One to One Laptop Academic Pilot

February 28th, 2013

In 1978 I brought the first Apple II computer into John Jay High School in the Wappingers Central School District.   It was the first PC ever in school.   Until then we had two DEC writer printer terminals on 300 baud acoustic modems back to Erie-1 BOCES upstate.  I brought my PC to school because I did a project.   I translated a BASIC program to run on the Apple II that did home heating evaluations.  Jack Armstrong of Sigma HVAC in Wappingers gave me a print out of the source code.  I translated it to the Apple and handed that in as my project.   Two years later Wappingers bought their first computer lab of Apple IIs from me.   Around the same time the school districts of the greater Hudson Valley were coming to me and doing the same thing.  Instructional technology as we know it in the greater Hudson Valley was born.

Fast forward to present time.  Many colleges, universities and private schools have implemented a one to one laptop or tablet program with students.  A few public schools have done the same thing.  However, the costs of the laptops or tablets is still prohibitively high.   That gave me an idea.   Google came out with Chromebook.  Samsung just released a $249 version.   I ordered one and it came in two days.  I can recite all the things the Chromebook is bad at.  However, my question was is a $249 laptop with limited local storage and limited off-line functionality good enough for basic daily academic needs?

I played with it for a couple of days.   I found it surprisingly useful.  I actually prefer it to my Lenovo netbook for what limited functions I used the netbook for.  While I love my Apple iPad2 i actually prefer it to the iPad for a number of things I do as well that lend themselves to having a real keyboard and touchpad.  I then handed it to my 9-year-old and asked her to tell me what she thought.   She prefers it to her Lenovo netbook.   I kept asking her, "what can't you do that you need to or want to do?"   I'm still waiting for an answer a couple of weeks later.   I then handed it to my 16-year-old and asked her what she thought of it?   That upset my 9-year-old as she wants it back.   I kept asking my eldest, tell me what it doesn't do that you need to do?   She has a much more powerful current model Dell Vostro laptop with Windows 7 and a 15" screen.   I'm still waiting for her to tell me what she can't do as well.

Then I got this crazy idea.  What if I sent my daughter to high school with the $249 Chromebook and said use it for her academic day and tell us what it does and doesn't do?   I reached out to Wappingers Central School District and received special permission from the district, the high school principal, and my daughter's teachers to let her carry the Chromebook from class to class through her academic day.   So 35 years later the experiment begins again.

We've already had some interesting discussions such as, "what do I do with it if it won't fit in my gym locker?" and, "if the teacher hands out a paper worksheet vs. an electronic document, how is the laptop useful?"    We've also had a teacher tell Rachael that she is going to post the hand outs on the district web portal so that Rachael can pick them up electronically.

So we'll find out if a $249 device can get it done in a meaningful way through a high school day.  If it does, it could really change the landscape of one to one academic computing.

More to come as the experiment unfolds...



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