wasting bandwidth since 1999

Be Careful What You Wish For

At a meeting earlier this week, we had a short but lively discussion about the role of personal network devices in our schools, spark by a report on how our experiment into the instructional uses of the iPod Touch from last spring would continue this year.

But I also wanted to expand the vision of the project and try to get our leadership thinking about changes to our normal processes that would make it possible for students to use their own devices in school.

Currently, as you might expect, anything that connects kids outside the physical classroom (cell phones, laptops, wireless handhelds) is pretty much banned from our overly-large school district.

So, what about our goal to provide “1-1 computing” (and that term is fast becoming obsolete), or at least for students to have regular access to the technology?

I’m convinced it’s never going to happen unless we follow the model of colleges and allow kids to bring their own. (Or even require laptops and offer assistance to those families who can’t afford them?)

Anytime the topic of kids bringing Touches/cell phones/laptops to school comes up in our system there’s lots of talk around the table about security and support and network capacity, etc. And certainly those are important topics to address.

[Side note: can you imagine how everyone is going to freak if (when) kids start bringing netbooks with cell cards buried in them, allowing them to connect to the web without going through the filters?]

However, technical issues are the smallest part of making this plan work. The larger impediment are the teachers and administrators in the schools, not to mention the curriculum folks in central office.

Very few of them are prepared for what happens when every student in class has instant access to a huge variety of communications tools, both incoming and outgoing (who’s streaming the class today?).

How is that power controlled? Or more to the point, how should the teaching and learning process change when students more equally share control of the technology, instead of access being exclusively dictated by the teacher?

Those of us who are advocates for the potentially transformative effect of instructional technology are often caught up in the day-to-day, never-ending struggle to provide enough equipment, software, training and support to make large scale changes possible.

But sometimes we forget the old adage of “be careful what you wish for”.

Because if we ever did get to the point where every student is carrying around their own networked computing device, the traditional education model we’ve lived with for a century or more would probably fall apart very quickly.

And that is NOT a bad thing.

The image is one imagining of what Apple’s mythical tablet might look like. Just one more personal networked device that could show up in schools.


  1. Dean

    Our district suffers from this specific issue. Between myself, our superintendent, curriculum team and IT department, we have made it very easy for schools to have students bring outside devices. Our filtering policies block very little and our issues deal more with principals and teachers wanting more content blocked, not less.

    So I agree, the easy part seems making the technology and infrastructure available, the hard part is providing support for teachers and schools to figure out what this means.

  2. Stu

    1:1 does seem like a distant goal for many schools, but check out how Australia and in particular, the state of New South Wales are doing it right now: http://paralleldivergence.com/2009/08/20/is-this-technically-the-best-11-rollout-in-the-world/

  3. Tony Searl

    More on our largest to date single system 1:1 roll out. 250,000 netbooks to over 600 schools and all secondary teachers in NSW. http://tinyurl.com/mgb6hb Lets hope it is the right direction.

  4. Tom

    I’m not sure it would based on my experience. This is year 9 in HS and 7 in MS with every single student and teacher having a laptop and wireless (albeit blocked pretty tightly now).

    The system is stronger than people think and kids and adults are more submissive to it than it appears. That makes me sad but sure seems to be the case.

  5. Tim

    Tom: I find that rather depressing as well. I would hope in almost a decade you might be seeing some shift in control of the learning from teacher to student.

  6. Tom

    I’m not claiming no movement but it’s a long way from what I’d like to see. Lots of peaks and valleys. It’s even farther from a revolution though and no where near a collapse.

    I guess my point is that the devices and connection don’t seem to be enough to change education. There’s a lot more to overcome.

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