Laptops are getting cheaper by the minute. In setting the bar to deliver the world’s first $100 laptop, Nicholas Negroponte, Chairman of One Laptop Per Child, inspired the development of an entire class of low cost machines now available to schools. Low cost laptops from $200 to $350 are now hitting the market. Furthermore, one developer is now promising a $75 unit by 2009.
With one-to-one computing fast becoming an affordable reality for schools, it is essential that we carefully consider what has and has not worked in prior implementations so we do not repeat past mistakes. Teaching Matters is in the process of piloting low cost laptops. We are carefully monitoring and documenting (via an online blog) what is and is not working for classrooms.
One-to-One Computing: Does It Even Matter?
The jury is still out on the benefits of one-to-one computing. Many educators believe that until we seamlessly integrate technology into schools, we will not adequately prepare students for life and work in the 21st century. Others see technology as largely irrelevant to student achievement. It is in fact true that when new technologies are introduced into classrooms their use is often emphasized above learning. Goldman, Cole, and Syer (1999) note that “the technology learning curve tends to eclipse content learning temporarily; both kids and teachers seem to orient to technology until they become comfortable.” Furthermore, as reported by the New York Times, school districts often drop one-to-one computing because they end up spending too much time and money on repair and maintenance.
In a 2004 article, Lorrie Jackson, noted expert on one-to-one education, summarized research provided by The Center for Applied Research in Education Technology (CARET) that shows the positive effects of one-to-one computing on learning including: (1) increased quality and quantity in writing, (2) greater student collaboration, and (3) greater teacher awareness of student progress. She went on to offer several reasons why schools invest in one-to-one environments. They include improving student engagement, complementing project-based learning, and taking advantage of teachable moments among others.
At Teaching Matters we believe that creating effective one-to-one learning environments requires: (1) a redesign of the curricula to incorporate technology to address specific teaching and learning challenges, (2) professional development that focuses first and foremost on improving teaching practice in the core curriculum areas and (3) implementation of both traditional and performance based assessments to capture data on whether enriched learning has indeed taken place.
Teaching Matters Pilots the XO in Harlem
Teaching Matters recently announced an important and exciting experiment to test the implications and promise of the OLPC XO laptop for writing instruction. Working in collaboration with Kappa IV, a small middle school in Harlem, we have provided enough XO laptops to sixth grade students to explore three important questions:
- Will middle school students accept low cost XO laptops as an alternative to the more costly high end devices?
- Will the XO laptop reduce a school’s Total Cost of Ownership (e.g., cost of hardware, maintenance, and training)?
- Will the XO implemented with curriculum designed for one-to-one classroom environments improve student learning?
The XO laptops have been introduced with our web-based middle school literacy curriculum and professional development program, Writing Matters. The program takes full advantage of the power of these computing devices to make learning relevant and engaging for students while supporting teachers’ focus on instruction. Online commentator Wayan Vota writes, “This is the first OLPC pilot that I know of where the implementing organization is looking at Total Cost of Ownership, teacher adoption, and learning outcomes…”
Lynette Guastaferro, Executive Director for Teaching Matters, shares, “It’s important to experiment with these new low cost options in combination with content that is designed to make best use of the technology. The learning environments that work will be those that support teacher effectiveness, not software that attempts to ‘teacher proof’ instruction. It is exciting to design learning environments with this perspective.”
In its March 2008 newsletter, The Fund for Public Schools acknowledged our test with the Department of Education (DOE) as an ambitious initiative worth watching. The article went on to say that such public-private partnerships allow the DOE to “pursue flexible and innovative solutions to provide an excellent education to all of New York City’s 1.1 million public school students.”
Teaching Matters will soon be supporting pilots of OLPC and other low cost computing options in schools across the City. If you are interested in seeing this technology in action, and want to stay up to date on these initiatives, visit the OLPC in NYC Blog. If you are a school leader who would like to visit a school piloting an OLPC laptop, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.