This is part one of a two-fer (part two is about the accompanying digital curriculum). But, realistically, they cannot be separated.
I'll call for the easy thing first. We need a statewide 1-to-1 initiative, at the least for students in grades 3-12. Every student grade 3-12 needs a mobile computing device, be it a laptop, mini laptop, or some sort of handheld PDA device. Something that connects wirelessly to the internet and allows them to interact through the digital web 2.0 tools of today. And even if students PK-2 don't have their own device, they need access to one.
But that isn't all. Every school district needs the supporting network to allow that to happen. This means broadband access that allows for digital video streaming both down- and upstream. We had the vision in the state beforehand to put in high amounts of fiber (we're one of the leaders in the country here) for connection. We need to make sure every school district and building has that type of networking speed.
And, we need each district to allow access to the tools of the read/write web. When it comes to philosophies of technology in education, there is a spectrum, where on one end is security and the other end is access. Like other businesses, education has landed on the end of security, and with recent court decisions about archiving email and preventing cyberbullying, it has gotten tighter. But education is not like other businesses. We must provide a laboratory for opportunity and creativity with all the tools available.
Now before I move on to the second part, the biggest questions that come up are What's the Cost? and Will it work? Cost is, of course, a relative factor. So first, let's start with a premise, that as Dr. Leigh Zeitz pointed out at ITEC, "Ownership is more important than Loanership". The key is to get a device in every student's hands that is theirs. If that requires simpler machines to save on costs, so be it. The only things we cannot sacrifice is portability, wireless access to high-speed, ability to connect to the network and internet, and the ability to input information. Those are the non-negotiables.
The flip side of this is, higher-end machines do not build in more learning potential the way that "each student having one" does. "Anytime learning" cannot happen when the computer cart has a signout sheet. Students should not have to put their learning on hold for an evening if they cannot check out a computer.
That said, let's look at some figures.
• There are roughly 500,000 students in the state of Iowa. With our initiative, we'd be looking to go one-to-one with 3/4 of that population (just grades 3-12), or 375,000.
• The cost of the device can range tremendously. Apple and Dell laptop prices for schools historically have been around $1200, unless you are looking for add-ons (such as burners and more hard drive space). We are not... we want devices solely for the purpose of connecting students to the tools of the internet. New mini-laptops are even more affordable, and although they might sacrifice screen size and storage space, they don't give up much if anything in terms of our non-negotiables. Mini-laptops range in costs from $800 all the way down to $300 (the much publicized One Laptop Per Child Project has made the $100 mini laptop). Handheld devices could be even cheaper, from $150-$500. For those who are skeptical of this as a learning tool, try out an iPhone for its flexibility.
• We should take advantage of open software. Open Office or Google Docs, NVU, Skype, Audacity, and the host of web 2.0 tools out there. And, we should consider Linux, which will save on operating system costs as well as virus protection costs over Windows. (But we have to keep in mind our non-negotiable of having the machines networked... we have few technology coordinators well-versed in the usage of Linux networking).
• We should aim for the devices being replaced twice during the student's career. So, that would be 3 devices every 10 years. Number-wise, that will work out to 112,500 devices a year.
• To participate in this, the district would then provide the networking infrastructure (a minimum of 100 Mbps with a long-range plan to move to Gigabit) and the wireless access (a minimum of every classroom and learning space covered with 802.11g access, and again, a plan to improve once the shift to "n" is deemed ready). They would also assure an overall broadband access commensurate with the number of students. Wesley Fryer recommends 5 Mbps up and down as a starting point. In addition, the district would need to have policies that promote access to these tools.
But, will it work? The answer... a conditional yes.
Yes it will work if there is another piece, the aforementioned local accountability and a digital curriculum. Connectivity is easy to gather data on with line-speed tests. But accountability on the access requires a thorough technology plan, much more thorough than the ones required during the Branstad money. One that promotes what I refer to as a digital curriculum (the topic of a future post). One that will be the subject of not only site reviews from the department, but also must maintain coordination with area educational agencies, local businesses, and the community to make sure they meet the 21st century skills of the Iowa Core.
This has been seen throughout the research. The best example is perhaps Maine, who uses a 1:1 initiative in their middle schools and has seen statistically significant improvement in their writing especially, among other areas.
If we have the resources and the planning and the curriculum and the accountability, it will work. Not just in test scores, but college admissions and employability skills. Which will result in a more knowledgeable work force, better jobs and higher wages. Which will result in more tax revenue, making the "total cost" a hard thing to determine. When one considers the cost of un-education, where graduates with a bachelor's degree make twice as much as high school graduates, and more than three times as much as those without high school diplomas, one can see this is a sound investment. When one considers that the top 10 most-needed jobs in 2010 didn't exist in 2004, and all require the high use of technology, it is more than a sound investment, it is a social obligation to meet the needs of our students.