Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Open 24 hours... but not in a row!

We are a one-to-one laptop school
- just not all at the same time ;)

I work in a school that does not have a one-to-one laptop program. Belmont Hill is an all boys independent school for grades 7-12. We are committed to a traditional education, while still being alive to innovation. This is my first year here and I have been thinking a lot about whether we should go one-to-one. The more I think about it, however, the less I am convinced that one-to-one is the way for us to go.

We have 3 computer labs, and 2 carts of laptops available to 425 students. For the most part, almost every student has at least one networked computer at home. In a world of cloud computing, where tools like Google Apps make word processing, spreadsheets and presentations easy to access no matter where you are, do kids really need to lug a machine back and forth to school? My students log plenty of screen time. Of course I am committed to using technology in the classroom, but do students really need computers in every class every day? That, in addition to the fact that our school does not have lockers (picture backpacks carried and dropped haphazardly across campus), keeps me questioning.

I know this may sound crazy coming from a technology evangelist. What do you think? Am I totally out of line? Or do I have a point?

Image Source: Open 24 Hours from the Flickr photostream of mag3737


Ben Curran said...

Definitely NOT out of line. Right on target, in my opinion. I'm in an elementary school in a charter school system that's chewing on going 1 to 1. I just don't see how that benefits my students (4th graders). Not with access to a mobile lab pretty much any time I need it. Just seems like resources could be used more effectively. Oh, and for the record, I'm a tech "evangelist" too. :)

Anonymous said...

This is a very good point. Often, we dream but we need to be practical to physical realities as well as the realities of others' perceptions.

One longer term solution could be to allow for more mobile use (as per your comment about cloud computing & the problem of security of the laptops). The again, this perception is prevalent as well: http://bit.ly/M523C.

I think one-to-one, while a relatively older idea, is still a legitimate goal to strive for. It's just that the device of choice doesn't necessarily have to be a laptop. It could also be a smart phone, iPod or other Wi-Fi capable device.

Jacques said...

Optimal is better than maximal.

Paul McMahon said...

Personalize it for yourself Liz. I think as a "technology evangelist" part of your goal would be to see every student with the anywhere, anytime access to be able to learn at least as powerfully as you do.
If you do not have access to your own machine on a daily basis and are happy with using the cloud for all of your work then enough said I guess.

Dave MacLean - Elementary School Principal exploring pedagogy, technology and the odd educational epiphany. said...

I think you are right on the mark. We should put the considerable resources from a 1 to 1 initiative into a stronger infrastructure that allows Personal Operating Devices (PODs) to access the school's network. We are entering a time where the iPhone is the latest pioneer into personal computing. What will be next in the world of small powerful internet access points.

In addition we should also be spending the money on training teachers and staff so that they can keep up with the tech trends and be relevant in the teaching and conversations around being digitally effective and responsible.

Technology does not equate to computers anymore. Technology equates to digital mediums. It is an exciting time to be a tech evangelist!

Anonymous said...

I am in year 5 of a 1:1 laptop environment grades 7 -12 . I DO see the benefits of students having their own machines. For 1 thing it has really pushed teachers to think differently about their practice. There are more and more innovative, collaborative projects going on than in the past. I would say most classes do not use the computer for the entire period, but when they need it, it's right there, promoting that "any time learning". A quick visit to a current event or being able to check spreadsheet data works really well. One thing teachers don't miss is planning ahead for the lab or cart, and then not having it available. Is it perfect? Definitely not! But we keep tweaking the program every year and it just keeps getting better. We really try to work on digital citizenship and making good choices. The proof positive has been returning college freshmen, who say they are extremely well prepared and how much they know compared to peers. It's worth the time and effort!

Paul Bogsuh said...

Yes! All the time! When we have the laptops in our room we can be spontaneous. The kids simply have more tools available to be creative. If the laptops are not in the room the only thing they have to create with is their pencils and notebooks. If you look at laptops as tools to collect info and tools for teachers to give students info, then no, you do not need access to them. If you look at them as tools to build, design, create, collaborate, communicate, and empower kids then you need them all the time. In that vein, it would be like asking you to only have access to your computer only at scheduled times at which you scheduled well ahead of when you actually needed it.
If classes at your school are not always creating, collaborating, and communicating, then no you do not need them all the time. But if they are...or if you want them to be...well then 1:1 is the way to go.
A carpenter may not always use a hammer, but there is always one in their toolbox.

Liz B Davis said...

What if there were a cart of netbooks or iPod touches in every room that teachers could pull out when they were needed. Would that serve the same purpose? Do the kids really need to have a machine to bring back and forth from home to school (considering I work in a pretty affluent place where kids have computers at home)?

Can we only create, collaborate and communicate with computers? Couldn't we be taking advantage of the face to face time in school and using the networking time outside of class?

Steve Ransom said...

Great post - and dilemma. I don't think there exists a "right" solution. Certainly, no one would argue that more access is desirable. But, as you put it, just how much is enough... and on what kind of device(s)? However, it is so much more than just access, I think. Ubiquitous computing demands radical shifts in so many aspects of school and schooling. I totally disagree with the notion that we should be spending money on training teachers instead of equipping them. You can't have one without the other. If a computing device is to become a natural extension of the learner (and of the teacher), then the access needs to be ubiquitous, seamless, and natural, not a focal point. This cannot happen well until teachers and students alike have ubiquitous access to the tools that enable powerful ideas and innovative ways of learning - in all its complexities.

Perhaps one of the first step is to get all tech 'evangelists' to be learning evangelists first. We need to stop pushing technology "solutions" and start embracing learning innovation that is facilitated by new tools and new opportunities to engage students in meaningful, relevant, and powerful ideas, as Seymour Papert and now Gary Stager put it. Let teachers see and experience how things can be done differently. Lets stop "training" them and start igniting a fire fueled by exciting and powerful possibilities. Sure, Google Apps are wonderful... and very convenient. But they are neither transformative nor innovative. If anything, they serve to further affirm traditional models of learning, as Larry Cuban notes in some of his observations described in his book, Oversold and Underused.

I've said more than enough. These decisions are not easy. I say, err on the side of big ideas rather than big infrastructure. Let big ideas drive the infrastructure and the need for 'training'. But, ubiquitous access is necessary to allow teachers [and students] to have ownership in a learning revolution.

Adam Provost said...

I don't see that iPod touches, netbooks and the like carry the creative power that laptops do. They are great information devices without a doubt. Information access is not the same as the creative potential that a laptop holds.

Another note: Just because students have computers at home does not mean they can use used for creativity.

If we wait to train teachers thoroughly before we dive into initiatives... all we'll ever do is train teachers.

I like this article from the MIT Press Journal:


Two quotes from it that stood out in the article for me: (Found this article from one of Will's blog posts)

"While the ubiquity of digital media resources allows for more customized learning within a formal learning context, its primary value lies in the acknowledgment of the legitimacy and value of learning that take place beyond formal schooling."

"However, there are serious challenges associated with implementing an NDM-based pedagogy. NDM may be seen as sources of entertainment and escape, not learning; additionally, the determination of the proper level of scaffolding can be difficult. The Internet’s potential for learning may be curtailed if youth lack key skills for navigating it, if they consistently engage with Internet resources in a shallow fashion, and/or if they limit their explorations to a narrow band of things they believe are worth knowing. Left to their own devices and without sufficient scaffolding, student investigations may turn out to be thoughtful and meaningful—or frustrating and fruitless. A successful informal learning practice depends upon an independent, constructivistically oriented learner who can identify, locate, process, and synthesize the information he or she is lacking."

Laptops all the way. Adam

poulingail said...

Great post Liz and very enlightening. We have 3 mobile labs (COWs) for about 550 students PreK-6. They are signed out for much of the day and weeks in advance. I would like to see more access for Gr 3-6 via dedicated carts, like one per grade level. The early ed folks (myself included) could use a couple of carts just for ourselves to cover PreK-2. I am able to sign up for it for 45 min this Friday during lunch for everyone else - get the picture? So my vote would be for more access to mobile carts but not 1-1 laptops. In these tight $ times we need more accountability for the hardware we have and dealing out 1-1 would run into big bucks. As a side point, our carts include one Mac and 2 pc carts. The Macs are in bigger demand every day and that is the system used at the regional middle and high school. So with this plan of mine ;) we would need 2 more mobile Mac carts.
Thanks again for the posts. I love to read them every time!

Melissa (lissyc) said...

I agree. Grades 9-12 at my school have 3 labs and 4 carts. Every girl uses Google Docs and other web 2.0 apps for class. They have plenty of access. A fourth of our population bring their own laptops. We do remind the teachers that they can always say no to laptops being used if a class doesn't require the machines.

Paul Bogush said...

@liz about the F2F time... I think you need to model their use with the students F2F in the classroom.

And yes...haveing the cart available is perfect.

Sarah Hanawald said...

I would never want to go back to COWs or carts. I like the fact that access doesn't have to be planned or whole period to be important. I can ask students to use the laptops for just 10 minutes of a 90 minute block. I doubt I'd bother if I had to deal with a cart.

For some of our students, the laptop is the family's primary computer. I like to think that we're helping whole families connect!

Ownership is powerful. Students personalize their laptops and are responsible for their care. They aren't perfect, but the cart laptops had a rough life.

It would be interesting to take a survey of teachers who've moved from 1:1 schools to others and see their thoughts. We've been 1:1 so long that the cloud developed after we started. We might be surprised by what we could do.

scmorgan said...

I taught one year in our 8th grade program, where I had to fight for a computer lab (no carts). Now in our 1:1 program in ninth-grade, I can't imagine another way. I want to have them available all the time even if I am not using them all the time. The boot up, the getting them out of carts and putting them away, all takes time. Seamless integration...it just works.

Liz B Davis said...

I spent the day at a Tech Learning event sponsored in part by HP. The event itself wasn't that exciting, but experiencing a one-to-one tablet integrated classroom was pretty cool. I loved the tablet and loved the way the teacher could walk around with it, share screens, take control and block other programs. I can see the benefits more clearly now, but still see many road blocks for my particular situation. Thanks so much everyone for adding your thoughts here!

stock-in-sin said...

such a nice post here...i think better concentrate on quality of school

johnfaig said...

I am also a tech coordinator and love the potential of 1-1. Currently grade 9-12 are 1-1 and my domain (6-8) has 4 laptop carts (16x4) for 180 students. I have seen laptops be a great teaching tool. On the other hand, I have also seen them become a major distraction device. Why not take a baby step and look for ways to use cell phones, iPods and iPhones. These devices are easier to control and students don't have the expectation that they will be used every class. Once students have a laptop, they expect it to be used everyday. I understand the expectation because it is expensive and they use it for several hours at night. Without strong project-oriented and collaborative lesson plans, the laptops will become distractions. Starting with the smaller devices first provides teachers a taste of what to expect and allows them time to create laptop-oriented lesson plans.