Laptops in the classroom

Last NDN's Globalization Intitiative released the first paper in A Series of Modest Proposals to Build 21st Century Skills: A Laptop in Every Backpack.  In that paper Simon Rosenberg and Alec Ross of the One Economy Corporation argue that:

Achieving the American Dream in this century increasingly requires fluency in the ways of this network and its tools – how to acquire information and do research, how to construct reports and present ideas using these new tools, how to type and even edit video.  We believe we need a profound and urgent national commitment to give this powerful new 21st knowledge, essential for success in this century, to all American school children. 

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom posted the paper to his site, and you can see it here.

But not everyone seems to agree.  Last week, the NYT published Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops an article that raised serious questions about laptops in schools:

The students at Liverpool High have used their school-issued laptops to exchange answers on tests, download pornography and hack into local businesses. When the school tightened its network security, a 10th grader not only found a way around it but also posted step-by-step instructions on the Web for others to follow (which they did).

Scores of the leased laptops break down each month, and every other morning, when the entire school has study hall, the network inevitably freezes because of the sheer number of students roaming the Internet instead of getting help from teachers.

So the Liverpool Central School District, just outside Syracuse, has decided to phase out laptops starting this fall, joining a handful of other schools around the country that adopted one-to-one computing programs and are now abandoning them as educationally empty — and worse.

From the same article:

Many school administrators and teachers say laptops in the classroom have motivated even reluctant students to learn, resulting in higher attendance and lower detention and dropout rates.

I heard a very good analogy recently that helps makes sense of these seemingly divergent cases.  You can provide the same set of tools to two different people; one may build a masterpiece and the other may build a sinking ship. And we have more examples of masterpieces than we do of sinking ships.  For examples of some of those masterpieces, visit: 

The One-to-One Institute --     

The Consortium for School Networking --      

The International Society for Technology in Education --