4.25.2008

Laptops and Students - To Be OR Not To Be -

... That is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune...

Gentle Reader, kindly peruse the previous two postings before tackling this one. They will give you some background knowledge that should put you in a frame of mind to accept this particular bit of opinion. It *is* opinion of course since it is not backed up by research.

Probably the most important thing to recognize when comparing the XO or One Lapotop Per Child (OLPC) and the U S district based projects is the nature of the combination of network and resources.

Not just the hardware. The rest is a lot more important.

The whole thing is a huge tool and people, especially kids, will figure out how to use it. Yes, they will hack it.

If you ask Nicholas Negroponte if he thinks the kids in Peru will hack any of his systems, he will say "I sure hope so!" It will be disappointing if they don't.

1. This huge tool must be transparent to use. This means that the tool becomes irrelevant, like a pencil or a pen. The fact is that it is largely transparent to students, but not to everyone else.

2. The tool exists as a cloud of resources to be used at will. It is not time or location dependent. So when it doesn't fit into a particular frame of reference, just forget about trying to make it fit. The tool, by its nature, works.

If changing the location of an activity is important, consider that everyone involved in using the tool can and will leave the location at will.

If changing the tool itself is important, consider that everyone involved can and will repurpose the tool literally in a few seconds. (If you can supervise children with scissors, you can supervise a class of technology users. That may sound challenging, but art teachers do it every day with very few fatalities.)

Finally, think of the scope of the community involved and the connections available.

In the U S, proxy filters are common. In Finland, Sweden, and Denmark I hear the children are expected to behave themselves without nanny software. Granted, Finland has very high test scores in Math and Science.

In order to control and guide students who have this kind of power, the environment has to be carefully curtailed in certain ways without stifling creativity and access in an unreasonable way.

Consider the typical situation envisioned by the OLPC program. It is a compact community having few members with no preexisting Internet access. The school provides a satellite uplink and lesson resources. The student's laptops create a mesh network that presents the same face to the users no matter whether they are inside the school building or outside.

This means that instead of being cut off from the school environment when the day is done, the school follows the child home and provides a community with teacher support and peer support.

Let me mention one of the criticisms that OLPC communities have. Spouses of teachers complain that their time at home is absorbed by students. After letting that sink in, consider that one of the hallmarks of a high quality education is long periods spent with professors.

Let me close this by quoting from Seymour Papert's article about Bode Miller
Consider a simple incident: a 3-year-old goes to a shelf, pulls off a cassette and loads it into the VCR. People are wrong to be amazed at the technological capacity of the child. Getting dressed and playing with many traditional toys are actually more complicated than working a VCR or even clicking a computer program into life. What is remarkable is that the child is able to make a decision to spend the next half hour immersed in a topic of choice...

That children are learning to find independent ways into knowledge is wonderful and necessary. But it poses a challenge for parents and indeed for the way we think about school. In the past school had to provide knowledge. In the future schooling -- and parenting -- will have to be about developing the ability and the judgment necessary to use knowledge wisely and critically.
I hope the link with what I said earlier is obvious. Students will figure out how to use technology better than their elders.

The OLCP project is designed to support precisely the parts of networked community that are useful to discovery and education. This means the XO laptop is designed precisely to be a particular subtype of tool for a reason that the majority of technology projects in the US are evidently blind to it.

4.24.2008

Una Laptop por Niño - One Laptop Per Child


The philanthropic effort dubbed the $100 Laptop has not met its grand initial goals. But its first deployment, in Peru, may turn skeptics into believers.


Here are a few quotes pulled for the article.



The laptops are headed to 9,000 tiny schools in remote regions such as Huancavelica, in the Andes, an arduous 12-hour bus ride over rocky roads southeast of Lima, and villages such as Tutumberos, in the Amazon region, days away.

The computers come loaded with 115 books--literature such as Mi Vaquita, about a rare porpoise, but also classics, like some of Aesop's fables, novels (at least one by the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa), and poetry (including verse by the early-20th- century Peruvian poet César Vallejo). The laptops' flash drives also store introductions for teachers, reading-comprehension programs and other educational software, a word processor, art and music programs, and games, including chess, Sudoku, and Tetris. The rugged, low-power hardware includes a camera that can capture video or still images. The computers are Internet ready and can wirelessly relay data to one another.

Schools Get Rid of Laptops, it's history now

Tests measure certain things and I don't think the benefits of stepping into the modern culture of cooperative science is one of them.



This article is here as a placeholder for historic purposes as the XO or One Laptop Per Child project is up and running in Peru. I will attempt to draw parallels to what appear to be similar programs (but may not be) in the U S that have had various levels of success.

I'm responsible for the snide but insightful comments. *wink*



By WINNIE HU - http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/04/education/04laptop.html?
Published: May 4, 2007

LIVERPOOL, N.Y. — The students at Liverpool High have used their school-issued laptops to exchange answers on tests, download pornography and hack into local businesses. When the school tightened its network security, a 10th grader not only found a way around it but also posted step-by-step instructions on the Web for others to follow (which they did).

Scores of the leased laptops break down each month, and every other morning, when the entire school has study hall, the network inevitably freezes because of the sheer number of students roaming the Internet instead of getting help from teachers.

Is it possible they need more help than the teachers can offer? Or perhaps they have just gotten to work and they are checking their email and doing work like the rest of the world. In what world is the Internet not used for homework?


So the Liverpool Central School District, just outside Syracuse, has decided to phase out laptops starting this fall, joining a handful of other schools around the country that adopted one-to-one computing programs and are now abandoning them as educationally empty — and worse...

“After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool, one of the first districts in New York State to experiment with putting technology directly into students’ hands. “The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.”

Note: In technology we aim for transparency. The term is important because transparent technology doesn't let this (sic) happen. Transparency however does not come from within technology, rather it is characterized by smooth social interaction.



Liverpool’s turnabout comes as more and more school districts nationwide continue to bring laptops into the classroom. Federal education officials do not keep track of how many schools have such programs, but two educational consultants, Hayes Connection and the Greaves Group, conducted a study of the nation’s 2,500 largest school districts last year and found that a quarter of the 1,000 respondents already had one-to-one computing, and fully half expected to by 2011.

Yet school officials here and in several other places said laptops had been abused by students, did not fit into lesson plans, and showed little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test scores at a time of increased pressure to meet state standards. Districts have dropped laptop programs after resistance from teachers, logistical and technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs.

".. did not fit into lesson plans.."

".. dropped laptop programs after resistance from teachers.."

How does a computer not fit in a lesson plan? It is a tool that can do just about anything. You could just as easily say that pencils won't fit into lesson plans.



Such disappointments are the latest example of how technology is often embraced by philanthropists and political leaders as a quick fix, only to leave teachers flummoxed about how best to integrate the new gadgets into curriculums. Last month, the United States Department of Education released a study showing no difference in academic achievement between students who used educational software programs for math and reading and those who did not.

This sounds like the research that says recall is affected by repeated testing. Why? Because they both use practice. So is there an advantage to computers?

Not if you don't count having access to vast libraries, incredible diversity of opinion, and a huge variety of approaches to explaining things to students. I guess the U S Department of Education decided it isn't important.



Those giving up on laptops include large and small school districts, urban and rural communities, affluent schools and those serving mostly low-income, minority students, who as a group have tended to underperform academically.

So it isn't a class thing or a digital divide thing.



Matoaca High School just outside Richmond, Va., began eliminating its five-year-old laptop program last fall after concluding that students had failed to show any academic gains compared with those in schools without laptops. Continuing the program would have cost an additional $1.5 million for the first year alone, and a survey of district teachers and parents found that one-fifth of Matoaca students rarely or never used their laptops for learning. “You have to put your money where you think it’s going to give you the best achievement results,” said Tim Bullis, a district spokesman.

So it is the kids who are not using them for learning? By all means, blame the students for not figuring out how to use computers.



Everett A. Rea Elementary School in Costa Mesa, Calif., where more than 95 percent of students are Hispanic and come from low-income families, gave away 30 new laptops to another school in 2005 after a class that was trying them out switched to new teachers who simply did not do as much with the technology. Northfield Mount Hermon School, a private boarding school in western Massachusetts, eliminated its five-year-old laptop program in 2002 after it found that more effort was being expended on repairing the laptops than on training teachers to teach with them.


These are not reasons to quit using computers. Am I wrong?

Next for the Best Reason Ever to get rid of technology!



Two years ago, school officials in Broward County, Fla., the sixth-largest district in the country, shelved a $275 million proposal to issue laptops to each of their more than 260,000 students after re-evaluating the costs of a pilot project. The district, which paid $7.2 million to lease 6,000 laptops for the pilot at four schools, was spending more than $100,000 a year for repairs to screens and keyboards that are not covered by warranties. “It’s cost prohibitive, so we have actually moved away from it,” said Vijay Sonty, chief information officer for the district, whose enrollment is 37 percent black, 31 percent white and 25 percent Hispanic.

Here we are. This is us. How much does it cost to maintain the media centers in those four schools? What about teacher's time being used more productively as a result of using testing and things like automated essay grading to accelerate student achievement?



(Back to Liverpool NY)...
Students like Eddie McCarthy, 18, a Liverpool senior, said his laptop made him “a lot better at typing,” as he used it to take notes in class, but not a better student. “I think it’s better to wait and buy one for college,” he said.

Here we have an example of a student who does not use his computer appropriately. What a surprise. Can we do anything about this?



More than a decade ago, schools began investing heavily in laptops at the urging of school boards and parent groups who saw them as the key to the 21st century classroom. Following Maine’s lead in 2002, states including Michigan, Pennsylvania and South Dakota helped buy laptops for thousands of students through statewide initiatives like “Classrooms for the Future” and “Freedom to Learn.” In New York City, about 6,000 students in 22 middle schools received laptops in 2005 as part of a $45-million, three-year program financed with city, state and federal money.

I heard that Maine's use of laptops was stimulated by a friendship between the governor and Seymour Pappert. That would make Maine the first experiment in the OLPC direction. Other districts failed to understand that it was an education experiment, not a technology experiment.



Many school administrators and teachers say laptops in the classroom have motivated even reluctant students to learn, resulting in higher attendance and lower detention and dropout rates.

But it is less clear whether one-to-one computing has improved academic performance — as measured through standardized test scores and grades — because the programs are still new, and most schools have lacked the money and resources to evaluate them rigorously.

In one of the largest ongoing studies, the Texas Center for Educational Research, a nonprofit group, has so far found no overall difference on state test scores between 21 middle schools where students received laptops in 2004, and 21 schools where they did not, though some data suggest that high-achieving students with laptops may perform better in math than their counterparts without. When six of the schools in the study that do not have laptops were given the option of getting them this year, they opted against.

Mark Warschauer, an education professor at the University of California at Irvine and author of “Laptops and Literacy: Learning in the Wireless Classroom” (Teachers College Press, 2006), also found no evidence that laptops increased state test scores in a study of 10 schools in California and Maine from 2003 to 2005. Two of the schools, including Rea Elementary, have since eliminated the laptops.

But Mr. Warschauer, who supports laptop programs, said schools like Liverpool might be giving up too soon because it takes time to train teachers to use the new technology and integrate it into their classes. For instance, he pointed to students at a middle school in Yarmouth, Me., who used their laptops to create a Spanish book for poor children in Guatemala and debate Supreme Court cases found online.

Those pesky folks from Maine again. What is it that they do that makes them use the technology appropriately?



“Where laptops and Internet use make a difference are in innovation, creativity, autonomy and independent research,” he said. “If the goal is to get kids up to basic standard levels, then maybe laptops are not the tool. But if the goal is to create the George Lucas and Steve Jobs of the future, then laptops are extremely useful.”...

In the school library, an 11th-grade history class was working on research papers. Many carried laptops in their hands or in backpacks even as their teacher, Tom McCarthy, encouraged them not to overlook books, newspapers and academic journals.

Why doesn't the media center have electronic access to those resources?



“The art of thinking is being lost,” he said. “Because people can type in a word and find a source and think that’s the be all end all.”

Without a doubt, aphorisms will never help us understand why teachers are not using the technology in a transparent fashion.


One thing I am interested in is the assumption that the principal benefit of having a computer is higher test scores.


Tests measure certain things and I don't think the benefits of stepping into the modern culture of cooperative science is one of them.