Louisiana’s laptop initiative, “Turn on to Learning, Critical Learning Tools for the 21st Century,” was funded by a $5 million legislative appropriation and has put an Apple MacBook computer into the hands of more than 3,500 sixth-graders and 150 teachers across the state.One of the more interesting things about the program is that it isn't focused solely on laptops; it also included digital tools that offer a more robust way to interact with the world using the computer:
Each classroom also gets supporting equipment and software valued at almost $3,000, including a storage-battery charging cabinet, wireless access station, printer, data projector, an external hard drive, digital camera and a digital microscope.The wireless access station, coupled with the built-in WiFi N that built into macbooks emulates the connectivity that the OPLC laptops discussed in yesterday's post offer. (The macs could even more closely emulate that model by flicking a switch in its WiFi preferences that would make each laptop to also function as an access point the way OLPC computers do by default. The kids could then remain connected to each other via an ad hoc network while doing fieldwork at a museum, for instance.)
The projector makes it easy to cast a screen image big enough and bright enough to be used as a common teaching tool; the equivalent of the blackboard. Providing such analogs to established practice are essential to the benefits of teacher's existing teaching skills. Good for Apple and the Lousisiana program.
The camera and microscope are nice additions and its easy to see how a sixth graders could use them. (In the realm of capturing images, each macbook has its own built-in video camera, low res admittedly, but more than adequate for the sorts of video-enabled interaction that I dreamed about in yesterday's post. I once helped work a fun project in a community center in Delaware that used cheap digital cameras to help tie school learning to the life kids live at home. Some amazing stuff is possible using such tools.
The West Feliciana tech director mentions the differences that such technology can make in the way we teach children. Changing the assumptions that drive educational practice has proven hard; technology's greatest gift may not be anything intrinsic to the technology but that it provides the excuse to begin teaching the way that we have known we should for more than a century.
It's all very interesting and Lafayette's participation in such program still seems to me like one of the more obvious ways to leverage the integrated fiber/wifi network that we are currently building. We'd be smart to encourage the kids to learn how to use our shiny new network fully. They'll figure it out a lot faster than us old fogeys (by which I mean -- roll eyes -- the over 12 set). Once they get it, they can teach us.
“This whole process is going to change the way we go about educating children,” West Feliciana Parish school technology Director Jerome Matherne said.
“Under the one-to-one concept, the teacher will no longer be the ‘sage on the stage,’ dispensing information. The teacher will be more of a facilitator because students now will have access to the information themselves,” Matherne said.
“You may have heard the saying, ‘We’re drowning in information, but starving for knowledge.’ That’s going to be the (teacher’s) challenge,” he said.
It's an interesting world we live in.