Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Luna, wants to improve Idaho education. His initiative for education reform in Idaho, called “Students Come First,” has resulted in heated exchanges among educators, students, parents, administrators, and lawmakers.
In spite of the controversy, Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter signed into law Senate Bill 1184 on April 8, 2011, the final piece in Luna’s reform package. This bill includes curtailing teachers’ collective bargaining, phasing out tenure, implementing a merit pay system, and providing all 9th grade students with a laptop.
As an educational technologist and educator, my concerns and interests focus on technology in the schools. I encourage Luna to contact any of our faculty at Boise State to discuss current options for effectively and efficiently integrating technology into Idaho schools. It is not too late to provide the best technology for Idaho students. I’ve messaged Luna on his Facebook page (does he actually read it?) and will send him an email through the Department of Education website (which ironically is down right now).
And here is what I would tell him:
It’s a great idea to get computers in the hands of all students. However, I think you have overlooked an essential element–CONNECTIVITY. A computer without Internet access is like a car with no gas in the tank–YOU CAN’T GO ANYWHERE. Effective use of computers includes ubiquitous and open access to the Internet and World Wide Web. There are still many students who do not have Internet access at home. When they take their state-issued laptops home, they will be lacking key elements of how we use computers–to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create.
I’ve written about this before, providing some solutions to this issue, such as funding mobile broadband access (Verizon MiFi) and opening the Internet at schools and libraries. However, the time couldn’t be more perfect for implementing Idaho’s laptop initiative. Just this week, Google announced offering its new Chromebook to students, leasing it for $20 per month, which would come out to $180 per school year per student. This has to be much less expensive than purchasing laptops. But the advantages don’t stop there.
The Chromebook operates through its web-based Chrome OS, which means all software is accessed online. Students will do their work using the free web-based tools and save it online. If they lose or break a computer, their work is always available through logging into their account on another computer. Critical software updates are performed automatically and virus attacks will be non-existent. The computers should run flawlessly, with little need for technical support.
In order to use these laptops, students will need to be online. The Chromebook offers two models, one with Wi-Fi and the other with Wi-Fi/3G. The 3G laptop would be especially useful to students who do not have Internet access at home. Idaho libraries already offer an after-school alternative for students to use free Wi-Fi for completing homework and other assignments. And schools could also offer after-school and weekend options for accessing the Internet.
There are additional financial savings–NO MICROSOFT SOFTWARE AND LICENSES TO PURCHASE. School districts pay a lot of money for software and licenses. With student work being done using Google software and collaborative tools, the savings could be substantial.
What would Idaho schools need to do to effectively use these laptops? First, the Internet would need to be open at schools and libraries. Applications like Google Apps, blogging software, YouTube, and other often-blocked sites would need to be accessible. A clear Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) would need to be in place for the system to work. Second, teachers would need professional development and training in order to adapt their instruction and curriculum to cloud-based computing.
What about software programs that students need to use that might not be available on the Chromebooks? Existing computer labs and portable laptop carts could accommodate these needs.
Would all students need these laptops? Absolutely not. Students who already have their own computers could bring those to school. We might want to set up a system (like our free- and reduced-lunch programs) that offer Chromebooks to students who need them. Simply giving laptops to all students does not seem like a fiscally responsible or logical plan. If Idaho used a needs-based approach, then we should be able to supply Chromebooks to more than just 9th graders.
For more information about the Google Chromebook, watch this videoand read about it on the Google Chromebook website.
And, of course, do a Google search for current news. Chromebooks will be available through BestBuy and amazon.com starting June 15, 2011. Isn’t it time we started using technology in the schools like we use it in the real world?
So, that is my suggestion to Tom Luna, for his laptop initiative. What do you think? What questions do you have? Please let me know by posting a comment below. And as always, thanks for reading.