For most educators, when asked the question “What do you need to make technology more useful?”, the answer is often “more computers”. But sometimes more computers used in the same old way isn’t necessarily better. Let’s look at a typical high school of 1500 students and three available computer labs. With class sizes of 35 students, there would be approximately 40 classes per period. The three labs would accommodate less than 8 percent of the students. If the school had the room to build three more labs at a cost of about $50,000 not including the wiring and furniture,only 15% of the students would be served.
Spend another $100,000 for six more labs and you’re still serving less than a third of the students each period. Of course, teachers might not need to take students to the labs daily. So assuming that each teacher would agree to take her class into the lab just once a week, three labs would serve less than 40% of the student body. And the real problem with this way of using technology is that computers aren’t used in a real world sense. You and I don’t use our computer from 1:45 to 3:15 on Thursday. We use the computer when we need to use it. If we want to construct meaningful learning, then we have to come up with better ways for our students to interact with technology in meaningful ways.
So let’s try a bit of creative thinking and not assume that more desktop computers sitting in more labs is the answer. So, for a few minutes, turn off the voice in your head that says “that won’t work” and let’s look at some out-of-the-box ideas:
1. Free and Reduced Computers: We do it for lunch, why not for technology? Let’s require that every student own a computer. Those that can’t afford a computer can get a reduced price on a computer. Those who still can’t afford it will get a free one. We’ll use the same form we do for free and reduced lunches. Computers could costs as little as $100 each. If we took 1/100 of the money spent in fighting wars in the middle east. . . .well that’s another discussion altogether.
2. Encourage Cell Phone Use: The battle to keep cell phones out of schools, or at least turned off, has been lost. Wave the white flag and surrender. Since most students already have these little hand-held computers, let’s take advantage of them. If we don’t somehow blend public education with how students use technology when they are not in school, we’ll be the losers. Let students text homework assignments, use phones as student response systems, and, for smart phone owners, let them look things up on the Internet or post answers to your WordPress site. What about equity? See #1 above.
3. Change the School Day: If we’re preparing students for life as adults, let’s make sure they develop the skills to deal with complex issues. To do that we’ve got to stop compartmentalizing everything. Project based learning works at all grade levels and it allows greater integration of technology than breaking subject matter into finite pieces. Students in grades 9 and 10 might be in an all morning integrated program where science, language arts and math are blended together with technology around social justice issues. Tenth and eleventh graders are in a similar program around other core content. Computers and other technology would be available for individuals or small teams depending on need, not the time of day.
4. Make the beneficiaries of a Good Education Pay for Part of it: If local employers want a well-educated work force, then make them pay for part of it. Sure we all pay taxes, but let’s up the ante a bit by starting a “buy one get one free” program. Let’s match dollar for dollar contributions by local companies to purchase individual computers for students. The One Laptop per Child Foundation has it right.
So what do YOU think? What ideas can you throw at the wall to see if they stick? What among the 4 ideas above makes any sense and what is off the mark? Any and all ideas are welcome. Comment away and let’s start the conversation. Here’s where more is actually better.