Yesterday I attended EdubloggerCon, an unconference organized by Steve Hargadon. In the sessions on Best Practices in 1:1 Laptops and Bringing the Family along for Learning, the conversation centered at times around the Digital Divide.  One of the things I love about the ISTE conference is hearing all of the innovative and exciting projects and initiatives that people are doing in their classrooms, schools and districts. However, I live in a different world than many. Teaching in an enormous, urban district that is controlled by the State (we have no School Board) often makes my perspective and situation unique and different from others. 

When the topic of taking laptops home came up, there were mixed opinions. I tweeted out the question of whether students should take laptops home and got a variety of responses. One person brought up insurance concerns. Another said that students should be buying their devices. In the face to face conversation there was a consensus that students should be taking devices home in order for them to be effective learning devices.

Here is where the conversation got really engaging.

A few people were commenting that kids were going to be bringing their own devices into school anyway because they owned them already. I commented that my students don’t even have smartphones (most of them use pre-paid phones), and most of them don’t have the financial ability to buy a laptop.  Then I brought up the idea of a ‘rent to own’ system where students make payments toward their laptop until they own it.  To me, this seemed like the perfect solution. If students know that they will one day own the computer, they are more likely to take care of it and more likely to take the time to learn the ins and outs of how it works. This also eliminates the need for districts and schools to spend large amounts of money on insurance.

It was the perfect solution until I was sitting in the Family session and the point was made that if a child attends public school and is required to have a laptop, that it would have to be provided to them by the school. Then, one of the session participants offered the solution of using Title I money to subsidize the laptops. We already have 100% of our students who receive free breakfast lunch, so why not use that distinction to divert Title I funds toward subsidizing the devices for those students who qualify for free/reduced lunch. In my school, all of the devices would most likely be subsidized, but in schools with a more diverse socio-economic population, this would help decide who would buy a laptop straight out and who would be subsidized.

All of this got me thinking: are laptops the new pencil, notebook, paper, pencil sharpener, etc…that parents are required to send their child to school with?

This would be a huge shift in thinking and practice for public schools, and I’m even sure it would work, but the Digital Divide is real and the need for access is real. 

How do we ensure that technology literacy isn’t a privilege for those who can afford it?

7 Comments

  1. Reply

    In Maine we are a 1:1 state in 6-8 grade – all junior high student get a laptop (a MacBook), yes they do take them home, yes they do things they are not supposed to, yes they break them, and yes they learn with them. Yes they also do loose the privilege of using them, which really sucks in the classroom when everyone else is using the laptop and they have to use PNP. Good motivation to do things "more" right.

    In my opinion it works because they all have them and no one is left behind because of socio-economic issues.

  2. Reply

    Technology has & will continue to be, for some time, a socio – economic divide. It is sad, but the reality. I like your idea about using Title I funds. But I think it goes beyond this. In a recent speech on education the Obama administration stated the imperative need to not only integrate technology, but use it as if it were pencil, paper, & books. I agree whole – heartedly; as this is how we allow every child an equal opportunity upon graduation. I think that laptops should be a mandatory supply provided for EVERY child by their school district. If they need it to learn, the school should provide it. Schools don't ask them to buy their math/science/social studies textbooks.

    The other issue is access. Not access to the laptop, but internet access. This nonsense of schools dictating which sites their students can & can not visit needs to stop. All that's happening is limiting one's ability to think for him/herself. And as educators, it is our responsibility to teach children how to do just that. Yes, there will be misuse, but you provide a consequence to the child who misused, not the entire student body (like ME).

    So…what do we do until the Digital Divide is conquered? Whatever we can. Write grants, ask for donations from parents & businesses (they are the ones driving 21CS), take our children on frequent field trips to locations that provide public computer use (libraries), ask the students who DO have the technologies we want to use to share.

  3. Dan Fink

    Reply

    @ Tracy Your reasoning is that of a child, not as a mature adult who understands that the real world must be filtered for youth consumption.

  4. Reply

    Harold,

    Thanks for your input. I am always looking for examples of how 1:1 is implemented in different schools and districts (and states!)

    I guess if you can swing putting laptops in the hands of students it is a great equalizer. I wonder how your district handles loss/damage of equipment. How responsible do they hold students?

  5. Reply

    Tracy,

    We do need to be creative problem solvers when it comes to providing resources for our students. Schools don't make students pay for textbooks, and if textbooks are online or on e-readers then schools may be able to save money on materials that become outdated very quickly. Granted, the life of a computer is not very long, either.

    It will be interesting to watch how districts handle these challenges!

  6. Reply

    My school is similar to yours – about 90% on free and reduced lunch. I've never thought about using Title money to purchase laptops for these students. However, there is no way my district would consider doing that – they are so locked into using the money for resources (people & materials) to help these kids become better readers. We all know, it's coming down to the test scores.

  7. Reply

    It's sad where the Title I funds get allocated. It's hard to break with tradition, too. When admins are used to blocking out X amount of dollars for textbooks, it requires creative thinking that often seems daunting. Not that I pretend to have ever tried to put together a school's budget 🙂 I do wish that teachers had more say in the budget, though. It's always been a mystery how the money gets spent.

    As far as test scores go–that's where the real money is. Sometimes I think I'm in the wrong business 🙂

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