Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Laptop for Every Student

Original post January, 2006
Updated October 15, 2012

In October of 2005 we started our investigation as to whether a One-to-One Laptop Initiative, one laptop per student, would be a good fit for education at BBA. After a bit of research, we discovered this debate has been brewing at our school for 14 years (1998-2012).

There have been a number of meetings and committees that have extensively reviewed potential financial models, purchasing options, contacts, site visits, exemplary and failed programs, experts, and most importantly of all... educational goals and student potential in a program like this. We've conducted two pilot projects, one with iPads and the other with Netbooks and reviewed the potential and shortcomings of each device.

Developments in feeding schools now present opportunities and challenges:
  • The majority of feeding schools to Burr and Burton Academy have a Student Laptop Program (as of August 2012)
  • The local supervisory union (BRSU) has adopted student laptop programs, and a unified LMS (Learning Management System). The LMS encapsulates a wealth of student data (examples of student work and class assignments, assessment data, rubrics, grades, comments, etc)
  • Students now come to our school with broader academic and creative technology skills that we can build upon

In recent developments (2012), our school has shifted to discussing and researching BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs. Here are some lingering questions with BYOD programs:

  • Data: There is little to no data abroad on successful BYOD programs
  • Many BYOD programs specify a 'device of choice' aka iPad, tablet, etc
  • Equity (and financial support for families in need. What device is best vs acceptable?)
  • Software applications / access
  • Capacity for the device to run open source software vs paid applications
  • Creative capacity of the device: Student capacity should not be limited to basic communication tools, reading, Internet research, limited function apps, and Google Apps
  • Repair and insurance/warranty issues for school IT departments, users, and teachers
  • Support issues for IT departments, users, and teachers
  • and perhaps most importantly: Discussions often rest on 'acceptable devices' and not educational goals or student potential

Our research shows that laptops offer:
  • Successful formula for success / implementation
  • Connected and unconnected computing power (on and off the internet)
  • Creative capacity and commonality of software: Audio, video, and application editing suites / programs. These offer higher student growth potential
  • Unified purchasing (discounts), repair and support options
  • Expanded machine to computer interface potential: Programming, device control, configuration
  • Unified educational platform (capacity)

Successful Laptop initiatives, now numbering in tens of thousands, follow a formula spearheaded by the Maine MLTI project:

1. Treat technology as a tool not as a curriculum area
2. Think differently about teaching and student work in and out of the classroom
3. Decide to do it, not pilot it. Give people a goal to shoot for and they'll respond
4. Concentrate on current curriculum initiatives
5. Support teachers as much as possible
6. Make technology part of everyday language
7. Make it sustainable. Funding is critical
8. Develop the infrastructure to support the initiative
9. Promote ownership of the technology. Access policies that are too restrictive don't allow students to connect a feeling of ownership
8. Focus on creating. A computer can do much more than send email, browse video and the web
9. Talk about ethics and communication skills using these tools systemically

Of 20 failed, stagnant or floundering student laptop initiatives we've studied at length, they abandon one or more of these elements. There are thousands of successful initiatives throughout the world now. There are tons of peers to collaborate with. Student laptop initiatives are no longer risky.

It's not to say there won't be bumps in the road. Education, of course, with or without technology has it's bumps.

After extensive research, five site visits to other schools, and a good bit of discussion on pros and cons we feel that a student laptop initiative is a perfect fit for our school.

The first goal in a 'school with laptops' initiative is to achieve equity of access to this powerful tool and the resources it brings with it. Much like we provide textbooks for every student, a laptop initiative provides resources for those who have none.

The creative capacity of a computer: Different operating systems, configuration and personalization potential, powerful software: commercial or open source, machine to computer interface potential (hooking devices up to a computer) are all important elements. Learning to use a computer for creative purposes academically and personally, we believe, is a critical part of educating students for their future.

Perhaps the most powerful role though of a school is in it's mission as a socialization engine. Technology is by no means a magic elixir toward these ends. Promoting collaboration, ethics, morals, and communication skills in this digital era can only help. It has potential to open new doors.

It would be difficult to debate that technology has become quite prominent in our society. People have never had access to such a wealth of information. Technology has created new challenges to conventional thoughts on literacy, teaching, school, self-directed learning, and the goal to teach communication skills. We believe that promoting sophisticated use with these tools is a far better practice than pretending we can avoid it.

One concern rests in that 'kids are too plugged in' these days. A one-to-one laptop initiative opens up incredible possibilities for students in and outside school, a wealth of supplemental materials and creative options to explore... when they need or want to do so. How they use these new tools, or better put 'how they choose to use them' is certainly somewhere we aspire to build skills. Engaging students in sophisticated use practices in school, helping achieve the concept of balance, understanding, of managing life with and without digital resources is important as we prepare them for the future. Using these tools to promote learning and creativity will get us all far beyond the ideals of simply using these tools to be entertained.

Of course, price aka overall financial cost is a factor for every institution, school district, or State to consider. There are many variables, options, and considerations to such programs.

Buy the same laptop for every student? What if a student already has a laptop? Some schools, districts, and States (Maine) avoid this discussion and simply dive in.

Fully funded? Partially funded? Financial aide model?

Some schools are beginning BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop) programs as an answer to such questions. Again, focusing on a 'laptop class device' to achieve educational and creative goals rather than 'a device' that promotes limited functions and can access online material. They recommend specifications (ram, storage capacity, hard drive / storage space) and compatibility with essential software requirements. They offer financial aide based on family income. They offer support if you buy a recommended model. They provide site licenses to powerful software for students to use and explore.

We've made many proposals on this topic since 2005:

  • We put together this document (PDF) to introduce the discussion on campus back in 2005 to begin educational, philosophical, financial and frequently asked questions on the subject.
  • We've crafted up a follow up presentation (Google Presentation) to speak to these ideals a bit further.
  • We have also published a presentation with results from our Student Technology and Access Survey to help support the rationale of how such an initiative can improve educational opportunities for all folks on our campus and community.
We are hopeful that at some point this enlightening educational initiative will come to fruition at Burr and Burton.

Keep moving forward...