Col­lege em­braces eLearn­ing

Dig­i­tal class­rooms of the fu­ture

Weekend Witness - - News - SHE­LAGH McLOUGH­LIN

HOW to get a teenager’s at­ten­tion? Give them an iPad and tell them to use it for lessons — all of them. At one of the old­est schools in the coun­try that’s ex­actly what’s hap­pen­ing in two Grade 9 classes.

While many high schools are now in­cor­po­rat­ing the use of iPads into teach­ing and learn­ing, Mar­itzburg Col­lege has been forg­ing ahead with an iPad­only route. This term, a pi­lot project was rolled out to two classes of Grade 9 boys whereby most lessons and as­sign­ments are done with the aid of the tablets. It’s be­lieved to be one of only a hand­ful of schools in the coun­try that is do­ing this.

“We started talk­ing about it last year in April,” said James Maistry, the school’s di­rec­tor of dig­i­tal learn­ing. “The new head­mas­ter (Chris Lu­man) came from an iPad school in New Zealand, and they’d al­ready done all the re­search.” He said one of their con­clu­sions was that iPads were prefer­able to other tablets be­cause they had a five­year head start and there were so many free apps avail­able on­line for ed­u­ca­tion.

It was de­cided to be­gin with two classes as a pi­lot, and Grade 8 boys and their par­ents were in­vited to ap­ply. “We had a very good re­sponse,” said deputy head Bryan Dibben. “We were aim­ing for one class and had so much re­sponse we de­cided to have an­other one.” He said there had been no re­sis­tance from par­ents, de­spite the fact that they had to pro­vide the iPads.

Staff, who have been is­sued with the tablets, pre­pare lessons on them, which are then trans­mit­ted wire­lessly with the aid of a pro­gramme called Airserver to the data pro­jec­tor found in each class­room. As­sign­ments are done us­ing apps and de­liv­ered by Gmail. Ex­ams, how­ever, are still writ­ten on old­fash­ioned paper.

“We’re not ad­vo­cat­ing a pa­per­less school,” said Maistry. “I don’t think you can go that route. You have to keep the kids writ­ing.”

An im­por­tant part of the tran­si­tion is man­ag­ing so­cial me­dia and ac­cess to the out­side world. R100 000 has been spent on a fire­wall, which Dibben said blocked at least one tena­cious boy from ac­cess­ing “adult” sites, de­spite try­ing for an hour and a half. “The next day we got a 58­page re­port on every­where he’d been,” he said.

“There are rules,” said Maistry. “Cer­tain sites are banned com­pletely and oth­ers — like Face­book, Twit­ter and Mys­pace — are banned dur­ing school hours.” Games are also blocked dur­ing the day. As far as pri­vacy is­sues are con­cerned, no record­ ing — of pho­tos, video or au­dio — is al­lowed on the school property with­out a teacher’s per­mis­sion, and all staff and boys are re­quired to sign a so­cial me­dia con­tract restrict­ing use of the school name.

“So far the project’s been a suc­cess,” said Dibben. “We had to spend a lot of money — sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand so far — on up­grad­ing our in­fra­struc­ture, and we still have to get the hos­tels on­line.” Band­width use by the school has surged and it now uses more in a day than the whole of Spar South Africa, ap­prox­i­mately 40­50 GB.

For the boys, the change is a no­brainer. “I was a bit hes­i­tant at first,” said Mar­itzburg Col­lege school­boy Jean­Pierre Faulha, “but it re­ally does help. If you want to look some­thing up you don’t have to wait un­til you go home or go to the li­brary. You can just do it.”

“You can do a lot,” added Ja­son Voller. And ob­sta­cles? “We’re boys, we fid­dled a lot,” he said cheer­ily. “There’s al­ways a loop­hole.”

“We’re learn­ing ev­ery day,” said Maistry. “Next year, we’ll be in a bet­ter place.” He said the plan was for the boys in the pi­lot to carry on with iPads till ma­tric, and next year they were hop­ing for 50% of the Grade nines to be in­volved. While the school would like to be iPad only in a few years, he con­ceded that might be dif­fi­cult, given the costs and af­ford­abil­ity for par­ents.

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