links for 2009-05-26

Let the students drive?

Good post over at Clay Burrel’s blog, reflecting on his school’s 1:1 program and how students see it.

An Old Prophecy Confirmed? On the Uses and Abuses of Laptop Learning

My comment:

I think that this is a trap many 1:1 schools encounter, forcing the tech and “making good use” of the expensive new toys. If students are not seen to be making iMovies constantly, the board will question the program and revoke the funding.

What if we did this instead? What if we gave the kids the laptops, because there is no doubt in my mind that kids need anytime anywhere access to these tools, and we relied on them to decide when and how they wanted to use them?

What if, instead of teachers continually telling students how to learn or how to communicate their learning, we instead formed a partnership with the students and allowed choice in student products? What if we stopped worrying about the cost of the laptops and allowed some students to leave them in their backpack for days on end if they simply did not need them?

So, in this scenario, the kids have the technology. The teachers have the curriculum and the learning outcomes, benchmarks, standards, whatever, and the students can use or not use the technology tools based on their learning styles, interests and aptitudes. Students and teachers need to learn about the technology tools and what their options are, but teachers only need to assign a task like this: Show me that you have learned X. Use whatever medium you like, imovie, pencil and paper, blog, podcast, etc. Communicate to me and your peers (or dare I say even an authentic audience somwehere) what you have learned. You have a laptop and all the tools you need. Bonus points for using the tech tools in a way that we have not seen before. Let the students teach us about how they use technology.

What if we stopped trying to force the technology and instead allowed different students to use different tools based on them, not us?

Imagine all the students, learning things this way….

Change is slow in education and change in technology in education has been particularly slow, compared to the rate of technology change and penetration in the “real” world.  I think that comes in many ways from schools and teachers trying to be experts at it and not giving students enough ownership over their learning.  Teachers have to assign the projects and set the tasks and if they are not comfortable with the technology or they only know the one thing they learned in the PD they got in August (used to be PowerPoint and now its iMovie), they use that over and over, even when it is not appropriate to the task.

The power and potential of technology, as we can see by the evolution of the web to a democratizing platform of user-driven content and services, is that individuals can use the things that work for them.  We must engage students in a partnership for learning.  Give them the tech tools and let them run with them.  Let them teach us and teach each other how they can best use the tools for learning.  Let them innovate.  Let them experiment.  Let them fail.  Let them learn.

Asus EEE PC 900 review

Wired’s Gadget Lab has a preliminary look at the Asus EEE 900.  It looks awesome but the price is getting a little high to be an ultra-affordable ultra-portable.  I would say $400 is a max for a machine like this as you can get a full-fledged Dell laptop for around $600.  The new EEE 900 is priced at $550 according to Wired.

Wired Review

I suppose you could get three of these instead of one MacBook.  I really like the EEE, but the iLife suite is a great set of tools for students and I am not sure if the EEE, without a CD drive, would be as suitable for young kids, software-wise.

Ultra Mobile PC’s Abound

In one of my first blog posts, following the release of the MacBook Air, I lamented the fact that no company had created what I thought was an appropriate portable learning device for students.  The device I envisioned was small, cheap, portable and had the necessary tools built-in (word processing, digital imaging and video, editing, network connectivity, etc.).

Apparently I need to eat my hat, because a flood of inexpensive Ultra-Mobile PC’s have cropped up lately.  Now this could be a case of the everyone-drives-the-same-car-as-me syndrome, in which, when you get a new car you begin noticing how many of those same cars are one the road.  More than you ever noticed before.  So once I started keeping a lookout for the perfect student computer, I started noticing them.  It could be that.

But I do think there are other things at play which allowed Apple to create the MacBook Air.  One is that hardware is coming of age in this area.  Flash memory is dropping in price so it is now cost-effective to put a 20 GB solid-state drive in a laptop.  Small screens are cheap, and clearly processors are too.  I also think companies are jumping on a bit of a bandwagon.  With the OLPC rpoject getting so much press and at least one manufacturer (ASUS) having success with its own UMPC (the EEE PC), this is the market to get into right now.  Consumers, I think, are also realising that they don’t need a $2000 computer just to check their email and surf the web (sales of the Air are not stellar as far as I know).

I came across two good sites recently, one highlights the new HP ultra-portable (a bit of a high-end device) and the other covers the range of UMPC’s available.

HP launches The Linux Powered Mini Note Micro Notebook
Liliputing: A comprehensive List of Low-Cost Ultra Portables

This is a very exciting development.  I will say, I don’t think any of the big players here have made the perfect one for very young children.  I would add touch-screen, tablet-like behavior to make it truly friendly to younger children.  Some of those listed at Liliputing have tablet abilities, but I would still like to see HP, Asus or Apple try their hand at this.  Apple, interestingly, has a patent on a dual-screen laptop that might be very interesting.  Instead of a keybaord on the lower half of the laptop, it has another screen, with the ability to do all teh things the iPhone does in terms of virtual keyboard, multi-touch interface and even, potentially, more screen real-estate.  That would be cool!

As for me, I am pining after the new Asus EEE 900.

And thinking of moving my next school to linux-based portables for students.  Any thoughts?  Leave a comment.

Professional Development for a One to One Laptop Program

We have been discussing the idea of going to a one-to-one laptop to student ratio at our school.  Today we met with our admin team and clarified some of our ideas.  We are talking about beginning the process next school year and phasing in the program over several years beginning with Grade 8 and possibly Grade 5.  Grade 5 would be the lowest grade to participate in the program and it would, over several years, grow to include all students in grades 5-12.

A key issue raised today was that of professional development.  How to we ensure teachers are ready to have every child in their classroom equipped with a powerful learning tool / distraction factory?

Firstly, I should back up and remind you, gentle reader, why we are even considering this idea in the first place: learning.  Today’s learners are “digital natives” who are immersed in technology everyday or at the very least are growing up in a technologically saturated world.  There are few to no jobs any student at our school will hope to have that will not involve computers and technology.  Their own social world is already being altered by chat, texting, MySpace and the like.  The way students live, learn and communicate today is vastly different than the way we did when we were in school.  But our teaching has not changed to keep up.

What our team is proposing is a philosophical switch from viewing technology education as a separate subject with a separate set of skills to an approach that sees 21st century skills as inseparable from the technology tools at our disposal.  We are trying to help teachers see the subjects they are already teaching in the light of the digital world and to use those tools in their units and lessons in a more natural way.  In order to do so easily and effectively we feel that students and teachers will need to have anytime/anywhere access to those tools.

Our first step, then, is to give teachers their own laptop.  You can learn a whole lot more about using a tool if you have one yourself to use at work and home.  Using a laptop to do the things you want to do for enjoyment, like FaceBook, YouTube, email, IM, Skype, etc. helps you get comfortable with the tool and takes away that fear factor when you come to work and have to use that tool in your teaching.

In conjunction with giving teachers laptops is the critical issue of professional development.  Training, not in using the laptop specifically, but in planning relevant, effective units and lessons that incorporate the technology at your disposal.  We have many experiences within our group and have suggested different approaches.  One idea is to buy a curriculum and possibly have trainers come from the US from Intel or Microsoft.  Both companies have well-developed, proven training programs for teachers in technology integration.  Microsoft, or more precisely the Gates’ Foudation sponsors the TLP (Teacher Leadership Program) and Intel has its Teach Professional Learning Program 2007.

What we will do remains to be decided.  That it is vital is certain.


We had a good discussion today about whether or not our school should go ahead with the idea of being a one-to-one school, that is a school where every student has their own laptop.

Actually, we did not discuss that question so much as we have been over the issue many times before and everyone on our Info-Tech team seems to agree that, in order to achieve the educational needs of the 21st century, technology must be ubiquitous within the school.  If students are really to be using technology as a tool in their daily work, be it science, math, art or whatever, then they need anytime, anywhere access to said technology.  So, we already all agree that we must provide anytime, anywhere access to technology at ISKL.  What we discussed today was when that might become a reality, what kind of timeline we might be looking at and other issues surrounding how we might get there, what we need to do and what some of the questions are surrounding the implementation.

Some questions/issues we raised:

What grades would get laptops?  Not Kindergarten certainly.  So, which students are we actually talking about and which grade or grades would we start with (assuming we can not just jump in and give 2000 students laptops in one year.

What kind of computing device are we talking about?  MacBooks?  PC’s? Tablet PC’s?  OLPC’s? Asus EEE PC’s ($400 mini-laptop)? Alphasmart Dana’s?  Something else entirely?

How will we support them?

What kind of PD will we offer to teachers to prepare them for a room-full of laptop-toting students?

That last question garnered our greatest attention.  Without good professional development and training, laptop programs tend to fail out of the gate.  This is a crucial piece.

More on that next post.