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02/13/2007

The Year of the Laptop

To take full advantage of new technology, we need to fundamentally rethink our approaches to learning and education and our ideas of how new technology can support them."
~ Mitchell Resnick

Perhaps 2007 will be remembered as The Year of the Laptop.

The excitement was fairly palpable at the 2006 UN net summit in Tunis as MIT's Nicholas Negroponte introduced the summit delegates to a specially designed laptop that promises to narrow the technology gap between the rich and the poor. Negroponte, a leader in the $100 laptop" initiative, set up the non-profit One Laptop Per Child group to sell the laptops to developing nation governments. The foldable lime-green laptop is a model of a cheap but robust laptop and is heralded as an expression of global solidarity" by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan who believes that this laptop with open up the opportunity for children to be able to learn by doing, not just through instruction -- [that] they will be able to open up new fronts for their education, particularly peer-to-peer learning." There are plans to have millions of these $100 laptops in production within a year.

This announcement of the United Nations goal to provide one laptop per child was not without controversy as special interest groups reminded leaders that children in developing nations still lack access to even the most basic healthcare services and the infrastructures needed so all students can go to school.

Laptop excitement is not just exclusive to the United Nations. Thousands of miles away, a school in my hometown of Calgary, Alberta, is eagerly awaiting the beginning of their own laptop initiative. In the fall of 2007, they plan to put laptops in the hands of all their middle- and high-school students. This one-to-one initiative is part of this schools ongoing mandate to prepare students for a future economy that will rely on innovative use of technology.

If only it were that easy
The wise words of Dr Judi Harris continue to ring in my ears as I read about the worlds frantic embracement of one-to-one laptop initiatives: Please remember, its not about how we use the TOOLS. Its (mostly) about how we USE the tools."

What does Harris mean by this interesting play on words? Shes reminding us to be wary of our tendency to ascribe magical powers to the technological gizmos of our generation. Tools are just tools and unless they are harnessed to effective teaching practices, learning gains will be unimpressive. Poor teaching with technology attached is still poor teaching and giving laptops to each and every young person in a developing country does not erase the fact that those students first of all need elemental access to schools and teachers.

Technology experts from far and wide echo Dr Harris words.
Technology will not transform education by its sheer physical presence."
~ Kathryn Conway
Merely putting in technology is no guarantee of its use." and Access to such technology in no way will automatically result in innovative teaching applications."
~ Anthony Bates
While digital technology does make a learning revolution possible it does not guarantee it."
~ Mitchell Resnick
Institutions who take an aggressive approach to integrate technology into their programs can be disappointed with the learning outcomes gleaned from this venture when they fail to understand that they should be actually be on a quest for state-of-the-art learning, [but] not state-of-art equipment."
~ Kathryn Conway

Technophiles from across the world need to pay heed.

RESOURCES

Who Is Brenda?

Brenda Dyck is a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching preservice teachers, Brenda is the moderator of MiddleTalk, a listserve sponsored by the National Middle School Association (NMSA). Her "HotLinks" column is a regular feature in NMSA's magazine, Middle Ground. Brenda also is a teacher-editor for MidLink magazine.

Author Name: Brenda Dyck
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02/13/2007