Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Being a student in the 21st century

Students are multitasking. The lecture hall is passe. The world is getting flatter. A friend passed me a profound video on this topic.

State of PA laptops keep rolling out

The second wave of laptops and interactive whiteboards are being doled out in Pennsylvania as part of the governor's Classrooms for the Future program to put a laptop on every desk in state high schools. PA's program is the latest to give laptops to students following Maine, Michigan, and South Dakota.

The PA project started last year with these 79 high schools and now we are starting to hear some reactions from schools on how things are going.

First off, you probably know that each awarded school gets money to purchase some or all of the following products:
  • Lenovo(R) ThinkPad(TM) laptops

  • Software including Microsoft Office 2007, Inspiration, Adobe Creative Suite

  • Futurekids, Inc. professional development and training

  • Promethean or Polyvision interactive white boards

  • D-Link access points

  • HP multimedia printer and digital camera

  • Canon video camera

  • Bretford mobile laptop carts

  • Epson projector

  • Logitech webcam and speakers

There is potentially lots of great stuff here, but are schools being educated on how it all fits together? Not to point fingers at program organizers because this is a huge job, but I think they would agree that not all the equipment available is appropriate for every school. I personally believe that laptops are the ideal, but what if school network infrastructure isn't ready? Also, one school reminded me that interactive whiteboards can work against classroom laptops. Why? Well, an IWB is teacher-centric and laptops are student-centric. Other schools are going beyond the state grant and purchasing integrated PRS or "clickers" from the whiteboard companies, but I am afraid this will seal the fate of student laptops to be in a storage closet.

Of course I am biased toward screen-sharing or classroom management software, but I noticed that no software of this kind is included on the laptops. MS Office is required, Inspiration is ok for personal concept-mapping, what what about software that would give teacher and students a reason to use laptops interactively in the classroom? What about teachers who dread having to compete with students emailing or IM-ing? Sure, software like DyKnow is not magical but it sure can be relevant for both teacher and student in the laptop classroom.

One thing is for sure: there is much more to come from Classrooms for the Future and many lessons to learn, too! Stay tuned.