I just finished a class with several other math teachers from around New England. A few of the teachers were from an exclusive prep school in Connecticut, although they might as well have been from a different world. They live on campus with their students, are provided with free room and board (even for their families), computer allowances, and free tuition to the classes for which I'm racking up student loans. Oh yeah, and all of their students are provided with laptops.
Quite frankly, considering that the tuition these students are paying exceeds that of many universities, they better have a computer provided, as well as a personal chef or two. However, I wonder how much benefit they derive from the computers and if this sort of 1:1 computing can really be justified, especially in a more typical secondary education setting. Since these kids live on campus and take classes 6 days a week that occur in bizarre rotations, it starts to become apparent that they need ready access to computer resources outside of a limited number of computer labs. They also have guaranteed wireless Internet access and are under the supervision of resident advisers (who are actually faculty, part of the price they pay for the free room and board).
Such would not be the case for many of my students. With the addition of two new computer labs, it's a rare time that classes can't be scheduled into a lab if it's needed for a class. Similarly, Internet access is not ubiquitous for our student body, nor is a controlled setting at home, free from little brothers and sisters, dogs, and other critters that would otherwise be bad for the health of the average laptop. Perhaps more importantly, students are no longer behind a firewall when they go home or subject to the same restrictions that they are on campus (unlike our prep school counterparts who literally live behind a firewall). Thus, a huge number of laptops are now exposed to all of the malware upon which our students can stumble. Local virus protection is great, but the Internet is a scary place.
It should be obvious where I'm headed here. I'm not seeing any way to justify 1:1 computing outside of some fairly atypical situations. Even if I could find the funding, I could imagine countless other infrastructure enhancements and IT projects on which I could spend the money. I could hire more staff or teachers to fill the new computer labs. I could even buy several laptop carts that would probably see greater utilization and control. Despite my personal reservations, though, 1:1 computing is coming to more and more districts and more parents are starting to ask for the technology. They may not want to pay for it through various forms of taxation, but the expectation is growing. So can we justify it? Talk back below and take the survey to let us know how your school stands.