It’s been nearly a whole school year since all of my students have always had MacBooks. It’s been interesting.
A few reflections on being part of a 1:1 laptop initiative:
It’s awesome. I love laptops. I love them more when everybody has one. I can’t imagine going back to a cart, or to any less “connected” system. Being able to rely on students’ consistent laptop use in and outside of class is great. I really have very few thoughts about the whole system that are less than extremely positive. From my perspective as a Humanities teacher, I appreciate the opportunities we’ve had to use these great tools in most lessons, and I definitely feel everyone’s projects have turned out a bit more contemporary, meaningful and interesting this year.
It’s cut out a lot of waste. We’ve done a lot of in-depth projects this year that in the past would have been much more wasteful and cumbersome in terms of paper, ink and time. No more projects getting “accidentally” deleted or lost (well, fewer). Much less time wasted transferring things with thumb drives or trying to connect to the school server. On my side, much less time wasted juggling folders of papers when grading. The time between my explaining an assignment to students and them actually starting work on it is often like 10 seconds where in previous years it might have been 5 minutes. True, some of this saved time is eaten away in turn by online distractions, but it’s a trade-off I’m glad to make.
It comes at a strange time when these individual devices are far more collaborative and “shared” than ever before. I don’t really know what to think about the convergence of individual laptops in everyone’s hands on the one hand, and cloud computing on the other. Students all have the same laptops, but a lot of the things we are doing could be done on any computing device in the world. It’s just interesting to think about how “personal computers” are not really personal any more. In terms of my classes, this means that we work on shared Google Docs a lot of the time, and students pass information around the classroom via chat and e-mail – and the connectivity doesn’t necessarily stop after school. We each have our own laptops, but in a sense we’re all using windows to the same shared space a lot of the time. I don’t have any real conclusions to draw from this, but I know that I like it.
It’s actually more like 2:1. I’ve encouraged the use of iPhones and iPods as optional parts of many assignments and I think this will only continue next year. Students document field trips, take notes, make calculations on, deliver speeches from, record voice with, record videos with, and, yes, play games on their smaller devices. Unless there are students who will be shut out of a particular activity because they don’t have a smartphone, teachers should be constantly thinking of ways to use these tools. Having them as auxiliary devices in addition to the laptops this year has been that much more powerful. On the other hand, teachers need to treat these just as we treat the more officially “educational” laptops – recognize that they have legitimate in-class uses, but also be vigilant for misuse. When I read articles about schools that enforce cell phone bans, I feel sad. They’re little computers! They’re amazing! There should be ways to use them in school.
Some students are struggling with laptop use, time management, and balance. So am I.
They might not always make the right choices, but they are more than able to understand complex issues of plagiarism and fair use. We’ve had several Digital Citizenship lessons at various times over the course of the year in Humanities class, and I’m always impressed by how sophisticated many students’ ideas about intellectual property often are. They know what remixes, remakes, reboots and parodies are, and they know when someone steps over the line. They know that pictures should be Creative Commons-licensed for their use if possible, but in any case should come accompanied with a link to where the picture came from. There have been some instances of cut-and-paste copying in students’ projects, but it’s so easy to spot, and so easy to avoid if projects are designed in a way that would make pasting impossible, that it’s been less of an issue than I would have thought.
There are still some things paper is good for – not many, but some. Brainstorming, mapping lost civilizations, designing superhero costumes, outlining an essay, making a Venn diagram – these are all examples of the type of things which I’m glad we still have paper for. All could be replicated on a laptop with a little effort, but there is some feeling of freedom or creativity involved in bringing something to life on a piece of paper that still, I think, has value. So I’m glad we have a few pieces still laying around. But I could do without them if I had to.
Consistency of devices plus plethora of tools goes hand-in-hand with increased student choice in project workflow. I think the fact that every student has the same basic laptop, with the same software installed, combined with the multiplicity and ubiquity of the online tools we use, has had a strange freeing effect on how I feel about how students use applications to complete work. Where, two or three years ago, I would have felt it necessary to specify “you must turn in a Word document, double-spaced, printed out on A4”, now I find myself saying things like “Pages, Keynote, Comic Life, Google Docs, iMovie, Prezi – you choose what’s best for you.” As long as students think that the tools they’re using fit with their plans for the project, and as long as they can get a finished project to me, I am much less worried about precisely which applications they are opening up to do it. And (aside from some teething problems most students seem to have with Prezi), I rarely find myself thinking “Gee, I really wish this project had been done in Powerpoint instead of Keynote.” In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever thought that.