Scott Siegel: Putting a computing device in every student’s hand

03/04/2014 7:00 PM

03/04/2014 7:53 PM

While educators scramble to get ready for the new Common Core standards and the total revamping of the way California funds its school system, another change – perhaps even more profound – is imminent.

In some ways, the change is already well underway as more and more students bring smartphones to school.

These phones are far more powerful than the Mac Plus computer I used early in my teaching career. While useful, phones can be disruptive, and not every student has one, so educators have generally attempted to keep them quietly tucked away in students’ backpacks – a version of don’t ring (or whatever it is that phones do these days), don’t tell.

This is all about to change.

Imagine a teacher being able to create a set of questions to which students respond electronically, with the results displayed instantly through an LCD projector, allowing the teacher to gauge the level of student understanding and provide immediate feedback. Imagine students being able to access a virtual library with the swipe of a finger, conduct research, embed photos and graphics into their assignments and participate in interactive “field trips” – all without leaving their desks.

A perfect storm of opportunity exists for ushering in this new era, as districts adopt new instructional materials with the brightening economic picture after years of lean budgets, the cost of wireless-enabled computers (such as Google Chromebooks) drops well below $300, and more and more districts establish robust wireless networks on their school campuses.

This dawning reality raises many questions. How will our technology departments manage thousands of additional devices? In Ceres Unified, for example, we are looking at quadrupling the number of computers on our network.

How will we deal with the inevitable misuse of these computers which are intended to allow students to access textbooks, instructional materials, and homework assignments at school and from home? How will we handle lost or damaged equipment?

These, and a host of other questions, are beginning to keep our technology directors awake at night.

In the end the answers, while important today, matter less than the absolute inevitability that every student will be supplied with a computing device that will be used to gain instant access to a world of information including their textbooks, and will be used to produce and turn in their assignments.

The deeper questions that we must ultimately answer are along the lines of how this coming reality will change the way we teach and the way that students access the information that is available. The answers today are perhaps no clearer than asking in 1990 how the Internet would impact our lives two decades later. The answer: more profoundly than we could have imagined.

The impact of this reality on how we educate students will be enduring. Today, we stand at the exciting and somewhat intimidating beginning of this new certainty. And tomorrow is coming with all of its trepidation, enthusiasm and promise for our teachers and students.

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