Monday, 25 March 2019

A new computer lab - Lessons from New Nation School

In October 2018, the old Gauteng Online computer room at New Nation School in Vrededorp, Gauteng was equipped with Windows 10 laptops by Microsoft Philanthropies as part of a larger programme of support provided to the school by the Trevor Noah Foundation. SchoolNet SA has conducted the 'Change Leadership for Technology Integration' course for school leaders and the 'Microsoft in the Education' course for educators at the school and has also provided some onsite coaching and support.

Whilst the school has only had a well-equipped computer room for two terms, we've been pleased to see the progress that has been made to date.  This blogpost highlights some of the key successes and learnings of the New Nation journey so far.

Get the policies in place - before the equipment arrives

The delay in installing the computer equipment at New Nations proved to be a blessing in disguise. Through the Change Leadership course, school leaders had time to think about the changes that technology could bring to their school and how they would like to use the equipment as a catalyst for change. An ICT committee was appointed and a school ICT policy was drawn up prior to any devices being installed so that by the time the equipment arrived, teachers and learners knew what to expect and what the systems were for using the equipment. Learners were required to sign an acceptable use policy before being allowed to use the computers - establishing good norms for the equipment from the outset.



Establish a timetable for using the computers - across subjects

When a school has a well-equipped computer room, there is a temptation to use it to use it to offer Computer Applications Technology as a subject. Whilst CAT teaches valuable skills to learners who take the subject, it can mean that other learners don't get a chance to use the computers for other subjects, and learners in lower grades don't have a chance to build computer literacy skills. At New Nation, teachers were consulted about who wanted to use the computers for subject teaching and a timetable was drawn up to give teachers a regular slot in a week. Whilst learners may not use the computer room in every subject, once or twice a week learners will go to the lab to do research or to work on documents for one of their subjects. This is a great start, and hopefully as more teachers build confidence and skills they will ask for slots on the timetable for their subjects.


Have some free slots for the computer room

The New Nation School computer lab timetable ensures that teachers can plan their use of the computers in advance, but the lab is not timetabled for use every period. This means that when a teacher who does not have a regular slot wants to get his class to do an interactive quiz or wants to show a subject-related video he or she has been able to make arrangements to take his or her class to the lab. This arrangement helps to ensure that more teachers and subjects can make use of the lab - even if only occasionally.


Don't be scared of being shown up by the learners

The New Nation teachers had a go at doing the Hour of Code and loved it... but few of the teachers felt confident to run the activity for learners. At one of the coaching sessions, the SchoolNet SA coach helped co-teach a lesson with the teacher - which basically involved showing learners how to access the Minecraft themed tutorials and walking the learners through the first one or two puzzles. After a very brief introduction, learners were largely able to work by themselves, with some learners flying through the full challenge at record speed. After this successful session the Grade 12 First Additional Language teacher said he now felt confident enough to run a session on his own for his other classes and had realized that he does not need to be an expert at everything in the computer room - he just needs to provide the learners with an opportunity to develop their own skills.


Make the computers available for research and lesson preparation

When teachers have free periods at New Nation School, they can often be found in the computer room, working on one of the laptops. Sometimes, even when a class is in session, teachers will find a free computer and will carry on with their own work. It has been a joy to see teachers using Excel to capture their marks, Word to create worksheets and PowerPoint to prepare presentations. Teachers are able to informally help one another and the computer room coordinator assists if she is around, but most teachers are finding that as they use the computers more, their skills improve and they need to ask for help less often. We were excited when we heard that after one teacher used Socrative other teachers asked their colleague to show them how to make their own interactive quiz. This shows that teachers are willing to learn from one another, to seek support and to try new tools.


Use the cloud to have your own files on shared devices

Once teachers had access to school O365 accounts teachers were able to access their accounts from any device. This has been a big help as teachers can now work at any computer in the lab, or from their phones or personal computers at home.This has reduced the risk of viruses from teachers saving their files to flash drives and has also meant that sensitive documents like tests or mark-sheets are not being saved on the hard drives of laptops - where learners using the devices can access them.


Give learners access to computers 

The learners at New Nation are mostly orphans or vulnerable children, with many living in shelters in Johannesburg. This means that for the majority of learners, the school computers are the only devices that they currently have access to. The delight of getting to use the devices is captured in these reports on a Grade 10 Life Orientation lesson:

"My class made a chance to do research about the career that we want to be. I also got a chance to do research about mine. Also touching that laptop even though it was my first time its made me so happy."

"Today I had a nice or enjoyable experience. We went to the computer lab for the first time since grade 8. Yooo! I really enjoyed the computers with touch screens and that was my first time using them. I always hear about it but never experience it. We searched for our future careers and heard some advice from those people who are successful in those careers"




Next steps

Whilst we are excited by the progress made by teachers at New Nation School to integrate some digital tools into their lessons, we'd like to see learners having more access to the computers and more opportunities to build their digital skills. In the new term we hope to see learners getting O365 accounts which will enable them to save their work in their own space on the cloud and we also hope to encourage learners to complete the Digital Literacy Curriculum to further boost their skills.

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