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St Lukes School logoSt Lukes School

School No: 635

One-to-one Use of Netbooks by Students with Moderate Learning Difficulties

Date:

26 March 2012

Subject Coverage:

Cross Curricular

Key Stages:

KS3, KS4 & KS5
with relevance to KS2

Author:

 

Chris Carter
Email: chris.carter@hertscc.gov.uk
Tel: 01438 843918

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St. Luke’s School is a specialist Science and Humanities college for students with moderate learning difficulties. There are approximately 150 students on roll.

As part of a project sponsored by European Schoolnet and the technology company Acer, St. Luke’s received enough Acer ‘Aspire One’ Netbooks to equip every student with their own personal device, for use during the school day around the school.

The netbooks

Acer AspireThe Acer Aspire D255 netbooks used in the school have 1gb RAM and 250gb hard disks. They run Windows 7.

Technical staff in the school set up each device to access the Windows school network via wifi, which was upgraded to ensure it was powerful enough to support the large number of devices that would be accessing the system concurrently.

A selection of software was preinstalled, which included:

  • Microsoft Office
  • Audacity
  • Information Workshop
  • Clicker 5
  • Science and RE software from Daydream Education
  • Flowol 3
  • Cloze Pro
  • SUMS Online

Each device receives the internet through the HGfL web filtering system.

Launching the project

Before the netbooks were rolled out across the whole school, a trial group of 12 students used the devices for a term. This was mainly to find the best technical and device management system for the main rollout. The devices are organised by ‘Family Group.’ Each group consists of 12 mixed-age students, and one laptop trolley of netbooks was assigned to each group. From each group, 2 students have the responsibility of ‘netbook monitor.’ They give out the devices to each student in the morning and check them in again at home-time, putting them back on charge for the next day. There are 12 family groups in the school.

From September 2011 the netbooks were distributed out to the students in fortnightly intervals, to years 5/6, 7 and 8 in one week, year 9 in another and years 10,11 and sixth form in another week. When each group of students received their netbooks, they attended a session which covered:

  • Discussion about how the devices would be used for learning
  • Responsible handling of the netbooks
  • eSafety

The students were also provided with cases, funded by the school, in which to carry the netbooks from lesson to lesson. Attached to each case was a key fob with the name and photograph of the student. Half the students received ‘slip cases’ so that they could carry the netbook in their book bags, whilst the other half were provided with traditional laptop bags. These proved to be more effective than using the pupils’ existing book bags. Each device itself was also labelled with the user’s name and family group.

The two ‘netbook monitors’ from each family group received training from the school technician in some of the basic tasks involved with looking after the devices, including putting them on charge.

It was understood from the very beginning that a netbook might not be the most appropriate device for all the students, who have a range of complex learning difficulties. The aim of initially rolling out this device to all students was to be able to assess the suitability of the netbooks, and from there, be able to consider an alternative device for particular individuals if necessary in the future (see Next Steps below.)

Use across the curriculum

Acer AspireTeachers in the school decide whether the netbooks will be used in any particular lesson or not. Some teachers choose not to have them used in their lessons whilst others frequently employ them. As would be expected, it is largely down to the ICT confidence of each individual teacher. There were also some technical difficulties at the beginning of the project which may have prevented the devices being used to their potential, which in turn lead to reduced use in some lessons.

The biggest use across different subject areas is with Internet research, and in using Microsoft Office applications. Word and Publisher are frequently used for word processing, creating posters and suchlike.

In Maths, online maths activities and games are frequently used. The students enjoy using this type of activity and it motivates them to complete tasks and improve their scores in areas that they might find less interesting if carrying out activities on paper. Online activities included those found at Coolmath and Woodlands Junior School websites. The students also accessed the range of games from SUMS Online, which was installed on all devices.

In Science, USB data loggers have been connected to the netbooks, and photographs of experiments, taken with separate digital cameras, are downloaded to the netbooks to help the students recall what they were doing at a later date. Microsoft Office is also used to create graphs, internet research is carried out and Powerpoint used to present experiments and findings. Internet research and making presentations on the devices is also regularly carried out in Geography.

The netbooks are used significantly in English, where coursework can be completed using Word. One teacher pointed out how much the students really do prefer to work with the devices rather than without. In his lessons the students use the internet and word processing, but also, for example, use online comic creators such as Pixton.

One teacher had set up individual student blogs for her class, using Kidblog. The students used these to write about their news and their learning, using the netbooks. Blog posts could be shared with parents at home and this was seen as a very positive facility.

Benefits

The introduction of netbooks on a one-to-one basis at St. Luke’s is generally seen as positive by most members of staff. One teacher commented on how the staff are having to update their ICT skills to be able to employ the devices most effectively, and he felt this was beneficial to the staff members themselves and the students they teach. It is, however, quite a slow process for all staff to improve their skills.

The students seem very positive and for those that, due to their learning difficulties, prefer a more structured approach to day to day organisation and teaching / learning, use of personal computers can be of help. Most of the students express a preference to using the netbooks over not using them, and the devices enable them to produce more professional looking work than if they were handwriting, which motivates them to do more. As they use the netbooks the students’ ICT literacy is always improving.

The mobility of the device is seen as a benefit by the students and teachers. Most classrooms have around three computers at the back of the class, and the library is set up with a larger number of PCs for whole class use. Having the facility for every student to have access to a computer in any classroom at any time is clearly an improvement, meaning ICT can be embedded more effectively across the curriculum.

Challenges

There have been a number of technical issues, particularly towards the start of the project, which may have initially dented confidence in using the netbooks. For example, each device was set to pick up a roaming profile from the server, but logging on then proved to be very slow meaning teaching/learning time was lost. This has now been improved. However, there can still be difficulties and one teacher commented that it was rare to get every student in the class successfully connected and using their device in one session. There is usually at least one student who has left their netbook in the family group room, or cannot access a resource for one reason or another. This in part does reflect the challenge of using one-to-one devices in a special school.

In geography the teacher commented that the devices are not really powerful enough to handle higher-end computing tasks such as video editing, and were more suited to office and internet tasks. Another teacher raised the challenges of using one-to-one technology in a school such as St. Luke’s where the students have complex needs, and often difficulties with responsibilities. A minority of students had been careless in looking after their netbook some having been dropped leading to damage and the need to have them replaced.

Six months into the project, ten devices were reported as damaged or had suffered a malfunction of some kind. Eight of these were regarding the screens, some of which had been accidentally damaged, and some had developed a fault and were replaced by Acer.

Next steps

Because a netbook may not be the ideal device for every student, St. Luke’s have begun trialling a small number of touch-screen tablet devices, also from Acer and supplied as part of the project. Like the netbooks these are Windows 7 devices. They are currently held by teachers who have the opportunity to allow any student they are teaching to use the device if it is felt that it may be easier for them to access for a particular task. This approach will help the school evaluate the potential of the tablet devices.

A parents evening is planned for May 2012 when feedback on the project will be given to parents/carers. It is hoped, though not yet a definite, that some students will be able to take their devices home in the future to support their home learning.

It is hoped that as ICT confidence improves across the school and technical issues are ironed out, the netbooks will be used in more subject areas and for a wider range of applications so that they can help to further support the students’ learning.