Twenty years ago this past summer, I led professional development at the first two schools in the world where every student had a laptop. You read that correctly; 20 years ago! Those two Australian schools, 1 private and quite well documented – Methodist Ladies’ College (MLC) and one public and lost to history – Coombabah State Primary School, finally realized Seymour Papert and Alan Kay’s 1968 vision of personal computing. Every child had their own laptop and learned to program in LogoWriter as a way of exploring powerful ideas across the curriculum. Their teachers, predominantly computing neophytes, learned to teach programming and as a result thought deeper about thinking. We had little doubt about what children would be able to do, but expectations were high for teachers.
At MLC, I was trusted to do whatever I thought would improve the school. I worked in classrooms with teachers as my apprentice so they could see through the eyes of their students and their laptop screens what modern knowledge construction looked like. I ran workshops, took dozens of teachers off-site for multiple-day immersive learning adventures, worked across K-12 and had complete 24/7 access to the very busy school principal. I recently asked MLC Principal David Loader what he was thinking when he hired a 27 year-old American with no formal academic credentials, paid him to work in his school for months at a time and have complete authority to do whatever he felt was right, regardless of the risk? David at first looked confused by the question and then matter-of-factly said, “I gave anyone who showed initiative the same level of authority.” He then rattled off the music, art and catering teachers who were indeed given free reign to do the impossible on behalf of kids.
MLC quickly became recognized as one of the best schools in the world and led the way for other schools eager to embrace personal computing. Within a few years, hundreds of thousands of Aussie students had a school issued laptop. I had the great privilege of working with dozens of Aussie “laptop” schools in the early 90s. Along with my colleagues, we invented the future. My work in schools where every student has a personal laptop computer has taken me around the world several times.
My work at MLC is well chronicled by Bob Johnstone in his book, Never Mind the Laptops: Kids, Computers, and the Transformation of Learning, and in a recent essay I wrote, “Hard and Easy,” as part of Pamela Livingston’s book, 1-to-1 Learning, Second Edition: Laptop Programs That Work. In 1995, ASCD published an article I wrote, Laptop Schools Lead the Way in Professional Development, in Educational Leadership. On the 10th anniversary of my work in laptop schools, I produced a “Laptop Self-Assessment” rubric to determine how a particular school measured up to the goals my colleagues and I set back in 1990.
Since my early work at MLC, Coombabah and other Australian schools, I’ve worked extensively in “laptop” schools around the world. (Subscribe to my occasional newsletter to learn about new 1:1 videos and other resources to be put online in the near future.) I collaborated with Seymour Papert and advised his colleagues in Maine prior to the law providing a laptop for every 7th and 8th grader in the state. I inspired and collaborated with the Eastern Townships School Board in Quebec where 6,000 3rd-12th graders have MacBooks and I was a member of the One Laptop Per Child Foundation’s Learning Group.
In April of this year, I had the privilege of celebrating my 20th anniversary of 1:1 and work in Australian schools as the keynote speaker at the Australian Computers in Education Conference in my adopted hometown of Melbourne, Australia. This evening I will be the keynote speaker at the European Laptop Institute in The Hague.
In a few weeks I will return to Seoul, South Korea to work at The Chadwick International School, a magnificent new progressive international school that will eventually serve K-12 youngsters from Korea and abroad. In a few weeks, my colleagues and I at Chadwick will once again change the world when every student from 1st grade onward will have their own personal Macbook computer. Robotics, programming and deep project-based learning across the curriculum will be the hallmarks of Chadwick’s approach. We will move past the low-hanging fruit of information access and language arts and use the computer to create new learning opportunities and amplify student potential across the entire school.
Not since the early 1990s have I had the opportunity to work in a school and mentor teachers so closely over a long period of time as I will at the Chadwick International School. I have spent the past six months or so as a consultant helping with the planning process; including policy issues, purchasing, professional development, visioning and curriculum integration. Look out for great things coming from this exciting school.
Within hours of returning home from South Korea, I fly to to speak in Peru, where hundreds of thousands of children own an XO personal laptop. I’m excited to get the chance to work with my old friend (from the mid 1980 Logo days) Oscar Becerra
December 2-3, I’ll be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to be the keynote speaker, along with Dr. Chris Dede, at the Great Lakes 1:1 Computing Conference.
At some of these upcoming conferences I will not only be delivering my keynote address, Ten Things to Do With a Laptop: Learning and Powerful Ideas, but also brand new keynote, Twenty Lessons from Twenty Years of 1:1 Computing. That session, dealing primarily with leadership and policy issues was presented recently at the ISTE Conference, National School Boards Association’s Annual Conference and the NSBA Technology + Learning Conference.
From the very beginning giving a laptop to every child seemed like an inevitability. Computers were getting smaller, cheaper and more powerful. Of course children would have their own before long.
For the first time in 20 years (now 40) we had the platform available to begin realizing the ideals of Dewey, Kay and Papert. There was never any talk of experiment or pilot or project or initiative. Laptops were purchased for students because it was on the right side of history and the right thing to do.
At the recent Australian conference a Monash University lecturer told the audience that we should go slow with 1:1 because the jury is still out and the evidence yet to accumulate to justify the investment. The moderator, Jeff Richardson of Trinity College, snatched the gentleman’s iPhone, asked the audience how many people live in homes where there are more computers than humans and then suggested that children deserve no less where they spend most of their waking hours. The dirty little secret is that thirty years after microcomputers came into most Western schools, children get to use one for less than an hour per week. The Australian moderator asked me if I’d like to contribute anything to the suggestion.
I told the Monash lecturer that, “the first doctoral dissertation demonstrating the efficacy of 1:1 computing was published in 1991 in his department.” I own a copy. It’s time to move on! The kids deserve nothing less.
Summer 2010 marked the 20th anniversary of my work leading professional development in schools where every student has a personal laptop computer. One of the world’s first laptop schools was Methodist Ladies College (MLC) in Melbourne, Australia. The other was a long forgotten public school, the Coombabah State Primary School. The MLC story has been told in Bob Johnstone’s book, Never Mind the Laptops: Kids, Computers and the Transformation of Learning, as well as elsewhere.
Back in 1990, when I began working in 1:1 schools, we had Toshiba T1000 laptops with monochrome displays, no hard drive and 512K of RAM. Brilliant work was done by children fortunate enough to have their own personal laptop at a time few adults could claim likewise. Despite my misgivings about their limits in education, an iPad has a great deal more power than what we used 20 years ago.
I just returned to Melbourne Australia for the third time as a Visiting Scholar at Trinity College, The University of Melbourne.
I recently spent some time helping Foundation Studies educators explore how iPads may be used to challenge some of the conventional pedagogies of an educational approach based on teacher-centered practices and skill development. Foundation Studies prepares overseas students for university admissions. The ubiquity of an iPad per student affords opportunities to re-examine the nature of teaching and learning in more authentic, constructive and open ways.
The goal is always to create productive contexts for learning based on my mantra, “Less Us, More Them.”
While I typically do not recommend iPads as the only computer provided for K-12 students, Trinity College’s Foundation Studies Department has already decided to give them to young-adult students.
Here is the article that appeared on the Trinity College web site.
Thursday 16 September
Gary Stager loves technology. His work in the use of computers and education has led him to visit Trinity in 2009 and again in 2010. Currently he is one of Trinity’s visiting scholars and recently held a staff conference regarding the TCFS Step Forward iPad program.
“It’s really exciting to be working with my colleagues here at Trinity Foundation Studies department to look at how the iPad can not only help them teach what they’ve always wanted to teach with greater efficiency…but how it creates opportunities for teachers and students to learn together in ways that were impossible otherwise.” says Gary.
Gary spoke to various Foundation Studies teachers and other staff regarding technology in education and ways in which they could utilise the medium to it’s maximum capabilities.
I wrote the following discussion paper for Methodist Ladies’ College back in 1993. I recently found a copy and scanned it so that the ideas within might be shared with others.
From my perspective as a school-based educator, I view two horizons, yesterday and today.
Schools of the Future are most often corporate lemonade stands or warehouses of computers in which the objective is to get kids “on” as much technology as their nervous system can withstand. The school of the future believes that all technology is good technology, teachers are facilitators, and libraries are a thing of the past. Log the kids in at three, strap them to the chair, set the machine on stun, and hand them a diploma at eighteen. Classrooms, are wired with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fibre-optic cable so that students may have round-the-clock access to a bad version of the Guinness Book on CD-ROM. The primary mission of a school of the future is publicity and seeing how much free stuff they can get from vendors.
So what sorts of characteristics describe a school for our times?
Last month I was interviewed by NPR (that R no longer stands for radio) about the India’s purported plans for a “$35 laptop” for education.
I was able to get in a few whacks against the visionless plan. Read my interview here
It now appears that “mine’s bigger” has been replaced with “mine’s cheaper.” The Indian announcement, like many of the “responses” to One Laptop per Child, appears to be more about a referendum on Nicholas Negroponte than improving the lives of children.
Like Negroponte or not, the entire high-tech industry swore that low-cost laptops were impossible until a handful of MIT visionaries and their friends proved them wrong.
The current line of attack seems to be, “Well that jerk wants to change the world with a $100 laptop, we will make it even cheaper.”
Nicholas Negroponte of One Laptop Per Child posted similar views here.
Incidentally, I recently celebrated my 20th anniversary of working in schools around the world where every child has a personal laptop computer.
I realise that this is late notice, but I will be leading a seminar, The Best Educational Ideas in the World: Adventures on the Frontiers of Learning, 13 September 2010 in the Lecture Theatre at The University of Melbourne’s Trinity College. The seminar will be from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM and costs just $50 (US) ($58 AU). Regrettably, my registration system won’t handle Australian currency.
The seminar is intended for all P-12 teachers, tech directors, computing teachers, university students, parents and administrators.
You may register online here. Please pass this information along to colleagues & friends!!
Maps and location information may be found here.
The Best Educational Ideas in the World: Adventures on the Frontiers of Learning
Contemporary discussions of school improvement focus on the creation of obedience schools for poor children or utopian governance schemes. Neither approach does much to amplify the natural curiosity, expertise, creativity, passion, competence or capacity for intensity found in each child. A leading educator serves as your tour guide for a global exploration of powerful ideas and exemplary teaching practices.
The artificial boundaries between art and science are blurred as children engage in authentic activities with real materials, create sophisticated artifacts of personal and aesthetic value and become connected to ideas larger than themselves. Collegiality, purpose, apprenticeship, complexity, serendipity and “sharaeability” are a few of the common values. Each approach either requires digital technology or may be dramatically enhanced by it. Lessons learned en-route our tour create productive contexts for learning in which students construct the knowledge required for a rewarding life. An ample Q&A session will follow the presentation.
Stops along our tour may include:
- Personal fabrication
- Reggio Emilia
- El Sistema
- 826 Valencia
- Generation YES
- One Laptop Per Child
- and even reality television!
About Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.
Since 1982, Gary Stager, an internationally recognized educator, speaker and consultant, has helped learners of all ages on six continents embrace the power of computers as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression. He led professional development in the world’s first laptop schools (1990), has designed online graduate school programs since the mid-90s, is a collaborator in the MIT Media Lab’s Future of Learning Group and a member of the One Laptop Per Child Foundation’s Learning Team. Mr. Stager’s doctoral research involved the creation a high-tech alternative learning environment for incarcerated at-risk teens. Recent work includes teaching and mentoring some of Australia’s “most troubled” public schools. Gary was Senior Editor of District Administration Magazine and Founding Editor of The Pulse: Education’s Place for Debate. He is currently Visiting Professor at Pepperdine University, an Associate of the Thornburg Center for Professional Development and the Executive Director of The Constructivist Consortium. In 1999, Converge Magazine named Gary a “shaper of our future and inventor of our destiny.” The National School Boards Association recognized Dr. Stager with the distinction of “20 Leaders to Watch” in 2007. The June 2010 issue of Tech & Learning Magazine named Gary Stager as “one of today’s leaders who are changing the landscape of edtech through innovation and leadership.”
Dr. Stager was a keynote speaker at the 2009 National Educational Computing Conference before an audience of more than 4,000 educators. He was also a Visiting Scholar at The University of Melbourne’s Trinity College during the summer of 2009.
Recently, Gary was the new media producer for The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project – Simpatíco, 2007 Grammy Award Winner for Best Latin Jazz Album of the Year. Dr. Stager is also a contributor to The Huffington Post.
A few nights ago, I led a webinar for old friends in the State of Victoria (Australia) as part of an online course/seminar/learning community focused on issues surrounding effective 1:1 computing. The course is called 1 to 1 Next Steps. My webinar was entitled, “Creative Computing and the Case for Project-based Learning.”
The digital handout I created to accompany the webinar and stimulate further discussion may be found here. It is hardly exhaustive. I wanted to provide educators with just enough information to inspire their imaginations and generate discussion.
For those of you who have heard me speak before, there are indeed some familiar themes in this webinar. However, there are some new ideas expressed as well. Many of these ideas frame my work as a teacher educator, speaker, teacher and consultant.
As always, your comments are always welcome.
Earlier today, I enjoyed the great privilege of sharing the stage at the Australian Conference on Computers in Education with two of my favorite educators, Geoff Powell of St. Hilda’s School on the Gold Coast of Queensland and Steve Costa of Methodist Ladies’ College, Kew. The following is a tribute to Steve Costa, a truly gentle man with a wicked jump shot and the gratitude of the countless young people he has inspired for decades.
Stephen Costa, Deputy Head of the Methodist Ladies’ College Junior School may be the most important and overlooked educator in the world today. Steve emigrated to Australia from the United Stated in 1974 during a period in which the nation was recruiting young teachers. He fell in love with the woman he would marry and with Australia – in those days requiring him to surrender his U.S. citizenship. By 1981, Steve was teaching primary school girls at MLC to use computers. Around that time he read Seymour Papert’s, Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, and became inspired to teach his students to program in Logo.
A little known milestone in the history of educational computing is that Steve Costa began teaching an entire class of year five girls each with a personal laptop computer in 1989. He is Patient Zero when it comes to the use of laptops in education. If you are an educator anywhere in the world – from Manhattan to Melbourne to Mumbai teaching in a 1:1 setting or contemplating the eventuality of truly personal computing, you owe a debt of gratitude to Melbourne’s own, Mr. Costa.
It is not often that you have the privilege of knowing “the person who started it all,” but Steve Costa is not an artifact found in a museum, he continues to teach kids and his colleagues every day of the school year TWENTY-ONE YEARS after he embraced laptops as an integral part of the learning process. Steve Costa has been teaching with a laptop per child for more than a generation.
When I first met Steve in 1990, I was impressed by his energy, curiosity, dazzling teaching skills, calm demeanor and love of children. He was always willing to “have a go” and try any crazy idea I might throw at him and “his girls.” He has been invaluable to me as a colleague who could inject a dose of classroom reality into a scenario without ever using such current “reality” as an excuse for not trying to do better – to push the envelope. Steve is unafraid to learn alongside students allowing them to lean about learning by his example. Anytime you want someone smart for a panel discussion or extremely competent in a workshop setting, Steve tops my list.
Countless, perhaps thousands of educators have visited Steve’s classroom over the past twenty years, become inspired and gone back to make their schools better. Steve Costa should be famous. He should be traveling the world hailed as the father of 1:1 computing. He should be running the national education system, but instead Steve Costa does the hardest, most important work of all. He teaches children every day.
David Loader gets much of the deserved credit for pioneering 1:1 computing in schools, but that effort at MLC would be a long-forgotten experiment if it were not part of the daily excellence displayed by Steve Costa. Steve Costa’s contribution to modern education and computers in education puts him on a par with Seymour Papert, Alan Kay and David Loader.
At an edtech conference such as ACEC, it is worth noting that unlike so many ICT professionals whose curriculum is technocentrically focused on the hot new toy or latest fad, Steve Costa still teaches children to program in Logo (MicroWorlds). He does so because it affords learners countless opportunities for self-expression, problem solving, debugging and to think about thinking. Too many educators succumb to peer pressure and abandon “hard fun” or sound educational practices as the spotlight shifts. Steve is not one of them. He continues to learn, grow and develop his own personal computing fluency while embracing new technologies that increase learning opportunities for young people. He is not only a master teacher, but a master learner as well – unafraid of technological advances that amplify human potential.
There is no honor sufficient for my friend Steve. One would think that a grateful nation engaged in a “digital education revolution” would put its original revolutionary, Steve Costa, on a postage stamp. They would do so if they loved their children (and their children’s teachers) half as much as Steve cares for the children in his care.
Steve Costa led a silent revolution that changed the world the year Milli Vanilli topped the charts and continues to lead every day. Since the education community tends to be short on memory, we need to learn from Steve Costa today and honor his contributions for many years to come.
Memo to ISTE: I realize that Steve’s proposal to share wisdom gained over 20 years of teaching in 1:1 environments was rejected for the NECC 2009 program. Perhaps that was an oversight. Isn’t it about time you featured Mr. Costa at your annual conference and in your publications?
Note: As time permits, I’m republishing articles I’ve written in the past so they may reach a fresh new audience via my blog. I’m particularly proud of this paper about teacher professional development, originally published in 1992. I wrote this after spending more than two years working in “1:1 schools.” You may just find it timely today!
COMBATTING THE OSMOSIS MYTH – A REALISTIC APPROACH TO STAFF DEVELOPMENT AND EDUCATIONAL CHANGE
© 1992 Gary S. Stager*
Many educational leaders and policy makers have grand visions of how computer technology will lead to educational innovation and restructuring. Unfortunately, in 1993 far too many of these people believe that the technology will do the job alone.
If staff development is provided, it is too often superficial and unsuccessful. Teachers and their students may be “using computers” but to what end? What has the computer’s impact been on the learning culture of a school? Is the school any closer to their goal of improving education and institutional change or has the introduction of technology created a foggy detour on the road to innovation? The hard part of this process is not the learning the technology, but thinking about thinking and learning; reflecting on the nature of the curricula; and clearly articulating a collegial strategy for implementing change. Computer-based staff development efforts often assume that teachers need to be only computer literate enough to unjam the printer or to use one piece of “canned software” with their students. This line of reasoning deprives teachers of the types of intellectual empowerment, which their students experience when using the computer as a vehicle for constructing knowledge.
School districts often believe that teachers will begin making computers important well-integrated tools in their classrooms if they attend a two-hour workshop or stand in the computer lab while the computer teacher instructs their class. This is part of what I call “the osmosis effect” Just touch a computer and education will improve. Educational reform is too often equated with plugging students into anything that happens to plug in.
Even in more thoughtful school districts, staff development efforts too often go for the “quick fix.” Speakers and authors like Tom Snyder argue that no significant innovation will succeed in a school without directly benefiting the central group of adults first. I was always troubled by this view and have recently become convinced of how profoundly misguided this view is.
The conventional wisdom is too often, “If I teach the teacher to put the students’ arithmetic problems into Math Blaster, then they will learn to assist their students in creating collaborative inter-disciplinary multimedia reports in LogoWriter…” If the teacher can write parental letters using a word processor, then they will fall in love with the writing process and change their language arts curriculum to a whole language process…” “If I teach a math teacher to use a gradebook program, he/she will begin to use manipulatives and symbol manipulators as an integral part of the math curriculum…”
There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that this all too prevalent strategy of pandering has any positive impact on the growth process of teachers or schools. In fact, I have seen this approach to staff development degrade teachers by assuming that they were not capable of learning new skills or sharing powerful ideas. It is incredibly insulting to believe that teachers are so selfish that the only way in which to get them to appropriate new technologies and methodologies is to “train” them to do trivial administrative tasks. The implication is that teachers are too “burnt-out” or detached to care about the exciting educational potential of new technologies. Too often elementary school teachers are sentenced to a lifetime of . word processing and word processing only because of a lack of respect for teachers and a subtle gender bias towards female teachers.
The way in which you directly benefit teachers is by helping them directly benefit kids. You improve the lives of teachers by helping them become better teachers.
Even the “bad” teachers our society is so fond of discussing will be inspired by seeing students engaged in exciting new ways – with no materials, ideas, processes, and content. After all, is that not the reason for ongoing staff development? It seems ridiculous to suggest that teachers are the only group of professionals incapable of using computers in meaningful ways. This view is a result of the way in which schools often approach the use of computers by students.
Over the past decade schools sought to make computers, which are transparent in the world and the life of the child, into a discipline – hard and worthy of study. Terms such as computer literacy, computer lab, computer coordinator, and courses in information technology have become commonplace in primary and secondary schools. These ideas, at best, are rooted in the educational bureaucracy’s deeply-held paranoia about only teaching what is testable and at worst is designed to create an artificial range (bell curve) of good computer users and bad computer users.
Neither case respects what students already know. It seems as ridiculous to think that a sixteen year-old student in an information technology class needs to be taught what a mouse is as it is to assume that a professional educator is incapable of using technology used routinely by Burger King employees.
So, what should we do? I would argue that computer-based staff development activities should focus on the change process and immerse teachers in meaningful, educationally relevant activities, in which he/she will be encouraged to reflect on powerful ideas and share their educational visions in order to create a culture of learners for their students.
SUGGESTIONS FOR SUCCESS
• Work With the Living
Schools have limited technological and teacher development resources and they should be allocated prudently. Good teachers who have yet to recognize how computer technology may enhance their teaching are not evil. If a school focuses its energy and resources on creating a few successful models of classroom computing each year, then the enthusiasm among the teaching staff will be infectious. When fifteen teachers in a school or district joyfully use technology more teachers are likely to have found a comfortable path towards implementation. Within a few years the most recalcitrant of teachers will recognize that they are in the minority and may seek other employment. It is important that a variety of models be created for teachers of differing backgrounds and subject areas to choose from. The school should be cautious not to create negative models of computing use.
• Work On Teachers’ Turf
Educators responsible for staff development should be skilled in classroom implementation and should work along-side the teacher in his/her classroom to create models of constructive computer use. It is important for teachers to see what students are capable of and this is difficult to do in brief workshop at the end of a long workday.
• Off-site Institutes
Schools must ensure that teachers not only understand the concepts of collaborative problem solving, cooperative learning, and constructionism – they must be given the opportunity to leave behind the pressures of family and school for several days in order to actually re-experience the art of learning with their colleagues. Off-site residential “whole learning” workshops can have a profoundly positive effect on a large number of teachers in a short period of time.
• Provide Adequate Support
Nothing dooms the use of technology in the classroom quicker than not supporting the teacher who worked hard to develop new skills. Be sure that the school does eveiything humanly possible to support the teacher’s efforts by providing the technology requested, maintaining it, and by having access to a working printer and a supply of blank disks.
• Practice What You Preach
Staff development experiences should be engaging, interdisciplinary, collaborative, heterogeneous, and models of constructionist learning.
• Share Learning Stories
Teachers should be encouraged to reflect on personal significant learning experiences from their lives and the staff development experience. They should share these experiences with their colleagues and discuss the relationship between their profound learning experiences and their classroom practices.
• Celebrate Initiative
Teachers who have made a demonstrative commitment to educational computing should be recognized by being freed of some duties in order to assist colleagues in their classrooms, encouraged to lead workshops, and given access to additional hardware.
• In-School Sabbaticals
Innovative teachers should be provided with the school time and resources necessary to develop curricula and conduct action research in her/his school.
• Assist Teacher Purchases of Technology
Schools should help fund 50- 80% of a teacher’s purchase of a personal computer for use in school and home. This act demonstrates to teachers that you value computers as an important aspect of the school and that they should share this commitment. Partial funding also provides teachers with the flexibility to purchase the right personal computer configuration. The school may offer an annual stipend for upgrades and peripherals.
• Have Abundant Technology Available
A teacher in a school with hundreds of computers quickly recognizes that the school values classroom computing.
• Cast a Wide Net
No one method of staff development works for all teachers. A combination of traditional workshops, in-classroom collaborations, mentoring, conference participation, and whole learning residential workshops must be available for teachers to choose from at their own pace. Teachers should be made to feel comfortable growing at their own rate. Therefore, a variety of staff development options may need to be offered regularly.
• Avoid Software Dujour
The people responsible for paying for school computing are made to feel guilty by the media and other administrators if they do not constantly do something “new” with their computers. Unfortunately newness is equated with lots of software. It is reckless and expensive to jump on every software bandwagon. Using narrow skill-specific software has little benefit to students and undermines staff comfort with computing. Choose an open-ended environment, such as LogoWriter, [now MicroWorlds] in which students express themselves in many ways that may also converge with the curriculum.
• Never Satisfied – Only Gratified
Staff development must always be dedicated to continuing educational excellence. If we desire to restructure schools then we must recognize that the only constant we can depend on is teachers. Our schools will only be as good as the least professional teacher. Staff development must enhance that professionalism and empower teachers to improve the lives of their students. Our children deserve no less.
• A version of this article will appear in the Proceedings of the 1993 International Conference on
Technology and Education at MIT
Maine’s great laptop experiment should not be picked at, but applauded
In September, every seventh grader in Maine–and their teachers–will be given their own iBook and free 24/7 Internet access. The following year, every eighth grader will get an iBook. Two years ago, Maine Governor. Angus King caused an eruption of debate when he proposed this laptop plan. At the time there was little if any legislative support. Today, it’s the law of the land. King hopes this initiative will serve as a catalyst for reinventing public education and as a means for maintaining his state’s quality of life.
The majority of children, teachers and taxpayers support the idea.
While a bit of nervous anticipation is expected on the part of Maine teachers, the American education computing community seems to be in a state of panic. At every education computing conference one can overhear gossip about Maine. Some of the buzz is supportive, but a great deal of discussion suggests that the laptop rollout is a bad idea. There hasn’t been this much hysteria since kids were given their own floppy disks.
An autoimmune response triggers the instant some members of the ed-tech intelligensia hears of Maine’s plans. “I hope they get the professional development right!” I respond by asking, “Do you mean the two-hour afterschool workshop or the three-hour workshop?” Are the P.D. addicts suggesting the imposition of one-size-fits-all training statewide? Educators should be focused on making the learning environment richer for kids. Professional well-educated adults should figure out what to do with their laptop. To many, the primary goal of professional development is to produce the elusive “buy-in” among teachers who have yet to notice the presence of computers in everyday life. The great thing about Maine is that the “buy-in” battle has been won. If you teach seventh graders, every one of your students will be wired … in the good way. The laptops will be falling from the sky.
I suggest the “failure” of computers to “deliver” in schools is based on there being too few computers rather than too many. Maine offers the chance to finally test this hypothesis.
Ed-Tech’s Dirty Little Secret
The dirty little secret is that despite a substantial investment in hardware and software, many kids never use a computer at school and many more never enjoy the experience of doing something powerful with a school computer. Few American “laptop schools” have embraced personal computing as a vehicle for radical learner-centered school reform nor have they embraced ubiquitous computing as a vehicle for social justice as advocated by King. In far too many schools, laptops are a marketing tool, like a mascot or high standardized test scores.
We pay a lot of lip service to concerns about the digital divide. Yet, when Maine eradicates that divide by entrusting every kid with a personal laptop to use at home and school, we shake our heads. Some suggest using laptop funds to reduce class-size. Even if that were a priority in rural Maine, lowering class size does little to produce models of new classroom practice.
Why would computer-using educators be opposed to democratizing computer use? How could it be bad for all kids to have access to a world of ideas and a computer for creating a few of their own?
One answer may be economic. We don’t employ pencil coordinators and may not need tech coordinators when the schools have professionally installed wireless networks, laptops with great repair contracts and high expectations for staff. You won’t need computer literacy workbooks when kids have actual computers. National standards for technology use become irrelevant in one fell swoop.
Another cause for alarm could be more Freudian in nature. You may no longer be the district’s one and only computer expert. The focus of schools can shift away from developing teachers to developing children.
Peers suggest that Maine’s laptop investment will be a disaster. I just don’t see it. How could dosing the digital divide and treating children like responsible members of a learning community be a bad idea? Experience through–out the world teaches us that teachers with laptops see themselves as more professional. It would be a disaster indeed if we as professional educators did not learn all we can from Maine’s bold leadership. We might even wish to help them invent a better future for us all.
Originally published in the July 2002 issue of District Administration Magazine
Since 1990, I have worked in schools where every child has a personal laptop computer. In fact, I led professional development in the world’s first two “laptop schools.” Ever since, I’ve worked from Melbourne to Mumbai to Maine trying to help educators enjoy the transformational learning experiences made possible by personal computing.
In some school districts the notion of a laptop per child remains a sci-fi fantasy from a utopian future. For others, laptops are viewed as typewriters, encyclopedias or testing systems in support of traditional school practices. Schools struggle to find the courage, imagination and financing to make 1:1 computing a reality. Despite the seemingly high cost of investing in a laptop per child, I know of schools that have urged manufacturers to keep prices high in order to reserve the laptop as the tool of rich children.
MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte formed the non-profit One Laptop Per Child Foundation (OLPC) a few years ago to meet the challenge of providing every child in the world with a robust, powerful, personal, environmentally responsible and rugged affordable mobile computer. If that weren’t ambitious enough, Negroponte recognized what many have known for years – current operating systems make no sense for children, particularly children in the developing world. If you’re a kid in Rwanda, what do desktops, trashcans or file folders mean to you? OLPC also believed that software should be free, open-source and collaborative. Sounds like a tall order.
With the release of the XO, often referred to as the $100 computer, Negroponte and a few dozen colleagues did what Silicon Valley could not or would not do. They made a low-cost energy-efficient laptop for children complete with a new graphical user interface and collaborative software applications. And boy was the high-tech industry mad! The Times of London and 60 Minute have documented Intel’s wide scale attempt to discredit OLPC across the globe while Bill Gates says snarky things about it at every opportunity. OLPC is like kryptonite to Business Week, a magazine that cannot resist writing about the failure of the XO as if it were oil prices or tax policy.
It is easy to understand why OLPC has earned the ire of the corporate community. They made a computer with a superior screen, energy management and ground-breaking mesh networking for less than the cost of marketing a bloated retail laptop. To make matters worse, they challenged the hegemony of Intel and Microsoft.
Looking at the world through school colored glasses
It is a lot harder to understand why many in our edtech community have been so hostile to the XO. The same educators whose students use the computer lab for little more than web surfing and word processing mock the XO, a device capable of a lot more for more children at a lower price. They complain that it’s not powerful enough, yet continue to use their existing computers in trivial ways.
I hear lots of “yeah, buts from the American edtech community.” What about professional development?” is a favorite mantra chanted as if American schools have succeeded in computer integration after more than 25 years of effort.
Why would anyone copy us?
Another favorite question is, “What about tech support?” That question is easily answered; local kids and adults will repair their own XOs. All you need is screwdriver and some parts. Remember when Americans used to repair things themselves? It wasn’t that long ago!
When the XO is the first computer, “book,” or even light source in a community there is a different sense of urgency. A few stories stand out. The President of Uruguay was on hand to distribute the first XO computers to students and the computer has been featured on an Uruguayan postage stamp. Poor slum dwelling Pakistani students had their school closed down and are required to work agricultural jobs. These kids have formed an XO Club and hold meetings during work breaks and nearly every night in order to keep learning.
During a recent OLPC workshop I met two Columbian women who exemplified the commitment to progress shared across the developing world. The educators wanted to provide XOs to a Columbian school without electricity. Due to its remote location where students arrive via individual boats, a petroleum-based generator is impossible. The women considered solar power, but they would need to hoist the panels above the rainforest canopy. Without missing a beat, the women looked at each other, shrugged and said, “We have a river.” That’s right. They’ll figure out a way to turn water into electricity in order to charge student laptops.
To countries where Internet access may be a four-day walk away and per pupil spending is $40/year, computers represent so much more than a way to practice multiplication tables.
SIDEBAR: This Fall, you will once again have the opportunity to change the world for a deserving child and get yourself a wicked cool XO laptop. At the end of the year, OLPC is likely to once again offer its Give One, Get One program. For $400 (price not yet set), you get an XO and a kid in the developing world gets one as well. This has the effect of reducing the cost of a laptop to less than $100 each since your donation is matched by a local purchase. Student clubs might get involved in this worthy endeavor as well. Go to www.laptop.org to learn more about G1G1 and to keep up with XO developments around the world.