Last night I posted an article on handwritten papers in class. I was particularly irritated with the idea of creating multiple drafts on paper and then typing a "final draft." As I was ranting, though, it occurred to me that I can hardly complain about kids handwriting essays if they don't have computer facilities. Is it finally time that I stopped criticizing 1:1 computing as a waste of money? Does every one of our students from middle school onwards actually need a computer?
I think the short answer to that is still no. However, I must say that if you start virtually any corporate or academic job these days, you are given a computer, since you wouldn't be able to do your job without one. It is becoming harder to envision a situation in which students do their jobs (i.e., being students) without a computer either.
Need to do research? You need a computer (even if we're managing to teach our kids to look somewhere other than the first 2 hits on Google). Want to do a lab? Better have a spreadsheet to organize the data. Want to write a paper? Or a poem? Or a blog entry? Type it! Want to access files stored in a digital locker or get work and notes teachers have posted on the Web? You need a computer.
I'm not convinced that the only solution is to give every kid a laptop. Unfortunately, this is expensive just in terms of acquisition costs, not to mention drastically increased support costs. Similarly, utilization on these machines simply may not be as continuous as stationary labs that can be scheduled every period of the day. Once these computers are beyond a school's content filters, firewall, spam filters, etc., they become vulnerable to all of the malware and nastiness that plague the average consumer machine. Finally, their utility is somewhat limited if students lack Internet access at home.
So what is the solution? If your district can afford it, 1:1 laptops aren't necessarily a bad choice. The ubiquity of computing needs both at school and home means that, despite the significant problems noted above, the chances are good that your students would benefit from a computer to which they always have access. However, there are other ways to ensure that most of your students have access to computers when they need them.
We're up to four classroom-sized computer labs, two of which are always available to schedule for non-computing classes. We also allow students to bring their own laptops to school and access network resources, supplementing our own facilities. Since we installed the last lab, we haven't had any students or teachers complain about lack of computer availability.
Many communities have begun offering academic leasing deals to students and parents in cooperation with major OEMs, reducing the upfront costs of laptops without incurring additional costs for the school.
What are you doing to ensure that your students have adequate computer resources?
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