Think Different – Lose the Cart!
Not published by District Administration Magazine
© 2002 Gary S. Stager
Dear Mr. Jobs:
Congratulations on the recent success of Apple’s new
products. Educators seem quite excited by the new iMacs, eMacs, iBooks and
Xserve servers. iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie and iDVD offer
kids of all ages unprecedented opportunities for self-expression.
As an educator who led professional development in the
world’s first laptop schools twelve years ago, I am thrilled to see American
schools finally embracing the power of personal computing for children. It’s
terrific that you have partnered with Maine to make it the first state on the
planet committed to a laptop computer per student. When you speak of Apple’s digital
hub strategy - how computers offer the processing, storage and distribution
power to accentuate human creativity and enhance the value of our devices
– you’re really in tune with the mission of educators.
However, your company is running a disturbing advertising
campaign in the school, market, “Computer lab. To go.”
Do we really want to reinforce the concept of the computer lab? What happened
to the throw caution to the wind, power
to be your best Apple of yore?
The computer lab is an artificial environment in which kids
who already know how to use computers are taught to do so again, but with less
time, access and freedom than they are accustomed to outside of school.
Computer labs are historical oddities separated from the curriculum by a
firewall thicker than that, which keeps kids from researching breast cancer
online. The computer lab on wheels is a capitulation to the conservatism of
schools. It does not recognize that the laptop is as Seymour Papert says, “the
prime instrument for today’s intellectual work.”
To borrow from your most famous
television commercial, “Computer lab. To
go.” IS just like 1984.
While I know that you understand that the iBook offers the
potential for every kid to have a wireless laboratory and multimedia design
studio in their schoolbag, You need to do a better job
conveying this to educational decision-makers.
I have taken the liberty of outlining some reasons why you
should help schools think different about laptops and education.
Quality work takes time
Learning, working and discussion are no longer confined to
the bell schedule. Quality projects require a great deal more time and
technological processes like video compression often take longer than a
Kids can and should be trusted with a laptop
Experience from Harlem to Sydney has proven time and time
again that kids are capable of being responsible for their own personal laptop
computer. At a time when we worry about personal responsibility, it’s a good
time to trust students to do the right thing.
Kids may write, conduct research, collaborate, program in
MicroWorlds, edit iMovies and share their productions around the clock. Skills
introduced in school are practiced, refined and enhanced through the types of
meaningful playful work kids do with their computers outside of school. All of
this time to learn must have a positive effect on achievement and student
Teacher professionalism is enhanced
Teachers who carry laptop computers think more highly of
their work and themselves. The laptop offers teachers the ability to prepare
for school, continue their education, collaborate with
peers and even work with students beyond the school day.
Family life may be enhanced
Anecdotes abound about how a child brought their laptop home
and used it to teach a parent to read or prepared a relative to seek a job in
which computer skills were necessary. Parents have been amazed and delighted by
the confidence and competence displayed by their laptop-toting children.
The digital divide may be closed
Maine Governor King knows that the only way to close the
digital divide is to ensure that every kid has a personal computer. The laptop
allows for that divide to be closed at school and at home.
The community gets involved
Citizens in one of New York’s troubled districts know to
look out for kids toting laptop bags. Computer hobbyists may create
opportunities for kids to learn more about computing through clubs and informal
mentoring. Kids can use their laptops to contribute to the needs of the
Kids have access to a world of ideas without waiting for
their Mom to drive them to the library
The Internet not only offers unprecedented research
opportunities, but a vehicle for publishing your own work for a potentially
infinite audience. Kids can engage in collaborative projects without waiting
for a parent to drive them across town. Soon projects may involve collaboration
Terrific warranties and insurance are now available
Extended warranties and low-cost insurance address any
maintenance, theft or loss concerns that may arise.
Charge ‘em at home – Use them at school
New laptops provide enough battery life to last the school
day without the need to dock in an expensive cart.
New models of learning, teaching and schooling may emerge
Quite simply, embracing this powerful intellectual tool and
acknowledging the fact that learning is a continuous process may lead to all
sorts of new insights, structures and policies for the future of education.
Work typically done in class can now occur at home and class may be used for
the types of activities requiring a group of highly motivated learners to be
together face-to-face for an extended period of time. Distributed learning,
time shifting, extended or shortened school days all become possibilities. The
investment in truly personal computers taken home by children offers a
remarkable laboratory in which to construct the future of education.
Here’s to the crazy
ones who will free computers from the shackles of computer labs and newfangled
carts by giving kids freedom to be their