One notebook, one teacher.
In all the talk of upgrading tech for the kids, are we forgetting the grown-ups?
So much effort has gone toward putting laptops in students’ hands these last few years—both domestically and internationally. Some efforts have been successful. Others, not so much.
What all too often gets left out of the discussion, however, is that teachers want and need highly portable technology just as much if not more than their students.
Teachers get skipped partly because of the longstanding notion that adults want or need full-featured desktops or laptops to do their work. Stripped-down units that rely on Web-based software won’t suffice. At one point, this may indeed have been true.
Another factor has been the difficulty of implementing one-to-one initiatives for students. And the economic crisis has added to the caution. All red flags for cautious administrators.
But you can see the benefits of portable technology in classrooms where teachers have (or have been assigned) laptops that are small enough to carry around in one hand.
They’re able to enter grades, prepare lessons, and present them to students via LCD projector. They switch classrooms easily. They share lessons with supervisors and colleagues. They let students load presentations off memory sticks from home. The more adventurous text, do Facebook, and IM.
It’s a whole new world for these teachers, no matter how small or underpowered their laptop may look.
The trend toward smaller, more portable, and less expensive units has been going on for a while now—for adults as well as students.
You could argue that it all started in 2007, when the XO laptop initiative first put netbooks in front of the American public. Many were surprised at how useful and appealing the units were.
Since then, laptops have become smaller, cheaper, and even more popular. A recent article in Slate magazine found that a three-pound off-brand $400 netbook with a tiny 10-inch screen was the top-selling laptop on Amazon.com.
These sub-notebooks used to be the exception, but last year nearly every major manufacturer put out at least one netbook. (A new version of the Classmate PC from Intel is also coming out this year.)
Meanwhile, handheld devices and mobile phones are adding Internet accessibility, mini-applications, and touchscreens.
If this trend continues, the computer will end up looking more like the Kindle, which currently costs $359, or even like the $100 portable PlayStation. Or, if Slate is right, it could end up looking like a souped-up iPhone.
Even if laptops stay the same, the technology surrounding them is changing in ways that make netbooks more viable.
Web-based software and thumb drives lessen the need for internal CD and DVD readers. Lots of software can be downloaded and decompressed. More and more content is available online. Wireless broadband is replacing WiFi as a way of accessing the Internet.
Last, but not least, interactivity has become the bright line that divides the “old” Internet from the new one. We can’t afford to leave that world to students alone, or ignore students’ highly social and interactive instincts when we could be engaging them. In a world that now includes Twitter, Facebook, nings, and uStream (the live puppy feed!), text-based blogs are so … 2006.
For educators, just as much as students, playing in this new space means having a highly portable device, not a seven-pound brick. It’s not enough for teachers to be “tech-savvy” in the old-fashioned sense of that phrase.
And there’s no reason for districts to pay to put full-featured computers on everyone’s desks anymore.