Ninety-eight kilometres north of Westport is, arguably, one of DigiOps’s more isolated participants, Karamea Area School. Sandwiched between a bluff and a forest, the tiny farming settlement’s school is part of the mobile laptop project, MOBLAP, and in the three years since the project began, the 125-student school now cannot imagine the place without the laptops.
“The kids wouldn’t know what to do if they weren’t there. They would think they’re arms were cut off, says teacher and ICT co-ordinator, Catherine Smart-Simpson.
More commonly referred to as COWS (Computers on Wheels), double log-ons and network incompatibility initially meant the pod of five laptops sat idle on the mobile trolley. However, not wanting to see the resource go to waste was the school librarian and other ICT co-ordinator, Lynn Jones. While Catherine was on maternity leave, Lynn reconfigured the laptops and made them compatible with the school network, which also removed the need for a double log-on.
Lynn says “kiwi ingenuity” played a large part in getting the laptops running as resourcefulness is an essential character trait in a place where entry and exit is via a stomach-churning 30 kilometres of steep and tightly-twisting road.
“We’re so far away, if it’s going to work we’ve got to do it, so we did," says Lynn.
Now the laptops are in constant use with student-driven demand seeing the laptops integrated into all parts of the curriculum across almost the whole of the school.
“The children got use to using them in one class and wanted to use them for their next class, and we realised that the laptops could be used in subjects such as art,” says Lynn.
The pod is based in the library and the laptops are available as a set or individually. Predominantly used for research and presentations, the laptops have also been used for more fun things like movie-making.
For Catherine and Lynn the big advantage of the laptops is their portability, making them a flexible anywhere-anytime learning tool.
“With a COW the students have the freedom to study or research sitting on a sofa, and I think they have become a lot more effective and efficient with how they study and work,” says Catherine.
The portability of the laptops has seen an increase in inter-class activities, something Lynn says would be impossible without the laptops.
“The seniors presented to a junior class, in their class… without the laptop it would have meant bringing the whole class to the library.”
The laptops have also been used when a bulge in the school roll saw a non-networked storage space converted into a classroom. Without the laptops, Catherine and Lynn say the utilisation of the much-needed space would have been severely reduced.
“The laptops have just been brilliant, especially for the new room,” says Catherine.
Although the MOBLAP project winding down, Catherine and Lynn say the use of the laptops will not. Currently, they’re busy thinking of ways to extend the use of the laptops and hope to purchase a “few toys”, such as proscopes and editing software that allows editing to take place on set.
Lynn and Catherine say the school couldn’t operate without the laptops and they can’t imagine being without them, so are delighted that they are going to be able to keep them after the project finishes.
“We’d be devastated if Garry wanted to take them back. He would have to come and get them himself,” says Lynn with a grin, knowing that Karamea’s isolation means Garry won’t be stopping by any time soon!