Governor Mike Rounds in South Dakota is advocating for a statewide laptop program for students in grades 6-12.

Based on Sunday’s Sioux City Journal article “Watertown High School a leader in laptop learning,” (use bugmenot to bypass registration if desired) some South Dakota schools are already piloting laptops for all students. The advocacy by Watertown High School principal Brian Field for the initiative is typical of others elsewhere in the nation, citing 21st Century literacy skills and digital literacy requirements for students as reasons for the project. His quotation in the article is:

The laptops allow our teachers and students to engage in 21st century learning skills, including research and communication, critical thinking and problem solving, and self direction and self discipline.

The statewide project proposed by Governor Rounds involves both local and state funding, with schools providing “$2 for every $1 provided by the state.” The current South Dakota state education secretary, Rick Melmer, was Watertown’s superintendent at during the planning phase of the high school’s laptop initiative.

The Watertown High School laptop use policy does not specifically mentioned email or instant messaging, which leaves the impression that use of these tools by students during class time IS permitted. Instant messaging is NOT specifically mentioned in the campus AUP either.This contrasts with some of our TxTIP campuses, which prohibit student use of email and IM during the school day. Students at Watertown High School are permitted to load additional software on their Gateway WinXP laptops, in addition to preloaded software. Both Windows MovieMaker and Inspiration are included in this standard software bundle, but not PhotoStory.

The school has a published reward and punishment system relating to laptops which is interesting. According to the policy, students can have their privileges to use MS Office on their laptop suspended as a consequence for unacceptable behavior. Again there is no mention of IM. I would guess most students would view suspension from IM as a greater penalty than a prohibition against using MS Office. The reward system document does indicate that “Approved Software installation at the Help Desk” is a reward for good behavior. A list of potentially approved and previously approved software programs is not available, however.

I am quite interested in how schools are establishing policies relating to disruptive technologies like IM, voice chat and videoconferencing programs because I am convinced the social and interactive power of these tools should be leveraged rather than banned in the 21st century classroom. Hopefully Governor Mike Rounds will lead his state with same sort of visionary leadership that Angus King led with in Maine in establishing the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. Hopefully MLTI will be renewed, a new vendor RFP for MLTI was released by the state on January 13th.

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