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Kent College — MacBook enriches deep learning values

Kent College’s MacBook 1-to-1 programme provides a ‘window on the world’ for all 490 students — an ideal, easy-to-use platform for individual study, according to the Head Master. Students are motivated, creative and achieving major improvements in exam performance.

“Our traditional educational values are fully supported by our new digital strategy,” says Kent College Head Master Dr David Lamper. “We believe in helping all our pupils to become the best people they can be. That means we design programmes for individual needs and choices. The MacBook gives students incredible freedom to pursue that personal learning — in terms of resources available, and anywhere and anytime access. “Students express themselves much more creatively using their own MacBooks,” Dr Lamper adds. “Communicating with film, images and presentations makes every subject come alive. The delight on students’ faces shows how much more engaged and self-confident they feel.

“Recent exam results are also evidence of how well they are preparing for future lives and careers. We now get 75 per cent of A levels at A*-B, compared with only 53 per cent a few years ago. We also have more than 90 per cent of students achieving the equivalent of five or more GCSEs Grade C or above. Five years ago, that figure was 73 per cent.”

The MacBook programme is also a winner in cost savings and easy management, says Chris Joy, Director of ICT. Desktop suites have been freed up for use as teaching rooms. MacBook laptops cost less to maintain than the PCs they replaced, use less power for charging, and save on printing and paper resources. The MacBook demands fewer support requests than PCs because, says Chris, “these MacBooks rarely go wrong.”

Good standard software is either built in, like iLife, or available via volume purchase programmes. Free open source software runs easily on the Mac, enabling the ICT team to develop their own applications to track the laptops easily and manage effectively the ways they are used. Free deployment tools are available to simplify roll-out. Chris estimates the total savings to be “in the tens of thousands of pounds in energy, server renewal and support staff costs, allowing us to spend the cash on improving connectivity.”

Static PCs at the crossroads

Kent College is an independent school for day and boarding boys and girls, aged three to eighteen. It was founded in 1885 as the ‘Wesleyan College, Canterbury’, setting a Methodist approach to its education that is still strong today.

The school has a reputation for academic success, and nearly all its sixth formers go on to university. The school is popular with local families and international students. Kent College offers the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme alongside A levels in its Sixth Form curriculum.

Like many UK secondary schools, Kent College’s approach to technology was focused for years on computer suites of static PCs. The computers were used to teach ICT skills, and for occasional project support. When Chris joined the school ten years ago, he found teachers increasingly concerned that they were unable to use computers when and where they needed them. Students were leaving with minimal experience of technology-enhanced learning.

After its more orthodox approach to creating ICT suites, Chris explains: “We had reached a crossroads.”

“A number of things happened at around the same time. We had a new Head, with plans for major curriculum change. We needed to free up space to create new teaching rooms. We installed an enterprise-level wireless LAN and built-in Network Access Control technologies. We already had a virtual learning environment, but teachers weren’t always exploiting its potential. Many of our Windows PCs were due for a technology refresh, so we decided at this crucial moment to completely reassess our ICT approach.”

MacBook transforms students’ learning

The ICT department purchased a few MacBook laptops for teachers to experience. Then a pilot 1-to-1 project was set up with students in Years 8 and 10 to assess the MacBook’s use in Key Stages 3 and 4. After enhancing a comprehensive wireless network across the campus, Kent College launched its full 1-to-1 MacBook programme for students and teachers throughout the school.

“We could have gone with a PC laptop programme, but we very quickly found the MacBook offers huge advantages,” Chris says. “For example, MacBooks suspend and resume their functions immediately when the lid is open or closed. So teachers only have to ask the class to close the lids to get their attention, and students can get back to their MacBook research or multimedia work without delay. The MacBook also has excellent battery life, so they are very flexible for roaming and last the whole day.”

The MacBook also scores heavily for its multimedia tools. The virtual learning environment is now an integral part of the learning infrastructure, populated by teachers with course content ranging from lesson podcasts, to documents and images, to YouTube video links through an educational video library. Students submit their work via individual accounts using a wide range of media. The work is marked online, and returned, fast, with legible comments.

The students say that the MacBook has transformed their lives. It is “like having your own private tutor,” according to one boy in a Business Studies class. Year 13 students like the flexibility of being able to come back to an unfinished essay at home or at school, in a boarding house or in a classroom. They also recognise the environmental benefits of using less paper.

iWork is particularly popular with these students. They find Numbers, Pages and Keynote applications are “much better laid out, more logical and easier to use” than the Microsoft Office equivalents. They say iWork helps them present their work well, and work more productively too.

Two years after the MacBook programme was introduced, teachers are still amazed by pupils’ enthusiasm for online activities — including research — and the efforts they put into presenting project work. “I was teaching a World War I project about the role of Commonwealth soldiers,” says Rev. Dr Paul Glass, who is Chaplin at the school, as well as a History teacher. “Without any prompting, some of the class made a fantastic film, which showed a much deeper understanding of the issues than an essay could ever display.”

Mac provides the ‘wow’ factor

Kent College parents get all the help they need to ensure children use the MacBook most effectively. Using the Apple Remote Desktop application and the school’s own software product, Chris Joy’s ICT team can control access to non-essential online education resources — such as social networking sites — so that personal use does not interfere with studying. They can also put the MacBook to sleep to prevent late-night access.

The OS X operating system also allowed Network Manager Steve Pocock and Application Developer Joe Styles to mastermind leading-edge processes that enable all machines to be administered remotely and lost devices to be tracked and locked down with a reset password. They have also made it possible for the school to use controlled assessment on the MacBook, by isolating the system from any resources that could be used in an exam.

Kent College is in a highly competitive independent school sector in South East England, and the MacBook programme is an important differentiator, Chris Joy believes. “There is no doubt that as well as the critical benefits to learning and its cost-effective easy management, the MacBook has a certain ‘wow’ factor amongst the students and parents. That helps us present a very exciting proposition.”

“We embrace traditional educational values at Kent College,” says Dr Lamper, “but we see no inconsistency in using the MacBook to uphold those values for the future. We are in a different era from John Wesley. Knowledge that was once available only from a teacher is now much more accessible. We must make sure our students have the best means to access it.”

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