I recently read this NPR report about Mark Zuckerberg’s claim that technology in the classroom can help with education equity. The article carries an air of skepticism. While usually incredibly disinterested in Zuckerberg and Zuckerberg-related topics, this is something I have been thinking a lot about lately—or at least, specifically technology and education equity. And, as a teacher, I’ve grown very certain of one thing:
A quality education involves every single student possessing a school laptop or similar device.
Nothing short of that. I feel as if many people recoil from this idea, thinking a child being given a laptop from school—or a school being able to afford that many laptops—indicates something luxurious, a spoiled child. Obviously this is a financial challenge, but one of utmost importance. Education is substance. This isn’t even encompassing what education could be, but in the very least what it should involve to be of quality. On the brink of 2016, to learn without a computer is to go without a practical education.
The idea of “One Laptop Per Child” is hardly a new one. If you’re around my age, you remember shuffling off to computer class in elementary school and tapping away at those Apple IIs. But this is not what I’m talking about, not this “specials” class that occurs every other day or the occasional booking of a computer lab. Labs are nice, but we need integration of computer programs into every aspect of education. This means the presence of an on-hand tool at all times within the learning environment.
Personal access to laptops has been argued to benefit students by teaching them how to use a computer, motivating and engaging learners, and helping them stay organized. Not to mention what it brings to the table for individualized education services. These are a given, but emphasis is not necessarily always placed on what I feel is most important for students: the connection with school and the work place. All schools are focused now on the idea of college and career readiness, but aside from the initial implication of those buzzwords, what does it really mean to be college and career ready?
I believe in order to be career ready, students need to operate in an environment that reflects actual work environments. Everything should be genuine, not a cardboard cut-out classroom. Students should be given control and responsibility within a professional setting for them to operate, in which they are taken seriously. The classroom should be part of the real world as much as possible, because, hell, it is the real world, isn’t it? If it’s all artificial preparation for an abstract setting, then why bother?
What is useful are real world applications. Programs used within companies. Web sites commonly used in the work place. The expression of intricate ideas via social media. I have two different school experiences to draw from, one in terms of college readiness in seventh graders, the other in terms of career at the high school level.
Last year, I facilitated a long-term research project with the seventh graders in which we took a set of Chromebooks and the students had to individually research a topic of their choice, as long as it was related to American civil rights. The students loved it and dug up more information on their own than I could have forced them to read. In order to find useful information for their paper, they had to practice the basic skill of ascertaining the quality of an internet source—which a 12 year old is very bad at. But they needed to learn, and so they did. Unfortunately, the laptops weren’t theirs and they had never really set up a drive of any sort, so the writing organization wasn’t easily accomplished using files and folders, and a lot of paper was used to jot things down. Still, the students had an array of notes and sources at their desk as they researched on the computer. Very much like it would be for a student writing an assignment for a college class. Ideally, if the students had a drive already established, we could have practiced organizing notes and files in a folder for the project. They could have had research for multiple classes divvied up in their own personal work space. Without that, the research was a bit of a mess and many students (being the 12 year olds they were) lost their notes and had to start over at some point.
The high school example is a much better one. I’m currently working at a nice school district that, despite being composed of some lower middle-class townships, has somehow been managed well by administration and allocated funds wisely. Every student is given a Chromebook to keep for as long as they attend. The STEM wings of the building are also up-to-date with engineering and printing equipment. They’re impressive to see. When I subbed in an engineering lab, the students all took out their laptops and pulled up software used to design models. The graphic designing students had up-to-date software, and with their imaginations and the equipment they could create almost anything they wanted. Google Classroom is employed so the students have constant access to their classwork and they frequently email their teachers. When I substitute for a subject I hardly know, like say, math of any sort, I can pull up a program on a SMARTboard and let an interactive video lesson on the topic unfold, letting students walk up to the board and teach their own classmates while I facilitate.
Not only that, but the high school has its own student-run IT program. Students can work for the school IT, sitting at the desk in the library during certain assigned periods, and fix other students’ laptops. A few are sent to teachers’ classrooms to fix desktops or help a teacher with a program that isn’t working right. Every time I’ve seen a technological issue being addressed, it’s been by a student. The experience is invaluable—to be able to graduate from high school while possibly having up to 4 years of IT work experience is an incredible leg-up.
The attitude is not that their laptop is a personal play thing, but equitable to a work laptop. Necessary for personal business.
The Zuckerberg article treats the idea of personalized learning as simply a buzzword, and though buzzword it may be, it is also more than that. There is actual substance behind the idea of students using not just one academic tutor program but multiple real world programs that give them experience before they are even out in the working world. The evidence provided in the article that the use of technology only introduces a digital divide involves free online courses, already accessed by the privileged. But I’m saying free on the side isn’t good enough here—we need schools that provide the tools. The schools need the money to do this. The article says that in order for the laptop use to be implemented, schools need to be “redesigned, in some cases classrooms rebuilt or reconfigured, and teachers need to be retrained and supported to use tech more effectively” as if this already hasn’t been happening for years. The flipped classroom is becoming more and more common, and teachers are in constant training regarding new technology and programs.
Money is needed to make the build up that is already occurring bloom into an effective and beneficial system. The outcome is only positive, and we need to reinforce this as much as possible. Money needs to go to education in order to make this ideal a reality: a nation where the students are well-equipped in order to innovate and help improve individual communities and solve global problems.On their school-provided personal laptop.
You don’t do those things with just a pen and a paper anymore.