Category Archives: Laptops

Laptops of the World


… is the title of a post on the Good blog. It is a thorough and thought-provoking comparison of the use of digital technology, specifically laptops, in schools in the U.S. (featuring Philadelphia’s School of the Future) and Norway. According to author Daniel Brook

In inner-city Philadelphia, a pilot program is arming its high schoolers with laptops. But in countries like Norway—and increasingly in the developing world—that’s the norm. Why is the United States so behind? And is it worth it to play catch-up?

…while the United States integrates computers on the patchwork, pilot-program model of developing countries like Peru, many of our economic peers—especially in technophilic Scandinavia—are embracing them as universal, an essential part of 21st century education. As an American high school student might ask: What’s up with that?

 He concludes that it all boils down to the fact that:

In the United States, laptops are too often regarded as a silver bullet that can transform an under-performing inner-city school, replacing traditional modes of learning. In Norway, laptops are seen as a necessary add-on to keep students up-to-date in a changing world.

The article raises a lot of important issues, and in my mind, they are more big picture questions than purely digital technology ones:

  • Replicability: the School of the Future is enormously expensive ($62 million plus) for it to be replicated on a large scale. Yet, countries like Norway and Scotland seem to have found ways to integrate technologies in K-12 on relatively large scales. Granted, they are much smaller than the U.S., but they have found a way to do it. Maybe the U.S. can learn a thing or two from them.
  • Attitudes toward education as a whole. Brook’s conclusions speak volumes for the difference in attitude between the U.S. and countries like Norway. It seems like in the U.S., we are constantly looking for the one magic solution that will solve all problems (in schools and beyond).
  • What kids know and can do: According to the article:  “Shortly after observing a class of Norwegian 17-year-olds competing to design the cheapest functional bridge (freeware courtesy of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point), I am back at the School of the Future. Sitting in the Philadelphia math class, it is hard to imagine that these students are the same age as they plot simple inequalities like “-2 < x < 3″ on a number line… Without the requisite background math skills, it’s virtually impossible to do more interesting work like bridge-building. In the Norwegian class, the latest technology allows students to do ever more sophisticated tasks. In Philadelphia, despite the technology, the students lagged far behind grade level.
  • And of course societal problems in general: “As Professor Ketelhut puts it, “It’s frustrating when people think we can find a single thing to ‘fix’ the schools. Maybe their home is condemned and they’re living in a car. The School of the Future is not going to change that student’s life. Six hours a day isn’t going to fix what happens the other 18 hours of the day. We can’t give every kid a laptop like that’s going to change everything.”

Interesting article, definitely worth a read. Of course, the solutions to these problems aren’t easy ones, and I’m not sure how fair and equitable the comparison between the US and Norway is, given the differences between the two countries. However, it is worth looking at the differences in mindsets, and to take a look at what is working in Norway and why. And as a final thought: it’s not necessarily the type of technology that’s at stake here.

Image Credit: “Globe post card sample 2”, from Mishel Churkin’s photostream:

One Laptop One Child: How About Having Kids Bring Their Own?


That’s the title of a recent article on, and it’s an interesting one. According to the article,

Across the country, the same question is being considered. The idea of having 1:1 computing in schools has turned from if to when, and while the last great hurdles remain price and sustainability, more and more administrators are wondering if the answer isn’t already in their students’  backpacks and bedrooms.

Definitely a valid question to ask, and I agree with the article that this is more of an issue of when rather than if. Also,  when considering that many schools or districts cannot afford to start, let alone sustain, a 1 to 1 technology project, regardless of the device, it is good to see that some educators are actually beginning to consider the possibility that students could bring in their own devices, and not just laptops.  In fact, while most of the Scholastic article deals with the implementation of laptops brought in by students, the ending is the most telling:

Pennsylvania’s Murray already sees  students shying away from laptops because of the weight of carrying them around. “It’s much more likely in a few years all students will have their own smartphones,” he says.

The mini computers that are popping up with smaller form factors might become the next big player in the K–12 space, he says. Forsyth has even looked into using Sony Playstation handhelds in class, noting that they have a “decent Web browser.”
“We want to support whatever kids bring in,” he adds.

And I don’t think it’s just the weight and size of laptops that are causing this attitude in students. There are also the differences in cost, accessibility of the technology (as in, no need to wait minutes for my laptop to boot up), and tool-to-use fit (i.e. no overload of unnecessary bells and whistles).

As the article states, there are many hurdles to be overcome to make this all work, but the fact that it is being considered at all is a giant step forward (and as a final note, I commend the parents who went to their local school board and “asked the board why their son couldn’t connect to the network that they as taxpayers helped pay for,” with a laptop brought from home).

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts…

Image credit: “Nigeria wide banner”, from One Laptop Per Child’s photostream:

Battery Life, Part II


My first real post on this blog dealt with the issue of battery life (or lack thereof) in mobile devices, and some of the research that is being done at Intel that’s looking into a concept similar to the use of how RFID devices work.

I ran across another research project a couple of days ago, which is reported on in this Technology Review article. Entitled “Charging Batteries without Wires”, the article discusses research at MIT that is investigating the possibility to recharge mobile devices wirelessly, using a small base station plugged in to an outlet.

While the work is still theoretical, the implications for mobile device users could be substantial. For educational purposes, this could mean the elimination of hassles such as trying to keep handheld devices charged in the classroom, or not having to worry any more about a mobile device dying while in a museum or even just out on the street. Of course, this could only happen if the base stations would be as ubiquitous as say, lamp posts…

Image Credit: oskay’s photostream:

We All Need Perspective …


Nothing really earth-shattering from my end for this post, as I’ve been very busy lately, and can barely keep up with news from the blogosphere, let alone write about it. Instead, I will talk about a combination of blog posts that I’ve recently read that made me think a little more about the fact that as busy as we all are, and as important as we all think we are, we all need perspective, both in life and education.

With regards to life, I read two beautiful posts in the last few days that really made me think about my own perspective on life. I really couldn’t have said it any better, so I’m letting the posts speak for themselves:

Cool Cat Teacher’s post called “Perspective” talks about how sometimes we lose sight of the most important things in life, and when we do, we always end up losing something important. I was going to put an excerpt here, but you really need to read the entire post.

I ran across another great entry a little while back on the Creating Passionate Users blog, posted by Kathy Sierra, and entitled “You won’t regret it“.

Opportunities are not unlimited. There are only so many scenic routes we can take. Only so many sunsets. Only so many chances at love or business. Only so many possibilities to send our lives in new directions. Only so many places to explore. Only so many ways to see someone else light up when you help them learn or do something they didn’t think they could do. Only so many live concerts. Only so many moments to talk to your significant other or kids without keeping one eye on the television. Only so many dog walks. Only so many new things to learn, and fewer to master.

Only so many chances to make a difference.

Which brings me to education, and the call for a perspective or vision there that many have been writing about in recent months. What triggered the writing of this post is this article on 1:1 computing that describes a backlash against 1:1 laptop programs, citing cost, inappropriate use, and a lack of improvement in student learning as the main arguments against these types of initiatives.

Much can be said about this article, and the best commentary I’ve seen so far is Wesley Fryer’s post on a “vision needed“. He argues that schools need:

  1. Administrative leaders who have instructional vision for teaching and learning that includes INTERACTIVITY and STUDENT CREATION OF AUTHENTIC KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTS.
  2. Administrators and teachers who insist on not only differentiating learning opportunities for students, but also differentiating the assessment methods they use to measure student learning.
  3. An understanding by all educational stakeholders that learning is messy. The standardized tests can’t and won’t come close to revealing the complete picture of whether or not authentic engagement is happening in the classroom on a regular basis– and therefore learning experiences that are NOT FAKED are common, rather than rare.
  4. A “just in time” professional development program that supports continuing learning by teachers in the classroom.

To this I would add that schools need:

  • Tech people who believe that technology does not just exist in schools for them. I have seen too many instances in which digital tools in schools are so restricted that it almost makes no sense to have them there, which has led me to conclude that in those cases, the technology has been configured to make the IT person’s job as easy as possible, and its use for learning nearly impossible (don’t get me wrong here, there are many great technology and support personnel in schools, but it’s frustrating to see how many of them don’t have the VISION that technology should support teaching and learning).
  • An understanding by all educational stakeholders that learning does not begin and end when the school bell rings, and that technology can and will remove the barrier between school and the world. Therefore, mobile technology, like laptops and handhelds, as well as the Internet can be great tools for teaching and learning as they have the potential to make learning seamless. This also means (as Wesley has said) that learning should be measured by MUCH more than standardized tests, and administrators are finally starting to realize that (see e.g. this example from Laredo, TX). Unfortunately, the backlash from the passing of DOPA is already raising its ugly head, with the banning of all blogging in schools in Alabama.
  • Finally, and most importantly, stakeholders need the VISION that teaching and learning with technology is not a privilege, but an essential part of education if we want our kids to succeed in the 21st century. This entails trust in kids on the part of adults. As Judy Breck has said in an interview on Rudy de Waele’s m-trends blog (with regards to the use of mobile devices):

I think it is insulting to kids to give their parents their own PCs at work and make students share at school. Yet we have been doing that for years! And now that the kids mostly have a computer of their own (a mobile) I also think it insults youngsters not to trust them to use their mobiles for learning. My view is that the mobile should become the new device used in education for delivering knowledge. Let’s scrap the shared PCs at school and upgrade the mobiles. Why? Because each student then has his or her own learning device where that student can customize and personalize to have the device integrated with the individual learning process.

On the other hand, there is also a responsibility on the part of schools to teach kids how to use mobile and especially networked technologies in safe, responsible, and ethical ways. Blocking kids from blogging or MySpace in school is not going to solve anything, as kids will just access these types of sites more outside of school, and become more frustrated and tuned out in school. As Cool Cat Teacher said:

Only so many chances to make a difference …

NECC 2006: Ubiquitous Computing Session


I’m going to try it, I’m blogging during a session. It’s not that easy, you’ve got to really multitask and be fast, esp. if you are looking at related resources in multiple windows.

The session I’m blogging is called Ubiquitous Computing: Near Future and Far Horizons (Talbot Bielefeldt, ISTE with Tom Greaves, Jeanne Hayes, Don Knezek, Bette Manchester and Alice Owen) . Some background research (including some of RCET’s work)

Here is what they discussed. 

Findings (executive summary from the ADS study):

  1. schools are moving toward mobile. Mobile is defined by the study as laptops, tablets, student appliances. They excluded cell phones.
  2. UC is growing rapidly (UC= each student and teacher has one internet-connected device to use both at school and home).
  3. UC practitioners report substantial academic improvement (measured how: 87% of districts reported moderate to significant results. The question is, what does that really mean?).
  4. Bandwidth crisis is looming. In schools yes, in the world, no, we actually have excess bandwidth and will for a long time (need to find the resource for this).
  5. Online learning is growing.
  6. Professional development is key
  7. Total cost of ownership is increasingly important
  8. Fastest growing products over the next five years

The presenters seem to really focus on laptops and 1:1 as ubiquitous computing, which I don’t necessarily agree with. I think it’s too narrow a focus. Ubiquitous computing does not equal 1:1, especially when the main focus is laptops. Ubiquitous computing for teaching and learning as I see it can be found on our ubicomp site:

We define ubiquitous computing environments as learning environments in which all students have access to a variety of digital devices and services, including computers connected to the Internet and mobile computing devices, whenever and wherever they need them. Our notion of ubiquitous computing, then, is more focused on many-to-many than one-to-one or one-to-many, and includes the idea of technology being always available but not itself the focus of learning.

Keys for ubiquitous computing for teachingand learning are:

  • the variety of devices available (they really didn’t do this, and I don’t know how much this was part of the study. The overwhelming emphasis was on laptops)
  • many-to-many as opposed to one-to-one
  • anywhere, anytime, anyone access (the presenters did touch on this)

Alice Owen from Irving ISD talked about their laptop project. She talked about

  • bridging the digital divide for her students and families, not necessarily raising test scores. Students are training their siblings and parents. She emphasized that the main goal of the Irving project was NOT to increase test scores, and I really commend her for saying that;
  • getting away from labs (yes!);
  • change takes time (2/3 years);
  • teachers need a lot of support;
  • collecting and reimaging laptops over the summer (not sure why they do, this seems to counter their goals to some extent);
  • bandwidth issues, Irving does have a shortage of Internet bandwidth, even when adding continually;
  • use of Blackboard for online supplements (3-400,000 hits daily). Some experimentation with online courses for courses with few students across the district;
  • importance of investing in people;
  • think about technology as we do about utilities!! Network should be up 24/7. Also hardware is a consumable (but what about the environmental impact of replacing hardware every few years?).

Don Knezek talked about the shift from desktop to laptop, but that this is not necessarily the case outside of the US (where they may not have desktops!). ISTE wants to focus on global developments, and what is happening in the US will not necessarily happen elsewhere.

Don also mentioned that wiring schools for internet access is not enough. There needs to be enough bandwidth, especially with increases in online and blended learning.

Devices need to become affordable. Negroponte’s $100 laptop project was mentioned several times. There was also mention of the need for some action research/case studies. RCET has done some which can be found in RCETJ


Somebody asked about sustainability, along the lines of kids bringing in their own devices such as laptops.  According to the presenters, lots of places don’t support this type of model because of legal implications (i.e. schools can’t force people to buy their kids laptops) and cost, but that it would be possible in the future.

Question: Battery life for laptops? The schools in Irving give kids laptops with two batteries, they take the CD-Rom drives out! Other projects have bought power supplies: problem, you are tethered!! This is why smaller mobile devices should be considered more, I think. Battery life isn’t as much of an issue. In addition, as Cathie Norris and I talked about earlier this morning, do we really need all the bells and whistles that laptops have? A simple mobile device doesn’t do as much, but the batteries last longer, they have a lower total cost of ownership, and have most of the functions a laptop.

Comment: there is a need to think about changes for teaching and learning!!! Teachers need time for this.

Question: what’s happening to textbooks in 1:1 environments. Irving: science and social studies are digital. Math and LA are not. Irving uses a textbook server and kids can download digital books. However, they are still using classroom sets of textbooks. Digital content: districts want more flexible prices, infrastructure for this has to be bullet proof, must be easy to integrate in the curriculum.

Technorati tags: NECC, NECC 2006, ubiquitous computing

When Ubiquitous Computing May Not Be So Ubiquitous After All…

Here is an odd one I ran into today:

Henrico County, VA. is known for it's massive one-to-one laptop implementation in its schools, putting approximately 25,000 laptops in the hands of middle and high school kids in 2001, first with iBooks, and in 2005 switching to Dell. According to research, this implementation has benefited teachers and students.

Yet…. I ran across this information on the blogbanning website today, which was apparently posted by somebody within the district:

Henrico County in Richmond VA blocks any free homepage sites it's aware of, the majority of all web mail options (even to the point where I can't search for anything in google with the word mail in it). They also block IM, iTunes store, YouTube, Meebo etc. We also block most blogging options, myspace, livejournal, xanga and facebook. I was able to get and bloglines unblocked recently but I'm not sure how long that will last. We lost Flickr last week….. Elementary schools have begun requesting that image sites like Google Images and Flickr be added to their blocked list. 148 schools share three "filtering" servers so if one requests a site be included, it affects many more schools than just one.

This seems a little ironic if you ask me. I understand schools have a responsibility to keep kids from accessing inappropriate content, but it seems a little odd that after all the time, money, and effort that went into getting this project up and running, schools are really limiting what kids can do with the tools they're given. Will Richardson has a good discussion on the topic of censorship on his Weblogg-ed blog.