Schools display their excellence in use of ICT

The Northern Health School in Auckland, which teaches children too ill to attend school, has developed online tutoring using webcams

“Kids learn stuff they want to know in their own way. If they want to learn, they will do it online. They are used to a short, snappy multimedia world,” argues Adrian Steel, teacher in charge of electro-technology at Auckland’s Rangitoto College.

It’s clear from the finalists in the Excellence in the Use of IT in Education category of the 2007 Computerworld Excellence Awards that “chalk and talk” modes of teaching are under threat.

The Northern Health School in Auckland, which teaches children too ill to attend school, has, in Project Live, developed online tutoring using webcams.

And with “The Loop”, Nelson-based Nayland College is working collaboratively on ways to make the internet faster and more reliable for teaching, school management, and staff development for a variety of community organisations.

Steel has written a junior electronics course using Publisher with course content delivered using a PowerPoint conversion, allowing information to project directly from his laptop to a whiteboard. He also uses a projector and electronics simulation software.

Such technology allows for full-colour displays and clearer viewing of experiments using a webcam and images projected on screen, rather than having students watching in little groups.

By being able to flick his webcam, or presentations easily to other matters, Steel also feels he can hold the attention of students for longer.

This method of teaching Year 9 electronics has been developed at Rangitoto College for going on four years. Now, with more and more children now wanting to learn the subject, there is a shortage of places available. Those allowed study in later years feel privileged to do so, so they work harder.

Fellow electronics teacher Russell Pattinson confirms the simulations make it easier for kids to learn, improving exam grades.

“Once they have seen the simulation, then they understand how circuits work. Until then, it’s all a little grey,” he adds.

The Northern Health School is also using webcams, but to improve contact between teachers and students, in the place of staff facing long drives to visit remote children.

Deputy principal Richard Winder says his students are scattered across the North Island, many in remote areas, but even in urban areas, like Auckland, traffic congestion can mean a suburban visit takes a while.

Now, teachers can have regular online face to face contact with students, who can also connect with their classmates. By taking teachers out of their cars, they have more time for students and using telephone, the internet and Bridget desktop sharing software, the children receive virtual tutorials.

“It mimics what we do face to face,” Winder explains.

The system gives students more skills in using digital technology, he says, which also fosters faster editing and delivery of work and improved understanding.

Students also say Project Live increases their motivation and its flexible nature better fits their medication needs.

Regular CWEA finalist Nayland College is working with the Government’s Project Probe, Network Tasman and other bodies, particularly other schools, to deliver a regional fibre optic and broadcast wireless infrastructure delivering minimum speeds of 2 to 5Mbit/s (unrestrained) even to isolated places like Collingwood.

Principal Charles Newtown says such speeds allow for the next generation of Web 2.0, multimedia and related services (including database and a common server farm) to be delivered to community groups in the Nelson-Marlborough region, connected by fibre, point-to-point radio and the Probe radio network.

Within three years, 35-40 organisations will join a 20Mbit/s IP connection, adding to an existing 100Mbit/s link between Nelson and Blenheim colleges.

Janice Gilbertson, principal of Bridgewater School, says the $2.3 million Loop project means fast and reliable internet access with no downtime. Schools are collaborating and helping each other download staff development and other material quickly.

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