This year has been quite transformational for me. I started the year Questioning Everything… especially the idea that we need to teach less and learn more. I’ve challenged late penalties, homework, and even AUP’s. I’ve talked about things becoming more open and distributed and I’ve even written an Open Manifesto. I’ve cautioned about flipping classes, I’ve seen a flip in my desired pro-d model… and now I’m flipping my perspective on C.O.W.’s:
C.O.W. = ‘Computers On Wheels’, essentially a mobile cart which has a combination of a projector with a computer.
Two years ago in August I moved to a school in China and quickly began advocating for every teacher to get a laptop and LCD (actually the cheaper DLP’s – Digital Light Processing) Projectors. Before requesting this we had 3 C.O.W.’s, in a building with 4 floors, that 19 teachers shared. I presented a case to the school’s owner and convinced him to purchase DLP projectors and netbooks for our teachers. He provided 11 more projectors for our 14 ‘homerooms’ and also provided every teacher with a school netbook. We also had to improve the wireless and upgrade our server. All but one of the projectors were mounted in classrooms, with one being left as a COW so that it could be moved to and from the gym or activity room when needed.
The reality is that there is no place in education anymore for the mobile C.O.W. to be shared between teachers!
It just isn’t a useful model.
For a projector to be a truly tranformative tool that’s worthwhile, it needs to be available at any given moment AND the teacher needs to have full access to the computer that links to it… that’s why I also provided my teachers with netbooks. There are great tools like diigo to bookmark your links and dropbox to transfer files and even usb drives to share things, but we are still at a point where teachers tend to find these slow them down or add work to their planning. So, providing teachers with a laptop/netbook that they can pre-load with everything they need (before a lesson) invites greater interaction and use by them and hopefully also by students. As I suspected, the ability to take the netbook home created opportunities for teachers to experiment with technology far more than I’d seen prior to the netbooks and projectors arriving.
Having a shared C.O.W. is a flawed model… it doesn’t work because, as a teacher, when I had to share a projector I was far less likely to develop lessons that required projector use, and I think a projector is a key teaching tool in today’s classrooms. As a principal, I preferred to see the computers be fully mobile and in the hands of teachers at all times, rather than just when they used the projector and/or sat at their desks.
The C.O.W. is dead… But so is my model of mounting projectors in a room…
Long live the P.O.W. ~ Projectors on Wheels! Take the computer off the cart and put it in teachers’ hands. Take the projector off of the ceiling mount and put it on wheels. Why?
- The projector, without the computer invites both teachers and students to use their computers with the projector.
- Move the projector into different learning spaces.
- Remove the white screen as the ‘Front’ of the room… allow the projector to be used in smaller groups, smaller spaces and different spaces.
- a mobile projector (especially coupled with BYO Laptops) allows as much student engagement as an IWB – Interactive White Board… but is more mobile. (And it’s a heck of a lot cheaper!)
However, effective use of a P.O.W. takes a transformation of practice because the blackboard… that became the green board… that became the whiteboard… that became the projector… still put the teacher as the central disseminator of knowledge. Putting a projector on wheels will only be transformational if students get to use the tool and to move it into useful spaces to work in small groups as well as with the entire class.
In reality, it isn’t just the projectors that should go on wheels! I’m excited to see wheels on desks and chairs and wall-dividers and anything that helps to create interesting learning spaces for students… but that’s a whole other post!