Netbooks and Schools: an Evolution

evolutionBig (33K)

- presentation to Computer Education Group of South Australia
- Wednesday July 8th, 2009


hammer (6K)

I have to say something at the start about the framing of the whole discussion about technology and change

I'm aware of arguments for and against the use of more sophisticated technology in schools

The most common expression of this is that technology is just a tool, which assists us in delivering a curriculum whose content is determined by other factors independent of technology (instrumentalism)

That is just one way to frame the argument - and not the way that I would frame it


babytermiantor (23K)
The "terminate me" iPhone App allows you to turn anyone into a damaged cyborg, with metal and red eyes showing beneath the artificial skin

Here are two versions of them and us.

The first has a Damnation theme, as represented in movies or characters such as HAL, the computer in 2001: a Space Odyseey, The Matrix and Terminator.

The second theme is Salvation. Ray Kurzweil predicts a Singularity at 2020 when due to increasing processing power machines transform into something totally different


singularity (197K)

It might be better to reframe this discussion as Augmentation: Us as Them, We the Machines

We use technology as a means to augment our human characteristics - something that we have already been doing for thousands or millions of years


The technologies I will discuss in this presentation are smart phones, ebook readers, handhelds, the one laptop per child and netbooks


Apple-iPhone-3G-Mobile-Phone_1 (41K)

My main observation about smart phones is that kids find them irresistibly fascinating, often more interesting than what I am presenting to the class

How does this sit with our educational objectives?

All I will do at this stage is list the features of smart phones



kindlehand (18K)

Ebook readers such as the Amazon Kindle have been around for a while now but haven't set the world on fire, yet

Some reasons for this:

However, all these issues are dynamic and will improve quickly

Is it fiscally irresponsible to continue purchasing textbooks if and when equivalent textbooks become available at low or no cost on ebook readers?

California's Governor Schwarzenegger has recently announced a digital textbooks initiative beginning with high school math and science free digital textbooks in 2009:

"The average textbook costs about $75 to $100 per student. For a school district with about 10,000 high school students, the use of free digital textbooks in just science and math classes could save up to $2 million dollars"


nokian819 (28K)

These are not phones but customised classroom organisers running educational software

The software is designed to enable the teacher to assess student progress and record it instantly in the classroom


OLPC_intent (112K)

OLPC was invented in 2005-06 and has been distributed to many developing countries



OLPC1.larger (8K)


olpc_bookReader (60K)

OLPC has an ebook reader mode. It is possible for all textbooks and many other books to be distributed digitally through the xo


mljepson (31K)<
Mary Lou Jepson

The future of portable electronics is simply the display - with embedded electronics eventually right in the display glass itself

3qi_firstpic (20K)


netbookPencil (25K)

Netbooks have come into existence as a commercial response to the OLPC

One comparison is their weight difference when compared with laptops:

netbook (150K)

One possible market is Brazil, Russia, India, China (BRIC) which is sometimes referred to as the next billion customers


cloud-computing-kitchen-sink (70K)
"We currently have three platforms: the desktop, mobile devices and the cloud ... increasingly things will start to lean towards the cloud ... when there is enough bandwidth, reliability, security and so on then there will no longer be a notion of a cloud will be just like serving up electricity, serving up data, applications and even writing those applications directly to the cloud"
- Dan Farber, Editor and Chief CNET News


cuborg (18K)

Unstoppable force: a device which can be used educationally which has become:

Immovable object:

cuzco_stubborn (49K)


mini-wood-pencils (14K)

Imagine a world where we chained up pencils in special rooms. In a world where pencils had become so commonplace that most people carried them around in their pockets


swanhill_network (8K)

10,000 netbooks for 1:1 use in Year 5 and 6 classes have been distributed in north-west Victoria

Cost of each netbook is $550 - computer $480, bag $30, software $40 - this includes insurance. The costs are shared by the families, school and government. Families end up paying a dollar a week, spread over 3 years


Full Lab (41K)

Larry Cuban has critiqued the misuse of computers in schools, in computer labs

Computers only work well in schools when there is a high degree of access and teachers who are enthusiasts

"Although information technologies have transformed most corporate workplaces, our teacher's schedule and working conditions have changed very little. She teaches five classes a day, each 50 minutes long. Her five classes contain at least three different preparations. She has two classes of Introductory Algebra, two of Geometry, and one Calculus class. In those five classes, she sees 140 students a day. She has one period a day set aside for planning lessons, seeing students, marking papers, making phone calls to parents or vendors, previewing videos, securing a VCR or other equipment, and using the school's copy machines for producing student materials. Our math teacher, like most of her colleagues elsewhere is a very busy person who could use rollerblades as she tries to meet all of her obligations...

In addition to these daily tasks, our math teacher is expected to know the subject inside and out; she is expected to maintain order in their classrooms; she is expected to be both friendly and demanding of each and every student; finally, with higher academic standards and the mandate to take tests that can spell the difference between graduating high school or staying in school longer, she is held accountable for her students doing well on high-stakes tests. So teaching high school, besides knowing one's subject-matter thoroughly, requires the grit of a long-distance runner, the stamina of a boxer going 15-rounds, the temperament of a juggler, and the street-smarts of a three-card monte dealer... "



bulb-disruption (14K)

One summary of Clayton Christensen's main ideas:

  1. Children learn in different ways
  2. Disruptive innovations gain a foothold and revolutionize a market because they target a niche audience who normally could not consume a good
  3. Online learning is a disruptive technology
  4. Computers in schools are not disruptive technology
  5. Computers "can" be a disruptive innovation, when used to create new learning situations

WHAT IS SOFTWARE? Phillip Armour

Software is not a product. It is a medium in which we store knowledge. Historically there have been 5 such media:

I think the distinction between "just a tool" and a new medium which enables many new things some of which have not been invented yet is an important one


Flexographic-Printing-Machine-YT-2600-YT-2800-YT-21000- (39K)
1450: printing press invented by Gutenberg
1454,5: Gutenberg Bible produced (Gutenberg Bible )
1456-mid 80s: classical and religious books were produced, essentially copies of profitable old manuscript books
1484: the first scientific illustrations appeared in books

The first novel did not appear till the 1700's and comics did not appear till the 1900's.

So, it's reasonable to assume that the older generation has to die out before the new generation can find their own path. Although the older generation has it's share of creative visionaries they are marginalised by the majority.


alanKay (27K) adele-goldberg (28K)
Adele Goldberg and Alan Kay inventing the future in 1976

"Devices" which variously store, retrieve, or manipulate information in the form of messages embedded in a medium have been in existence for thousands of years. People use them to communicate ideas and feelings both to others and back to themselves. Although thinking goes on in one's head, external media serve to materialize thoughts and, through feedback, to augment the actual paths the thinking follows. Methods discovered in one medium provide metaphors which contribute new ways to think about notions in other media.

For most of recorded history, the interactions of humans with their media have been primarily nonconversational and passive in the sense that marks on paper, paint on walls, even "motion" pictures and television, do not change in response to the viewer's wishes. A mathematical formulation -- which may symbolize the essence of an entire universe -- once put down on paper, remains static and requires the reader to expand its possibilities.

Every message is, in one sense or another, a simulation of some idea. It may be representational or abstract. The essence of a medium is very much dependent on the way messages are embedded, changed, and viewed. Although digital computers were originally designed to do arithmetic computation, the ability to simulate the details of any descriptive model means that the computer, viewed as a medium itself, can be all other media if the embedding and viewing methods are sufficiently well provided. Moreover, this new "metamedium" is active -- it can respond to queries and experiments -- so that the messages may involve the learner in a two-way conversation. This property has never been available before except through the medium of an individual teacher. We think the implications are vast and compelling.


Some relevant blog entries which I wrote while in the process of preparing my presentation:
Bill Kerr, email: billkerr at
Woodville High School,
South Australia

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