1:1 Student Laptop Initiative

We continue to make progress toward the possible implementation of a 1:1 student laptop program at UHS. Yesterday, I presented a comprehensive overview of the program to the full board of trustees for the first time. My main thrust was to provide as much context as possible so that everyone could understand how we got to this point. I explained that the genesis of the student laptop idea rested in the strategic planning process that the school undertook two years ago. The plan’s technology recommendations included a mandate to review annually the methods used to provide computers to students at UHS.

The purchase of a new building on Sacramento Street accelerated our consideration of change, so that our academic technology committee spent the fall semester of last year reviewing different ways to provide student computer access in our new campus configuration. Last spring, we presented the Faculty with two choices: an expanded desktop computer program that would place more computers in science labs and art classrooms to accommodate the increase in classrooms, and a student laptop program that would virtually eliminate computer labs and provide individual computers to students.

Trustees asked quality, critical questions about the presentation. How will the laptop program bring greater equity to student computer access? Are there less expensive ways to accomplish this? Are alternative devices besides laptop computers available for such a program? How enthusiastically do teachers support this initiative? What are some of the curricular ideas that they envision being able to implement with a laptop program? How will laptops help students do their work for school? Are teachers concerned about possible disruption to classes? Should the school introduce the program in August 2006, January 2007, or August 2007? What other schools have or are considering student laptop programs? What have we learned from our faculty laptop program? How would laptops change teacher practice in the classroom? How would our professional development program support teacher training for student laptop use?

One challenge during this process has been to maintain the focus of the trustees on the students. In my mind, this is primarily a student laptop initiative, and the students will be the primary beneficiaries of the laptop computers. I would predict a rapid increase in student communication and great increases in organization and efficiency of managing documents and other files.

Here are the next steps in the process of considering this proposal. The board chair has created a subcommittee of the finance committee to put together a detailed proposal considering multiple program options that would affect overall cost. The finance committee will review and consider this proposal and then forward it to the full board on November 28 for approval or denial. It is going to be an eventful month!

6 comments

  1. Tobias Butler says:

    This might be wishful thinking, and I’m kinda just throwing this out there… but what about the oqo?

    http://www.oqo.com

    Probably a bit expensive, but hey. They’re more compact, have enough computing power for what we are doing (mostly word processing and web access), and run a full version of windows (unlike most handheld devices.)

    They can also be connected to an external monitor, so instead of having computer labs, we could have a few sets of monitors that students could plug their oqos into and use as a full fledged computer (with an external keyboard/mouse as well).

    There are a few disadvantages… namely, internal CD drives. But otherwise, they are pretty much fully equipped.

    This idea is probably completely impossible for some reason that I’m missing, but it is an idea nonetheless.

  2. rkassissieh says:

    I have never used one, but my immediate concern is the keyboard. Again and again, laptop alternatives come forth, and consumers decide that laptops have the right balance of portability, usability, and features. Do you remember the HP Jornada?

  3. Tobias Butler says:

    You’re probably right. Having the same computer to use at home and at school without the restriction of features (small screen, cd drive, etc) would be very useful.

  4. Zach Lipton says:

    My main question about making this happen is the same issue you alluded to: professional development. Right now, there is a huge range of technology skillsets amongst UHS faculty. In order to make a student laptop program worthwhile, it’s going to take a huge amount of training and work with the faculty to not only teach them the technology skills they need, but to teach them how to use the laptops to benefit their classes. Otherwise, the laptops are going to just end up being very expensive glorified typewriters, and that will benefit nobody.

    I’m sure you’ve thought a lot about this and will be thinking about it more certainly through the next month. I guess I feel that there is a lot that we could be doing right now with technology that we aren’t, so I’m not terribly optimistic about how the laptops would be used. That being said, it would be great for students and for the school if this does happen, and I hope the board process goes through well.

    Tobias: the oqo is an awesome piece of technology, and if you’ve never had the chance to play with one in person, you really should, but can you really imagine taking class notes on that thing? Even writing a moderately email would be a pain in and of itself. Perhaps the future will be in virtual laser-based keyboards (like http://www.mavromatic.com/i…), but that’s still a ways off.

  5. rkassissieh says:

    Yes, there would be a lot of professional development, probably first targeted toward one teacher in each department who would agree to start a "model" initiative in his/her department. However, keep in mind that teachers will need to build pedagogical skills in the area of technology, as distinct from technology skills. While it would be helpful for a teacher to increase his/her fluency with applications and hardware, it will have more impact on the class to plan rich activities that take advantage of technological capabilities. At Urban, it was the least proficient teachers (the language department) that eventually made the greatest strides in terms of transporting audio files on the laptops between home and school. Fortunately, our teachers already possess stronger skills across the board than technology skills, on average!

  6. Tobias Butler says:

    "Tobias: the oqo is an awesome piece of technology, and if you’ve never had the chance to play with one in person, you really should, but can you really imagine taking class notes on that thing?"

    I have, in fact. They were represented at the recent Engadget reader meetup in San Francisco. I was able to type fairly proficiently, but that’s mostly because of practice from typing on a treo. You are correct, taking class notes would be difficult without an external keyboard.