal Vanessa LeCaine.

“She was in tears when she told me this – she could not believe it.”

LeCaine stressed that the most important part about using technology in the classroom is in order for kids to learn to collaborate. By working on Google Docs, which allows multiple users to collaborate on one document or presentation together, the students are learning while building teamwork skills.

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“They are using the tool as a way to collaborate, rather than for the sake of the technology, and that is really important to us. We said to people, yes we have all this great technology but we don’t want you to use technology just because its in the room,” said LeCaine.

“We want to give kids the skills that we know as critical for the workplace they are going to head to – and I know that doing that in kindergarten sounds like a little much, but its about building that scaffolding.”

But LeCaine believes that the school, made up of students from kindergarten to grade nine, will reap the benefits of starting early because the students will progress naturally year to year.

Teachers learning too

The school is also very tech-savvy – they use Google Calendar to share events with students, teachers and parents. But the experience has not only revolutionized the way students learn – it’s changed the way teachers learn from their students.

Some of the teachers at Michael Strembitsky considered themselves “non users” before welcoming the technology into their classrooms, according to LeCaine. But over time those teachers became quite confident, some even promoting themselves to “experts” just by helping their students with the computers.

“There are a lot of benefits documented in terms of using technology, but it has big advantages for teachers as well. We have talked to a lot of teachers who say this has motivated them and re-invigorated them into learning with their students,” said Korte

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What’s next for students at the EPSB? Whatever new technology comes down the pipeline says Korte. He noted that the board plans to stick with Google and Android operating systems, in order to keep the platform agnostic, but hopes to see more cloud technology be used in schools in the coming years.

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