Thursday, March 15, 2007

achieving 1:1 computing in education

Tom Hoffman adds to Miguel Guhlin's thoughts regarding 1:1 computing initiatives in schools and the "entrenchment of anti-technology" attitudes that often come when administrators/coordinators feel pressure to prove the value of such investments. Tom ends his post saying:
"We need laptops that are cheap and functional enough that nobody thinks they will go away, that we can afford whether or not they are being used perfectly."
This gets right to the heart of the matter. One imagines a future where computer life-span is extended considerably and machines are so affordable that a school's tech budget no longer sticks out like a sore thumb. We need cooperation and vision to reach Tom's described goal.

So how do we get (the sooner the better) there? We support projects like this. The OLPC project is visionary in a couple of ways. First, it actively increases the value of the computer by removing all mechanical devices. That's right. No hard disk, no CD, DVD, or floppy drives, not even a fan. Less moving parts means less wear-and-tear. Less wear-and-tear means less repair which translates into financial savings. Second, OLPC machines are designed around FLOSS. While giving the user the freedom to study, share, and tinker (can that be any more educationally sound?), FLOSS is usually obtained for low or no cost and avoids proprietary licensing arrangements that often force costly upgrades and anti-virus software. Furthermore, machines that can run FLOSS are typically useful for longer periods of time. That is, proprietary upgrades often make otherwise useful hardware obsolete sooner than need be.

Tech coordinators (and administrators/teachers) dislike the worry over whether or not the ability of the teaching staff to skillfully utilize computer access will justify the tremendous financial expenditure involved in sustaining a 1:1 environment. The concern should be pedagogically, not fiscally, focused. Nonetheless, it's an unavoidable worry that must be least for now. Unfortunately, this often leads to awkward and artificial pressure (whether consciously or not) being placed on teachers to "step in line" with the institution's tech requirements. Of course, teachers should be encouraged to use technology when appropriate and good teachers will do so regardless. But this process will work best when it comes about naturally. Meeting Tom's goal implies that natural scenario for teachers to dive right in. Support for innovative, FLOSS-based laptops is the most expeditious and socially sound way of bringing about the change schools need to realize a sustainable and effective 1:1 computing environment.

See more about OLPC here and the Taiwan-based ODM (Original Design Manufacturer) Quanta Computer Incorporated here.

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