Balancing utility with responsibility on student laptops

A Slashdot contributor posted an important question on Wednesday: "What Restrictions Should Student Laptops Have?" Essentially, the author wanted to know how much of the capability of laptops assigned to students in a 1:1 program should be locked down, particularly when the students are off-campus.

A Slashdot contributor posted an important question on Wednesday: "What Restrictions Should Student Laptops Have?" Essentially, the author wanted to know how much of the capability of laptops assigned to students in a 1:1 program should be locked down, particularly when the students are off-campus.

This is not an easy question to answer. On the one hand, we have vague mandates to filter content for students and will most likely be responsible for fixing machines on which students install software, encounter malware, etc. On the other hand, anyone implementing a 1:1 program should be trying to make the machines as useful for kids as possible.

My own 16-year old is a great example of this. He uses his laptop from the minute he walks in the door at night (and often while he's at school, depending upon his needs in class). While he's quite productive, keeps his grades up, touchtypes proficiently, and has become fairly adept at research on the machine, he's also in constant contact with his friends, multi-tasking with the best of them.

How much of this ability to multi-task between the social and the academic should actually be limited? My inclination would be to say none of it. Go ahead and block MySpace and FaceBook while they are behind the content filters at school, but once they go home, let the work and play converge.

Here's the kicker: let the computer and unfettered access to it be a carrot for academic achievement. If students aren't maintaining decent grades, take away the computer. If the student installs software or bumps into malware, keep them after in detention with a tech who can lead them through troubleshooting and repair.

I really believe that we are getting to a point where 1:1 can make both practical and pedagogical sense. Not allowing the computers to become natural extensions of the student and providing no incentive to use the computers appropriately, though, is a recipe for failure.

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