If the slick marketing of Apple Computer and wireless hotspots conjures up images of yuppies in polo necks, then students at a western Sydney high school don't seem to care.
With a student population of 1240 – of which around 86 percent are from a non-English speaking background - Arthur Phillip High School in Parramatta has taken possession of 100 Apple iBook laptops to gain the sort of Internet access its better resourced peers take for granted.
With many classes facing the supposedly "temporary" challenge of working from demountable classrooms, the school has moved away from Ethernet in favour of an 802.11g wireless network giving students and teachers Internet and LAN connectivity.
Arthur Phillip’s principal Lynne Goodwin makes no apologies for the approach, saying embedding notebooks into the classroom has helped to make learning through technology more pervasive and productive than traditional classroom structures.
“It allows the realization of technology being everywhere [for students], not locked away in a lab somewhere. The technology and wireless revolution [in education] happens incrementally…it doesn’t happen overnight. We all learn together. It’s for the students and teachers rather than the computer nerds…that’s the goal,” Goodwin said.
Another facet of Goodwin’s efforts to demystify technology for the students at Arthur Phillip High involves teaching support staff being co-trained in technical support for the wireless network, so classes continue regardless of any unexpected reboots or application crashes.
"It's wonderful, the techies go in as teacher's aides. If a kid looks up and says they can't log on, the class doesn't have to stop…the teacher's aide can deal with it so there is no interruption," Goodwin said.
Arthur Phillip's head of computer studies and de facto CIO, Pam Kelly says the wireless approach to notebooks in the classroom also benefits teachers, who may feel confronted by the rollout of new technology and they way it affects their role in classroom.
"To make [IT] work in the classroom, teachers have to be comfortable with technology. [In the past] you'd have an online curriculum and then switch it on. That's not the case any more," Kelly said, adding that teachers relished flexibility of wireless Internet access because it fostered a more creative and inclusive learning process where students and teachers were not limited by a power cord.
Arthur Phillip High School's approach is also one close to the heart of education and IT thought and leader Emeritus Professor and Senior Lecturer, Program in Media Arts and Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Seymour Papert.
Addressing the 1 to 1 Notebook Conference in Sydney yesterday, Papert said computers in classrooms had initially been installed by "visionaries", but were soon banished to the periphery of education by an institutionalized "defensive mechanism".
"The computer was taken out of the classroom and put in special rooms, with special people and tamed. People were thinking about how to make the [education] system work, not how to change the system," Papert said, adding the IT revolution that swept through business effectively stalled in schools because of cultural resistance to change.
"A revolutionary is not someone who want's to force change, but can see far enough ahead to know that there will be fundamental change," Papert said.
At Arthur Phillip, they may have missed the wired-in revolution of cubicle farms, but nobody really seems to mind.