Following on the heels of some rather dispirited posts last week, I was happy to read the headline of the print version of this Sunday’s Daily Oklahoman newspaper: “Reading, writing and iPods? Howe school erases boundaries.” The article is excellent, but I think the video (“Howe students in the classroom”) is even better:

Howe Public schools is one of the ONLY districts in our entire state to provide students with laptop computers for their use at school each day. Unfortunately Howe does not YET let students take those laptops home and have access to them 24/7, but they certainly are on the right path to appropriately integrating digital technologies into the classroom with their work not only in 1:1 computing but also with iPods, a weekly school podcast (“CLE Live”) and new a distance learning virtual field trip about Spiro Mounds created and shared by Howe students.

Tomorrow on February 18, 2008 at 10 am US Central time, students from Howe will be broadcasting their weekly podcast news show LIVE from the Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City. Check out this page to tune in to this event LIVE tomorrow.

Lowrey Public Schools is the second Oklahoma school district I’m aware of to offer laptop computers to ALL students, in their case to 5th – 8th graders. A video was shared last week by Tulsa television station KJRH (channel 2) providing more details and background about the Lowrey laptop initiative. (An embed link option is not available for the video, unfortunately.)

The only other public Oklahoma school district of which I’m aware that is providing laptops for students (starting in the fall of 2008) is Crescent Public Schools, which was recognized two weeks ago as the 2008 Oklahoma Technology District of the year. In all of these cases: Howe PS, Lowrey PS, and Crescent PS, there are some common denominators which I think are very significant.

  1. All of these are small, rural school districts. I have yet to meet a leader in a large Oklahoma school district with the VISION and drive to make 1:1 computing a reality for the students in his/her district. Educational technology innovation in the state of Oklahoma when it comes to 1:1 computing continues to be defined by small, rural school leaders.
  2. The vision and support of the school district’s superintendent is PIVOTAL in each of these schools walking down the 1:1 computing journey. As others have noted, without vision and strong leadership from the top we’ll continue to just see “islands of innovation” in our schools rather than broad-based, across the board change and reform.
  3. Each one of these school districts has chosen to purchase Apple Macintosh laptop computers for student and teacher use. This is not just a coincidence– Virtually all the innovative school districts with which I’ve worked in the past (there are a few exceptions) have been and continue to be campuses where Apple computers predominate. There are a lot of reasons for this.

I do not know of a single public school district in Oklahoma using Windows-based laptops for a K-12 1:1 laptop initiative. My thought on this is: Why would any informed school leader WANT to use windows-based systems for 1:1 learning? When you have an extensive understanding of multiple operating systems, you are interested in empowering learners (both teachers and students) to become media CREATORS and not merely consumers, and you don’t enjoy battling constant malware attacks on your school network….. the choice to select Apple as your school computing platform becomes readily apparent and easy to make. As leaders of the higher education 1:1 laptop initiative at the University of Texas at Austin shared with our group on a site visit back in 2005, a successful 1:1 learning project is SO MUCH MORE than answering the question, “How cheaply can your company deliver these laptops to my organization’s loading dock?” A key question to ask is: What computer platform can best enable our learners to achieve the LEARNING goals of our organization?

If your school district is just focused on coercing teachers and students to achieve minimum standards on state mandated assessments, through a combination of distasteful tactics focused on inspiring fear as well as a dislike for public schooling overall, by all means DON’T suggest a laptop initiative. Don’t plan on your district experiencing sizable GROWTH either, however, based on the innovative approach your teachers are taking toward learning in the 21st century. Howe Public Schools continues to GROW in its rural area, and the reasons seem pretty clear. Students and teachers are engaged in digital learning which can not only be fun and meet “the standards,” but also helps them develop the skills they’ll need for success in the workforce of the 21st century.

Educational technology can be exciting and “sexy,” but the bottom line question to ask is, “What and how are students and teachers being empowered to CREATE and COLLABORATE using the technology?” In the case of Howe Public Schools, the answer is “a lot of media with a lot of videoconferencing and web publishing.” There is digital EVIDENCE of this available in the above links– just watch a few episodes of the Howe PS podcast, CLE Live, to see for yourself. If you’re online tomorrow at 10 am US Central, check out the live broadcast by Howe students from our state capitol.

How are we going to change the predominant pedagogy in our schools to a more student-centered, constructivist model, and reverse the destructive agenda advanced by NCLB to an educational vision which values and actually supports 21st century skills? Part of the answer is by AMPLIFYING the outstanding digital work of students in our local communities, both here on the global stage of the Internet as well as in our towns, in face to face meetings with parents and others.

Go Howe, Lowrey, and Crescent! How much are 4 bedroom houses in your communities running these days, anyway? Got room for a new family in town?

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  • http://tech4learning.wordpress.com Cindy Seibel

    Well done Oklahoma. Our district is also engaged in several 1:1 initiatives. A couple examples: a teacher 1:1 laptop project and an mlearning for ESL students that uses assistive technologies including laptops and mp3 players.

    We use both Apple and Windows computers, and we are a large urban district. Our schools each choose one predominant platform for their site. The challenges are not so much in using a Windows platform for learning as you suggest, but rather managing a mixed environment at the district level.

    We are also fortunate to have ubiquitous wireless LAN capability, also unusual for a large urban district (we found rural districts in North America with full wireless, but no urban districts in our search). We think the network is key to supporting the growth of 1:1 initiatives in our schools.

    We are tackling the issues associated with students taking the laptops home (risk loss, use liability, etc) through a test case at one of our schools. And we’ve designed a special student network that supports the use of student-owned devices without comprosing the district network.

    Would love to connect with other districts, especially large urbans, that are on this same path.

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  • Sarah

    There’s a high school in the town in which I attend school that uses a 1:1 ratio for laptops for students, not in every classroom, but in many. The students are not allowed to take the computers home of course, but in the class I observed, the students could look up pictures on the internet or find stories, and complete and turn in their homework assignments online. I thought it was such a great thing. So I completely agree with your stance in this area. This will only happen gradually, but at least some schools have started.
    To take this in a different direction, I do not want the computers to completely overtake the role of the teacher. The teacher should still be able to teach and facilitate the learning and only use the computers as a tool to aide in the learning, not to do the teaching themselves. Otherwise high school would become even more monotonous and boring to some than it already is.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    I agree with you, of course, that the role of the teacher is vital and as important as ever. It is important to note that there are two broad camps of thinking in education, however, and one of these camps can theoretically support the replacement of the teacher– particularly at secondary and higher ed levels. Those who view learning as solely a transmission process, where teachers are “filling a pail” (the mind of the student) can be replaced to a large extent by technology. Those who take a constructivist view can’t. I take a middle view. Learning involves both the transmission of information as well as the personal reconstruction of ideas and schema around that content. That is why I am a staunch advocate for “blended learning” in various forms.

  • http://musingsfromtheacademy.wordpress.com/ musingsfromtheacademy

    Wes,

    I teach in Irving, Texas, where we have one-to-one laptops at the high school level (that the kids do take home with them), and we have been discussing ways to restructure and sustain our implementation program.

    Thanks for writing about this topic and pointing out some positive attributes to effective one-to-one programs.

    You are welcome to join in our discussion and give us your opinion http://musingsfromtheacademy.wordpress.com/2008/02/14/one-to-one-laptops-what-makes-it-work/

    Thanks again!

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Thanks for sharing the link! Irving ISD is one of the “exceptions to the pattern” districts I’ve worked in a bit (last summer) where innovative things are happening with Windows-based systems. I particularly admire the focus of the Irving laptop initiative, which according to your CIO has always been about 21st century literacy skills, and never about raising test scores. TxTIP forced that to be an evaluation criteria, but from what I understand that was never a reason the laptop project was started in Irving. I know you all have much to teach the rest of us who have either not started the 1:1 learning journey, or are just getting started.

    I’ll check out your discussion!

  • http://www.stager.org Gary Stager

    Who says that learning is the result of transmission?

    Isn’t “blended” learning just a political compromise implying a respect for the learner while teachers retain all of the power and agency? Teaching, with students straying a wee bit from the curricular path isn’t a new form of learning. It is teaching.

    This seems to me to be another example of the widespread confusion between teaching and learning.

    BTW: Why the effusive praise for a district with laptops that kids can’t take home? That misses the point and disrespects children on so many levels that it negates any good stuff the adults might do in the classroom. In my humble opinion.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Gary: I say learning is a combination of transmission and construction. I listened to the latest Seedlings podcast yesterday on my iPod as I commuted to and from a school district. Absent the transmission of that audio recording, via the Internet, via my iPod, into my ears, I wouldn’t have been able to have that learning experience. The transmission act itself did not result in the learning, it required me to receive, process, and think about the ideas that were shared. That is what I am considering the constructive process. It takes both. I don’t think this is a stretch or a compromise.

    In terms of praising Howe, I agree they need to let students take laptops home– but I am living in a state where only ONE public school district has EVER let kids take laptops home, and that was Frontier PS in the late 1990s. Now we have three districts with laptop projects, and 2 of them are going to let the kids take the laptops home. I live in a school district where, based on what I know, there are ZERO laptops for student use, even on carts. I’m not an advocate for laptop carts as an end-goal for educational computing, but even laptop carts for students to use at school are better than none. Believe me, I want to advocate for the educational revolution we need, and help bring it about. Change is happening in our schools incrementally tho, and I certainly want to celebrate school districts and school leaders who are going in what I consider to be the “right” direction. Yes, it’s evolution and not revolution. That is the only way we’re seeing change with regard to laptop learning in our state, tho, from what I’ve seen to date. If we are approaching a tipping point it seems a LONG way off. We have to support models of success for laptop learning so that others can follow suit.

    I had a long conversation with some of the educators and leaders working in one of our leading laptop districts today– and one of them mentioned how everyone always has an excuse to say why they can’t do it. You can’t do it in a poor district, you can’t do it in a large district, etc, etc. I am tired of the excuses too, but I am going to do everything I can to support those who are blazing this trail of laptop learning at a local level, so they can be successful and examples to others who are the “yeah, but” people…. (I’m borrowing that phrase from Marco Torres.

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