How can schools possibly innovate?

I’m distressed.  I just finished reading this article in the New York Times, which is on the front page of today’s print edition“Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops.”

I’m trying to imagine a similar headline:  “Seeing no use for them, Google drops laptops”….or “Seeing no purpose for them, NyTimes drops laptops.”

When are we going to get that laptops, internet, and technology are here to stay and becoming more and more part of our lives and our students’ lives?

I was very disappointed in the reporting in this article.  I’m sure some schools have had problems or have chosen to drop them.  But on the other hand, some schools like the Science Leadership Academy have had success with laptops, and have worked through the problems in a meaningful way.  At least the reporter could have bothered to interview some schools with successful programs, and written a headline:  “Laptops have mixed results” or “Laptop successes differ at different schools.”

If you read almost to the end of the article, there is a caveat:

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.

“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.”

After reading the article, the same thing hits home to me almost every time I read an article about technology implementation.  It isn’t the tools that are at fault, it’s the implementation, training, and support of staff use of the tools.

Schools need to have the teacher buy-in, the support staff or lease-agreement to quickly repair the laptops, and the training on classroom models where laptops are used successfully to make it work well.

But the time is coming when every student WILL have a laptop, PDA or some device with their textbooks on it that is their personal productivity school, so I hope we are preparing for that day–it’s not too far away.

I wish articles like this also talked about the difficulty of desktop computers on campus.   Students who are working on projects at school have hordes of compatibility issues as far as sending files back and forth from their own computers to campus (if they have a computer) and if they don’t have access at home, they are disadvantaged because their fellow students do.   Desktops mean the students have to come to the computer rather than the computer being a readily available tool in the classroom, lunchroom, or library. Schools are limited to the number of projects per period that they can provide computer spaces for, putting restrictions on how many different uses of online sources can happen at any given time, due to the sheer number of available desktops.

Yet we rarely see articles debating the value of desktops in schools.

Another thing that irked me about the article was that it brought up the Ed. Department study of math/reading skill drill software, as though that was proof that technology is ineffective.

I guess we should tell Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Microsoft, and Dell that technology is an ineffective tool and that they will never make money marketing it because it’s not useful, doesn’t give us tranformative abilities, or provide us access to anything much of use.

Lastly I want to point out that many of the problems mentioned here were the schools’ implementation.  Not to criticize these particular schools, but I noticed remarks about the repair issues(the school should have the infrastructure for that if taking this on), the network bandwidth(again, the school should have provided that if they were embarking on this project), the teacher training or lack thereof, issues about library databases and students not using them(which staff and librarians should be helping with), kids playing in the classroom when they should be working(is this a technology issue or a classroom management issue?), etc.

I know there will be challenges with implementing laptop schools, but I feel educators and districts have the ability and responsibility to consider what those are and plan for them, and adapt.   As institutions, we have to improve our ability to implement projects like this, and learn from them.

We need to get prepared, because the $100 laptop is going to bring this issue into our schools sooner rather than later–soon it won’t be about the money because they will be affordable.

I worry that articles like this make it all too easy for those who are afraid of technology advances to, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” instead of asking what will be best for our students who are graduating into a technology-infused workplace and life.

3 thoughts on “How can schools possibly innovate?

  1. I agree with you entirely. However, as a Journalist, I am more concerned with the lack of fairness in this article in one of our country’s most prestigious newspapers. You are right to point out that there are more sides to the story.

  2. Carolyn,

    I like what you say about laptops totally changing things in the working world. It is interesting to think about saying to Google or Yahoo that we have found out that laptops are ineffective. I would have liked to see some interviews with people in Maine. I heard a podcast from one of their teachers about a conference she attended in another state and how shocked she was at how reluctant the teachers there were to change. She suggested that the laptops in Maine had changed how the teachers think. I know that PD is a big part of what they are doing.

    Secondly, I am always disturbed when a report brings in an exciting example of what one school or class is doing with technology “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.” I just think that you can always point out one great classroom example for ANY innovation. The big question is “What is happening in general? I guess that one classroom can tell us something, but often it tells us that there is a particularly energetic or creative teacher. Then what?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *