Laptops For Everyone -- The Traditionalists' Approach To EdTech?

The past few months haven't been good ones for the small but growing group of advocates of giving a laptop to every student -- but that doesn't seem to be stopping anyone. Are "one to one" initiatives the wave of the future, or are they putting the laptop in front of the learning?

To be sure, the most recent news hasn't been good. Near-riots, student hackers, lawsuits, vendor changes, and broken screens have challenged some of the handful of districts with "one to one" initiatives: Making One-to-One Add Up (Scholastic Administrator).

And yet, the Governor of Massachussets announced recently that he wants to give laptops to everyone -- something no state (except sort of Maine) has done. All middle and high school students in his state--over 500,000 students overall--would receive laptops.The price tag for this venture: near $54M: Romney unveils laptop plan (Daily Free Press).

Predictably, the tech advocates (Classroom Revolution USNews) think laptops are incredible and amazing, citing among other things increases in student test scores in Henrico County VA as evidence. Teachers and pragmatists and Luddites aren’t so sure (Charlotte’s Webpage Orion via ALD) and cite Maine, where test scores haven’t risen, as their own example.

What fascinates and confounds me the most is that "one to one" advocates and initiatives seem to be mostly intent on bringing a highly flexible form of current technology into the traditional school, the traditional classroom, and traditional ways of teaching. We'll suffuse schools with technology, they seem to be saying, and the changes in learning will follow.

And so, for all the whiz-bang of them, "one to one" intiatives can seem surprisingly... traditional, de-emphasizing other, perhaps more revolutionary ideas surrounding the use of technology in schools: online and virtual learning, and other ways of using technology to deconstruct the traditional school.

In the end, they both attempt to do the same thing, and changing technology and changing teaching may be the chicken and the egg. But still, I wonder whether the harder, deeper instructional changes shouldn't come first.

Additional Reading:

Is a Laptop Initiative in Your Future?
A Tale Of Two Laptops
One to one computing in VA

NB: This post was made possible by the research and analysis provided by Eric Grodsky, one of the many folks who expressed interest in helping me out with this site. More to come.


Blogger Charlene Chausis said...

I believe "one to one" initiatives for teachers should precede any one to one initiatives for students. If teachers are not comfortable with the technology, it will only be viewed as an add-on, or burden to their teaching. However, if teachers are first taught how the technology can enhance their instructional practice, and have the support and tools to discover and hone their skills, then the one to one initiative for students will be successful. It's often stated that students have better technology at home than at school. There is also a digital divide between the school's tools and what's available at home. Teachers need to have consistent, up to date technology, to be able to incorporate it into the classroom.

provides guidance to the critical issues in Professional Development. Although this research may not reflect the current reality, the basis holds true for any district thinking about the impact technology can have for both students as well as teachers.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Howard Pitler said...

The correct link for "Is a Laptop Initiative in your Future"is http://www.mcrel.org/PDF/PolicyBriefs/5042PI_PBLaptopInitiative.pdf. I wrote that policy brief to highlight two things.

First, if schools are going to bring significant technology into the classroom, whether is it laptop computers or handhelds, or the new $100 computers that MIT is developing, staff development and a change in pedagogy is required to make the kinds of gains many promise. Look at the change, or lack of change, in teaching as teachers move from overhead projectors to Powerpoint presentations. Little if anything is different. The new tools enable but do not magically create a more project based teaching and learning style. Laptops in every child's hands can lead to communication between students, students and adults, and schools and the world, that are not possible without the technology. Textbooks can become museum artifacts when students and teachers have access to the world.

Second, my final few lines in that article ask a different question. Technology will change education in a postive way in the future - sooner or later. We have a number of excellent examples of how this has already taken place. Like Ron Edmonds said decades ago, how many times do we need to see something before we believe it is possible. We need to make the change in teaching and learning style for the sake of the students in schools today.


8:23 PM  
Blogger Alexander Russo said...

thanks for the corrected links and the comments, howard -- much appreciated

11:49 AM  
Anonymous Ed Miller said...

Lowell Monke, the author of "Charlotte's Webpage" in the current issue of Orion, which you reference, is certainly a teacher and a pragmatist but I would not call him a Luddite. In fact, he was an award-winning teacher of advanced technology courses in Des Moines before he became disillusioned by the increasing problems he saw technology creating. Monke's influence is also prominent in the Alliance for Childhood's report "Tech Tonic," which argues for a slower and more developmentally appropriate approach to teaching technology (see www.allianceforchildhood.org). One of the core principles advocated in that report is "To teach techonology literacy, become technologically literate." That's not the point of view of a Luddite.

11:47 AM  

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