Teacher Connectivity?

We had a faculty meeting today.  During the meeting, it came up that kids were using the photocopier outside our technology department office inappropriately during evening study hall.  As a consequence, the room will be locked at 3pm, and be unavailable for student use during the evenings.

Immediately, we got into a discussion of how students will get access to the library to print and photocopy as needed during evening study hall.

I said, “We know that our paper budget is skyrocketing, and a lot of it is students printing things they don’t need.  How about we require all digitally-generated paperwork from students to be submitted by e-mail?”

Instant outcry! “Oh, no. We don’t have sufficient access,” said one teacher. “I can’t get at my e-mail reliably,” said another. Loud chorus of agreement, and I was talked down. Given that I was already on the floor, this was pretty low indeed.

Last week, I attended a meeting of our technology committee.  During that meeting, I said, “If we want to be a school where technology is integrated into every class, we have to put laptops into the hands of every teacher. We can’t expect them to go to a faculty workroom to log in, check their e-mail, manage their workload, and plan their digital lessons there. They need a computer that they can work with, wherever they happen to be and whatever they need to be doing at that moment.”

I was shouted down gently redirected from my ax-grinding.

And I get the reason for not giving teachers laptops. It’s money, money, money.  To provide a powerful machine to every teacher at school is a $65,000+ expense.  And you can’t get some machines for some teachers, and others for others, so that math teachers get machines that run one kind of software and English and History teachers just get basic word processing, etc., because then you’re setting up envy and nastiness and unprofessional behavior and all that. So to put a line-item into the budget for over $65,000 that you’ll have to renew every three to five years is daunting.  Really daunting.  You could hire three new teachers for that (around here, at least — I know that’s not the industry standard, or even the average, haha).

But Wow.  Just WOW.

More than 50% of our student body have laptops.  Yet fewer than 15% of our teachers do, and mostly those machines are privately purchased (including mine) and tolerated on the school network.

And it’s dumb.

Everyone I know who bought a computer learned how to use it by fiddling around with it, particularly the Apple/Mac users. They bought it to write college papers and used it to start a business (that was me).  They bought it to keep a mailing list and used it to start a fundraising campaign that raised millions of dollars (that was my mother). They bought it get to the Internet and turned it into a server for their political activist organization’s website, mailing lists, and campaign organization.

The techno-savvy at this school have been pushing for this ONE, SPECIFIC CHANGE at this school for over ten years.  We know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that extraordinary things are possible when you empower people with computers — they find new programs, they learn new skills, they teach those skills to others, they start businesses, they bring in revenue, they communicate more easily, and more.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a teacher or not — having your own computer transforms your life.

We have resisted this one change at this school — at the level of individual teacher, department, administrators, and board — for a decade.  And yet it is the ONLY change that will do what we say we want: integrate the use and teaching of technology into every classroom in school.  And the result? Our teachers say in faculty meetings, “Oh, no… I couldn’t possibly accept student work by e-mail. I can’t get to my e-mail.”

Said Bruce Sterling, “The future is here; it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

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  1. I was watching a pro-d session of Alec Couros’ yesterday where he was asked how he found time to maintain his online life alongside his teaching and various other workloads. He said that he made time by shifting his focus as an educator: that instead of assessing in the ways of old, reading each of his students’ individual pieces and commenting on them, he directed his efforts to becoming a connected educator. “I give up the things that I don’t need to do anymore,” he said. “I connect to people.”

    If only gradually, the integration of social media – blogging, twitter, and integration of laptops, iPhones and iTouches – in my classroom, I have begun to see what he is talking about this year, and am ever-excited to see what this mode of connectivity might mean to the next few years. But to engage in this way is only possible with the proximity that a laptop, a smartphone, or netbook provides.

    Even though it’s frustrating in the meantime, hopefully they’re not shouting at you for long. In time, you’ll be vindicated.

  2. It’s truly depressing that we’re having these discussions in 2010, the 20th anniversary of my work in the world’s first “laptop schools.”

    I recommend reading – http://stager.tv/blog/?p=560 (Hard and Easy: Reflections on my ancient history in 1:1 computing – article)


    http://bit.ly/bBvIzn (Never Mind the Laptops… – book chronicling the history of laptops in education)

    A really important question to ask is, “Why don’t your teachers own their own laptop?”

    One of the most effective strategies employed in the early independent schools with laptops was subsidizing SOME (even 75%) of the cost of a teacher laptop, but an expectation that every teacher needed to have their own laptop. This created a sense of urgency, appropriation and customization.

    • I enjoyed your article. I’m looking forward to reading the book; I’ve put it on my wish list for the moment since tax day is coming.

      Our teachers don’t have laptops because administrators don’t make it a priority yet. Our subsidy program for laptops covers about (I admit, I’m guessing here) about 10% of purchase price — which means it doesn’t appear as a priority to the average teacher doesn’t see it as a priority.

  3. I just listened to Google’s launch of buzz which in my view is likely to take social media to a whole new level. Your post was the next thing I read. Talk about a let down. Never mind the next generation of social media, purposeful networks, and new learning/communication models, education is still stuck in an industrial paper based world. Ouch.

    It is inconceivable to me that any college professor would not have both a laptop and a web enabled mobile device. I don’t care if the college pays for it or not. How can any professor deliver a compelling student experience in this day and age without basic 21st century communication platforms.

    Higher ed is becoming less and less relevant and it is painful to watch.

  4. Andrew,

    I guess this post is leaving me a little confused – so I need some clarification…

    When I hear the word “school”, I envision a place where each teacher has a desk and on that desk sits a computer. Therefore saying “I can’t even get to my email” seems strange to me. Now it is quite possible that I am out of touch with the reality of some districts/private schools. So help me out here – why is it that the teachers can’t get to their email?

    The next question I have is what exactly are the students printing that is not necessary? I know in my younger day it was sometimes considered amusing for someone to sit their butt on the copy machine and make a copy of it. But I assume that would not be the problem you are addressing here. I know that a “only the first 100 pages per semester is free” policy has been set at one of the schools where I teach. Therefore students are now much more careful about what they decide to print out. However that can be controlled because everyone has to log in with their student ID and the program shuts off your printer access after 100 pages. Is anything like that in place where you teach?

    For the next question, excuse my lack of tech savvy, but would the software be that different for teachers in different departments that it would cause such a problem?? But like I said, I’ll stop talking about that now because I really don’t know enough to even understand the extent of my own question, I guess.

    As for students and computers… I would rather see it be a requirement that each student purchase a lap top in place of two or three expensive books that are often outdated before they even make their way into the hands of the students. But that is a blog post unto itself. Also I don’t know what the requirements are at your school regarding books. Do students have to purchase their own books? I am trying to think back in my memory to private high school many years ago. Unfortunately I can’t remember…

    Can you expound on some of these questions?


    • Dearest Carolyn,

      Thanks for stopping by! Always glad to have a new voice in the conversation.

      I do not teach in a room with a computer. The two faculty who use it (me and another) bring our personal laptops to school. There is a faculty workroom with three desktop machines. Some teachers have computers in their rooms; some of these don’t work, or are never used.

      Our students, like many, have books for their classes. These books are unusually large relative to the size of the children who must carry them.  Many students use our photocopier to copy the relevant pages for their homework, so they needn’t lug the whole book home or to evening study hall. Our printers and photocopiers are not set to make the “second hundred pages” expensive, as you describe.

      I don’t know whether the software for math instructors would be different /enough/ to require different computation engines. It might be. It might justify spending more for senior employees, merely that they are senior. However, it’s a moot point. We’re not planning to spend money of faculty machines that I know of.

      Students do in fact purchase their own books. I would like to see our students and faculty have iPads instead, despite my initial animosity to the machines; I’d like their texts to be on those machines rather than scattered willy-nilly in the halls.

      But of course, we don’t require students to buy laptops or digital textbooks, because many of our teachers don’t know how to work with digital textbooks. Or anything else digital. Why?

      Because they don’t have computers. Either they have desktop machines less powerful than the machines the students carry around school as expensive Facebook clients; or they must temporarily borrow one from the school workroom … which device must stay in the workroom.

      Hope this answers your questions.

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