Controversial Laptops

The third session at the PNAIS TechShare I was involved in concered student laptops. It was fun, because we simply admitted that 1:1 student laptop programs are controversial at the start, and we reviewed three different positions one could take on the issue:

Position I: Student Laptops are Unnecessary

• Laptops are too expensive and too complicated to maintain
• Laptops are distractions in the classroom and lead to attention loss
• Kids use computers too much at home—school should be a haven from computers.
• Schools educate kids best with face-to-face interactions, not face-to-screen.
• Laptops don’t address a problem or need in most schools, and nor will they ever.
• Several schools have started 1:1 programs, only to stop them.
• Academic research has not proven clear benefits from 1:1 laptops.

Position II: Student Laptops Are Inevitable

• Laptops used to cost over $2000. Now good laptops can be had for less than $1000.
• Today, the cost difference between laptops and desktops is incremental, but laptops can be used more frequently than desktops.
• In the coming years, laptops will become even less expensive, or laptop alternatives (small phone/tablet hybrids) will become commonplace and relatively inexpensive ($500).
• Later generations of software for laptops will improve reliability and reduce support needs.
• Increasing numbers of private and public colleges and universities are requiring laptops.
• As more kids have laptops at home, how does a school argue that “no laptops are allowed or needed”?

Position III: Student Laptops Are Essential

• The “smoking gun” that proves the need for laptops is that high percentages of independent school Middle School and Upper School students have problems with organization.
• Maybe we expect more of students today of tracking their work, deadlines and commitments. If nothing else, they face more distractions for time and attention.
• If a fair percentage of these students can be helped by the “all-in-one-place” benefits of laptops, easy access to online course pages, combined calendars, and other resources.
• The communications benefits of individual laptops may equal or exceed the productivity benefits.
• Teachers have always had to adjust classroom management techniques for different generations of kids. Why would technology necessitate a “locking of techniques” that pretends that current and future generations don’t use computers?
• If the kids, teachers and school is going to evolve and move forward on multiple fronts (organization, communications, productivity, classroom management, student-centered learning), then student laptops are essential.

During the course of our discussion, we noted that there were strong and true points in each of these positions. We added two more points to the third position. First, laptops can help overcome equity of access for students of different economic backgrounds (when schools provide low or no cost laptops to financial aid students that are the same as everyone else’s laptops). Second, 1:1 laptops can ensure equity of access for boys and girls, especially during the critical middle school years.

We knocked around other issues, such as who should buy and own the laptops, laptop cases, insurance plans, and implementation strategies. Here’s a copy of the TechShare Laptop Session Handout.

Meanwhile, on the fourth of July, I sit in the PDX airport and wait for my flight to San Diego for NECC. My “Low Stress Laptop Programs” presentation is tomorrow at 2 p.m., Room 32 A/B. I’ve heard that normal people do things with their families on the fourth…

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