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Education Portables

Some Schools Ending Laptop Programs 308

The New York Times reports that schools are abandoning their laptops-for-students programs. It turns out that the expense of providing laptops, expense of repairing laptops, difficulties of school network management, and discipline problems stemming from pornography, cheating, and cracking more than outweighed the educational benefits. Indeed, a number of schools have concluded that far from improving student achievement, laptops either had no effect or actively hindered academic performance. Apparently, politicians embracing technology as a quick fix for social problems doesn't always work out.
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Some Schools Ending Laptop Programs

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  • Gee, you think? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kid Zero (4866) on Friday May 04, 2007 @09:56PM (#18998351) Homepage Journal
    Wow... and it only took them a couple of million to figure that out.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sumdumass (711423)
      Well, you know the problem was that these schools used filters on their networks so you couldn't surf anywhere you wanted. As we have seen from the stories in the past few days with student getting suspended for defeating these policies.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Fred Ferrigno (122319)
        Yes, how obvious! If they didn't have those filters, the schools would never have those problems with pornography, cheating, and cracking. Clearly, the filters made the them do it.
    • Re:Gee, you think? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:12PM (#18998473) Homepage Journal
      I think it would have helped to get a dissenting opinion into a debate. Clifford Stoll had very good arguments in his book, Silicon Snake Oil.

      If they *had* to have it, this sort of thing is something you want to grow into, try a few smaller schools, let them come up with their own approach to technology, and see which approach works best and scale it up gradually.
      • by khasim (1285) <> on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:47PM (#18998715)
        The real issue with laptops in schools is ... what is the problem that the laptops are supposed to solve?

        Nothing I've read indicates that ANYONE looked at the problem. They decided that the students "needed" laptops to "prepare" the students for ... something.

        Think about it. It's kind of like giving kids a TV. Or a game console. Yes, there may be very specific instances where such would be useful (learning TV repair?) but on the whole, it's a fucking stupid idea.

        Add to that the fact that (as they discovered) laptops are FRAGILE and it just gets worse.

        Instead of focusing on technology, I'd rather see the focus on finding better educational models. We've all heard stories of kids who go from illiterate to college because they moved to a non-traditional school. Why can't we spend a fraction of the tech money seeing if we can find better low-tech (and therefore, more reliable) methods of educating our kids?

        The average laptop probably won't last 4 years in high school. A book can last 20 years.
        • by twitter (104583) on Friday May 04, 2007 @11:06PM (#18998825) Homepage Journal

          what is the problem that the laptops are supposed to solve? Nothing I've read indicates that ANYONE looked at the problem. They decided that the students "needed" laptops to "prepare" the students for ... something.

          As I recall, that "something" was "survival in the business world" and the solution was to tech kids how to use Word and Excel. Encarta and other "resources" were admitted to be inferior to those the school already had in the library. Of course that's a loser, but those pushing it made a lot of money selling licenses and hardware.

          The irony of this is that free software has solved issues of fragility and also has created real resources for learning that are cheaper than conventional alternatives. KDE's educational package has math plotting, algebra manipulation, language studdies, flash card programs, star charts, periodic charts with chemical properties, isotopes and images, and more. Wikipedia is a vast resource that easily competes with printed encyclopedias. Google will help you dig it deeper. All of this is free, robust and actually gives students what schools want them to have.

          The low price comes with a cost: finding people willing to push it. Parents, having been burnt, are now sceptical and anyone who would follow the frauds are going to be abused. The well has been poisoned by people who claimed that "computer literacy" was being able to work M$ Word and other now worthless non-free software.

          Falling hardware prices may help turn things around, but the M$ laptop will always be expensive, fragile and barren of learning material.

          • by khasim (1285)

            As I recall, that "something" was "survival in the business world" and the solution was to tech kids how to use Word and Excel.

            Great. But wouldn't it be far more cost effective to teach those apps (or equivalents) in a computer lab or such? Maybe even have a class on "modern business technology"?

            Mandatory car analogy ...

            We don't purchase a car for each student just because we know that they're probably going to need to know how to drive, do we? Instead, we have a "driver's education" class where they get to

            • by Fred Ferrigno (122319) on Saturday May 05, 2007 @12:33AM (#18999361)

              We don't purchase a car for each student just because we know that they're probably going to need to know how to drive, do we? Instead, we have a "driver's education" class where they get to practice with a few school owned and maintained vehicles.
              Not that I'm supporting it, but the argument here would be that your basic skill set determines your class in life and the types of jobs you can hold. If "office worker" isn't in that skill set, there's a whole job sector cut off from you. Also, if we're to believe the hype behind modernization and globalization, we're losing blue-collar jobs to other countries, but gaining white-collar jobs in exchange, so the students need to be trained or risk not have a place in the workforce.

              Knowing how to drive on the other hand doesn't nearly determine your position in society the way your career does. Not having a car is an inconvenience you can manage. Not having a career has a much broader effect on your life and society as a whole.

              Also, my public high school did have driver's ed.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by misleb (129952)

                Not that I'm supporting it, but the argument here would be that your basic skill set determines your class in life and the types of jobs you can hold. If "office worker" isn't in that skill set, there's a whole job sector cut off from you. Also, if we're to believe the hype behind modernization and globalization, we're losing blue-collar jobs to other countries, but gaining white-collar jobs in exchange, so the students need to be trained or risk not have a place in the workforce.

                So we're training kids fo

          • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 05, 2007 @01:10AM (#18999527)
            Schools and politicians have this belief that money solves problems. Buying laptops is a high tech and expensive way to babysit kids. Since every kid spends oodles of time playing video games and surfing the web, politicians and teachers thought that buying laptops was the best way to get all kids to learn. Throwing money and technology at the problem wasn't the solution.

            The real issue here is a poor educational system. Teachers need to be paid based on merit. Students with poor discipline need to flunk. Instead, educators think flunking a student is a sign of a bad school, or a bad teacher. Parents can't believe that they are responsible for their childrens' inability to learn. They coddle their children, blaming everyone but themselves or their children.

            We've grown into an age where kids don't care. Teachers are not given the power to teach properly, nor are they incented to do so. They go through the motions, and whatever happens, happens.
            The teachers unions have crippled the entire process. The unions protect the worst teachers. Unions also drive the best teachers out of the system, leaving us with a system that gradually deteriorates. Unions always blame lack of funding. They line up the poor kids, pointing at how little money is spent on kids' educations. Yet most of the funding increases don't go to teachers' salaries. It goes to administrative costs, new buildings, and golden parachutes for administrators.

            What we need is for teachers to be held accountable. And for those students that refuse to do the work, disciplinary action. Flunk them. Put them into a trade school. Europe has a pretty good system. If a student doesn't show aptitude for higher learning, send them to a different type of high school... one that is geared towards learning a trade.

            Instead, schools just try to keep students in their classrooms, because headcount means tax dollars. And tax dollars are the only things that school administrators care about. They have no interest in grades. They have no interest in test scores. They get their money no matter what grades or test scores happen.
            Laptops were seen as an easy way to throw money at their educational woes. "We need to do this to stay competitive." The insuation was that America was losing ground to the students elsewhere in the world. A computer for every child HAD to be the solution. Ignore the work. Ignore the fact that they actually have to learn something. Let's just buy the technology, and the rest will just fall into place.

            Balloney. After this spending fiasco, the rest of the tax payers should wake up and force the teachers unions and school districts to change their ways. Paying teachers regardless of performance is RIDICULOUS. Throwing money at problems is careless and irresponsible. It's downright sad. To think that money, and not real work, will solve our educational woes.
            • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Saturday May 05, 2007 @06:49AM (#19000661)
              The real issue here is a poor educational system. Teachers need to be paid based on merit. Students with poor discipline need to flunk. Instead, educators think flunking a student is a sign of a bad school, or a bad teacher. Parents can't believe that they are responsible for their childrens' inability to learn. They coddle their children, blaming everyone but themselves or their children.

              We've grown into an age where kids don't care. Teachers are not given the power to teach properly, nor are they incented to do so. They go through the motions, and whatever happens, happens.

              There are many causes, not the least of which is parents who either don't care so if their kid is suspended he or she just sits at home playing video games for a few days; or who come screaming and blame the teacher when their precoius spawn is punished. Guess what, at some point teachers stop caring and don't waste their time on the losers - push them through and forget about them.

              The teachers unions have crippled the entire process. The unions protect the worst teachers. Unions also drive the best teachers out of the system, leaving us with a system that gradually deteriorates.

              It's a shame that local teacher's unions aren't as powerful as some believe; then maybe teachers could exert authority and maintain discipline instead of worrying that parents complaints will result in a bad review and not being rehired.

              Good teachers leave because they are good - and can make a lot more money with a lot less hassle in another job.

              Unions always blame lack of funding. They line up the poor kids, pointing at how little money is spent on kids' educations. Yet most of the funding increases don't go to teachers' salaries. It goes to administrative costs, new buildings, and golden parachutes for administrators.

              That's because the unions don't have the power to control spending - in our district (rather well off one) I don't know a single teacher who wouldn't like to be able to direct spending so they wouldn't run out of copy paper 2 months before the end of the year or buying textbooks so each student has their own copy. (Real cases).

              What we need is for teachers to be held accountable. And for those students that refuse to do the work, disciplinary action. Flunk them.

              Accountability without authority is useless. Take away a kid's cellphone because they're texting during a test - Mom or Dad will come screaming at the administrator and teacher "How dare you do that to my little darling" instead of saying "Tough luck, child; you knew the rules and broke them"

              There are a lot of great teachers, who care and whose main reward is to see some kid discover they can learn. Personally, that would not be enough for me to put up with all the other crap.
              Don't even get started on "No Child Left Behind."
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Hognoxious (631665)

            language studdies
            No comment needed.
        • Finding more reliable methods of educating kids would be great, but how would the teachers unions make money on it? And if they don't, you can forget about it ever happening.
  • No surprise... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheGreatHegemon (956058) on Friday May 04, 2007 @09:56PM (#18998357)
    Seriously, I never thought that full blown laptops would help students (I myself having just recently finished high school). What WOULD help is something tablet-like that stores all our books in electronic form, which we could pretty much WRITE one. Seriously, that way they wouldn't have to lug around 6-7 books and erase their notes from the books when done with the materials. Would have my made high school years easier.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by anaesthetica (596507)
      That would be a convenience, but wouldn't solve the problems of pornography, broken equipment, network costs, hacking, etc. Nor would switching tablets for laptops necessarily do anything to improve achievement. All it would do is reduce your backpack load, which I'm not sure is worth the cost of the tablets and all the associated problems.
      • Re:No surprise... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Coryoth (254751) on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:44PM (#18998697) Homepage Journal

        That would be a convenience, but wouldn't solve the problems of pornography, broken equipment, network costs, hacking, etc.
        I think the solution to that is to not provide a hackable device, but just a very simple reader with a basic tablet interface -- getting stuff on and off can be a non-trivial task because ultimately it will be done once a year when the next years worth of textbooks gets loaded on by the school. It's not a general purpose computer, it's a slightly advanced eBook reader with a non-standard interface for loading new material. That drops out the porn (sure, some kids will figure out a way to get it on there, but its no worse than the kids bringing in Playboy magazines -- you're never going to stop it, you just have to make it decidedly non-trvial), and the network costs. Hopefully such a special purpose device, being as simple as it is, should be much cheaper to manufacture.

        Nor would switching tablets for laptops necessarily do anything to improve achievement.
        A special purpose reader that has all your textbooks with good search facilities and the ability to annotate (via the simple tablet interface), bookmark, etc. would be an improvement over ordinary textbooks -- presuming the reader itself is of good enough quality. Being able to take notes directly onto the textbook, work on problems directly into the text, draw digrams, add bookmarks search tags, and generally have the text more firmly integrated into the course by making it central to all work, is going to be a good thing. It's not a revolution, but it would be an improvement. Of course this requires two things before it is feasible:
        (1) eBook readers have to be of good enough quality to be an acceptable replacement for paper.
        (2) Text sellers have to actually sell their eBook versions for significantly less than their printed paper copies.
        Part (1) is all about the quality of the resolution, and general display. Right now it sucks. ePaper, or eInk, or whatever they call it, shows real promise in this area, but it's still very new. Part (2) is actually the harder one. There's not too much point in this if a printed dead tree copy is as cheap as an eBook -- students can fork over the cash for the heavy version and scrawl in the textbookm themselves; it wouldn't be quite as good as the eBook option, but it would narrow the gap sufficiently. If, on the other hand, eBooks are signficantly cheaper (as we would reasonably expect them to be) then there's enough good economic sense behind moving to eBook reader devices to properly motivate it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Simon80 (874052)

        A tablet now costs somewhere in between one to two years' worth of textbooks, so it's debatable whether it's really that much of a burden. Whether or not everyone is using laptops, it irks me that schools don't seem to care about reducing backpack load for students that would prefer soft copies. Incidentally, some of my courses have used notes that were written in-house, in LaTeX, it appears, and I'm satisfied with those. They're cheaper, much more portable, usually more understandable, since they closel

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by alienw (585907)
          Uh, a book costs maybe $2 to print if it's hardcover and maybe $0.50 if it's softcover. The $100-$150 you would pay for the textbook goes to the publisher. Electronic textbooks cost about the same as printed ones, and publishers love to sell them on a subscription basis (as in, the book evaporates after the semester is done). Not to mention, trying to read books on a display fucking blows.
      • I think you're missing the point... for "tablet", don't think "laptop with a flipped touch screen", but instead think "ebook reader".

        As useless as they are for pleasure reading, I could imagine some mild utility in an educational setting. But as a previous poster suggested, it should be offered as an option rather than presented free to everyone.
      • by sqrt(2) (786011)
        Does everyone approach this assuming pornography is actually a problem? As long as it's not encouraged outright, porn "usage" at school is fairly self limiting given the general lack of privacy needed to enjoy it properly. I guess they could still use the laptop/notebook to STORE their porn, but I just don't see how it's a problem. Once you admit to yourself that everyone who wants to see porn is already seeing it these issues of restriction quickly fade away from relevance.
        • We may not consider it a problem, but it is certainly a liability risk that will worry school administrators weighing the risk of a lawsuit from angry parents.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by sqrt(2) (786011)
            I guess it's a commentary on a problem with society at large then. Shame that we seem to spend so much of our time these days worrying about what might offend other people, it's a wonder our educational system can get anything done at all. It's made even more laughable when I think about a parent suing a school when their kid does something he (she?) is probably doing at home anyway. The parents of such a kid could probably have done a better job defining boundaries of appropriate behavior BEFORE it became
    • Sure, but you'll still have the same problems as mentioned above.... the expense of providing these tablets to students, the expense of repairing them when students drop or break them or when the hardware fails,... etc.
      • by Korin43 (881732)
        I don't how much of a difference it would make but, tablet PC's are much lighter than 4+ textbooks that most school give. Possibly could save money down the line on back problems..
      • by grumbel (592662)
        The OLPC laptop costs currently a little less then $200, doesn't have any moving parts and should be more then enough for school usage. If you give students real laptops you will of course have a ton of issues, but there really is no reason why you should give them a full blown expensive and fragile laptop, when better alternatives are possible.

    • Re:No surprise... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Gerzel (240421) * <brollyferret@gma ... m minus language> on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:56PM (#18998771) Journal
      The way I see it is that schools should not be providing laptops. They should be providing desktops or rather making sure that each student has home access to a basic possibly internet capable machine and perhaps a usb drive to carry their work to and from home and school. There is no need to have a computer in front of every student in every class. When a class needs students to be in front of computers they can a either use a lab or b have simple terminals that the teacher controls and passes out/takes back with each class. If you must have laptops tie them to the room not the student so that one room can quickly be converted to a computer lab and back for classes that sometimes could use computers but other times don't need them.

      Otherwise instate a program to make sure that each student has access to a home computer so every student can do homework that requires a computer.
  • lot of education soft does not work with it and the web sites for the text books on line that need to have admin to install / run right and things like deep freeze may help it still does not stop people form useing stuff that does not need a reboot to run.
  • by DragonHawk (21256) on Friday May 04, 2007 @09:57PM (#18998365) Homepage Journal
    "There are seldom good technological solutions to behavioral problems." -- Ed Crowley
    • A school is a log with a teacher at one end, and a student at the other. (I first heard it in a Heinlein story, but I'm sure it predates RAH.)

      All the rest of this stuff is fluff.

  • If they are going to give out computers, I think making low cost desktops available for home use would be a far more efficient use of resources.
  • No surprise really (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dosius (230542) <> on Friday May 04, 2007 @09:58PM (#18998375) Journal
    Kids don't need technology, they need an education. I think they can be given an excellent education without ever involving a computer.

    And I agree, when I was in a computer class I spent more time actively hacking (in both senses of the word) their system, than doing work. Bootlegged their PC DOS 6.3 installation. Used Word 6 for Windows instead of Works 3 for DOS. (Or used WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS.) Et cetera. I obviously want to make the most of my time, but it was stuff I already knew. That's not the case for most kids, they need to be paying attention to the teacher, not their PCs, and you know kids have reverse midas touches and wreck everything...

    • by anaesthetica (596507) on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:15PM (#18998485) Homepage Journal
      Even in grad school, PhD students surf the web (looking at shoe stores, reading their email) on their laptops during class. Even in small seminar classes, not lectures, ostensibly built around discussion. I'm convinced that no matter what age or maturity level or intellect the students have, laptops are a productivity killer.
      • by Jarjarthejedi (996957) <> on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:45PM (#18998705) Journal
        As someone who has a laptop and tends to sit with the group of students who would likely be called lazy and disruptive by teachers I'll say this about the laptops. It's not the laptops that are a productivity killer, it's the teachers who are extremely boring and review review review. I regularly surf the web in any class that I can, java, circuits, history etc. I also get A's in those classes. It's not the laptop's fault that kids aren't paying attention, all that's changed there is that they have a better way to waste their time, kids aren't going to pay attention until the subject is interesting and challenging to them, which the current education fails to do for 90% of students who are either not interested at all in subjects they're being taught (case in point biology is required for my PROGRAMMING degree...I hate biology, much rather would take know, that think I'm very likely to program for any game/simulation...) or simply over or under challenged by the course.

        On the other hand I'm against these "laptops for everyone!" programs as it tends to put technology in the hands of those who don't deserve it, those who can't treat it properly (oh look, I dropped my laptop for the third time this week...I should really put a hole in this screen and tie it to my backpack!) and those who tend to get good things ruined for the rest of us (there's an inverse relationship between the number of people on my campus who have a laptop and the number of classes that allow the thing, which is amusing as many of the laptops were bought through the school to help in classes that they're now banned in because some people aren't smart enough to alt-tab from /. to a blank or semi-filled word document when the teacher's near and only glace at other's laptops rather than stare at them and ignore the teacher noticing you)

        I swear, most people don't have any ranks in Hide (Computer Use) at my school and far too many ranks in Illusion (I'm a leet hacker who'll never be caught)

        But hey, what do I know. I'm one of the kids who doesn't pay attention in class so obviously you have to take what I say with a grain of salt...and a knowledge that I really don't like people who can't use technology right using it...and I'm currently in GM mode...
    • by jd (1658)
      Kids don't need technology, they need an education

      The two aren't necessarily contradictory, but I absolutely agree that the education must come first. Schools must provide the knowledge and understanding required to move forward. This includes research and study skills, the basics in as many subjects as practical, enough transferable skills to not limit future growth, the understanding of how to reason and deduce effectively, and the specialist skills required to progress effectively in the chosen career

      • by _Sharp'r_ (649297)
        You sound like you have a lot of reasonable criticism of the typical solutions, so I'll pose my solution to you and see if you can find some flaws for me to consider.

        Since I won't be implementing it for a few more months, I can still afford to make changes. Even then, I just need my required building design changes by that point. I have more time for the software planning.

        1. All student-use computers are physically located in properly cooled closets next to the classrooms they serve. Monitor, keyboards and
        • by alienw (585907)
          No Microsoft products in use, including OSes.

          And what are the students going to say when they have to answer on a job application whether they are familiar with Microsoft Office? Like it or not, free software is not quite there yet.

          4. Students only use free software products. Computers are for use as a tool, i.e. recording research results in DB/spreadsheet, writing papers, scheduling w/teachers, emails, doing research on white-listed sites through a proxy server (basically, a site must be listed by a teac
  • Heh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tibike77 (611880) <> on Friday May 04, 2007 @09:58PM (#18998377) Journal
    Imagine a LAN party.
    Now imagine that LAN party comes with free hardware, you don't have to bring your own.
    Now, imagine that LAN party has free Internet access, is open all day long, and you HAVE to go attend it each and every day.
    So, how much work are you doing ? Yup, right, almost none at all.

    Suddendly, schools realize that LAN party I describe above is on school grounds, with school hardware, and it goes on all schoolday long.
    What a big surprise...
    • by sumdumass (711423)
      But what if ever kid is doing a report on lan parties and how to play games. Shouldn't the school give them that access......

      Nah, I'm just rehashing some of the "they have a right to hack the school network" stuff I got in response to comments from the kid who got suspended article a few days ago. It is amazing how kids attempt to defend this behavior.
    • Sounds like that "business" software with accelerated graphics drivers, a word processor and spreadsheet did not work out very.

      Now imagine instead you have free software that does not play FPS or Flash - intentionally. Instead it comes with internet access that does not install flipping monkeys and blinking banners and keyloggers. It also happens to come with good algebra, math function plotting, 2 and 3D drawing programs, periodic charts, star charts, language study, flash cards and a host of other so

  • by navalynt (623324) on Friday May 04, 2007 @09:59PM (#18998385)
    When you're old enough to have a beer you're old enough to have a computer running Windows. Believe me, you'll need the beer. I'm impressed that the network security is such a 10 year old can breech it!
  • Makes sense to me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geek (5680) on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:00PM (#18998395) Homepage
    Kids rarely appreciate what is given to them. If they had made it a program that rewarded students with academic success and achievement their results would have been different. Blindly giving them to all students undoubtedly would fail. Most kids these days happily trash everything they encounter. It's why most intelligent parents don't give their kids a nice car as their first automobile. They get a POS that no one cares about and can easily be replaced. Then the kid earns their own nicer car (or earns the first one off the bat depnding on the financial status of the family etc).

    We can argue all day about the educational benefits of these laptops but if the kids just trash them from the get go there are no educational benefits. I wouldn't trust kids today with a pen let alone a laptop.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PitaBred (632671)
      My parents didn't even give me my first car. I've had to pay for everything except the bare necessities, and everything else was always treated as a gift, and NEVER something that we deserved.

      As much as it sucked then when my friends had nice cars and all their gas and insurance paid for and all the newest video games and such, I thank my parents for instilling that sense of value in me.
    • My first car was a Bentley, you insensitive clod!!
    • I agree with the sentiment if not the actual wording. My first computer was a Windows 95, in like '98 or something. It got pretty messed up (no viruses persay but I did do a lot of DOS experimentation and I bet you can figure out the flaw inherent in giving a kid DOS access...especially a kid who's interested in technology...). My second was a moderately better computer, which I made none of the old mistakes and a bunch of new ones on. My third was much the same. I'm on my 4th, and first laptop, now and whi
  • by Glowing Fish (155236) on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:00PM (#18998397) Homepage
    Why would have anyone have thought that laptops would have helped schools in the first place?

    Was there any studies done to show that it would augment learning, or was it just a matter of technology=cool?

    And, if there were any studies done, were there any studies done not funded by industry groups wanting school districts to spend lots of money?
  • Duh!! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cbdavis (114685) on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:02PM (#18998411)
    At my sons school, the in-class PCs were rarely used for class work. Instead, the kids loaded 'em up with video games,
      music videos, and viruses/trojans/worms/spyware/spamware. No virus software or such. No patches were ever applied
      ( M$ machines). The school had no one to repair or troubleshoot stuff. This was all after a big push to get PCs in the
    classroom. There were wiring parties and meetings to show off how great it was to get a PC in the classroom. Went nowhere.
    A mad rush to bring our schools into the 21st century. Didnt work.
    • by Kjella (173770)
      Having experience both from a start-up sitting in an incubator and from a consultant company, both where most are managing their own PC I think the conclusion is simple. Most people should not be allowed to manage their own PC. Of course this one sounds really screwed from the get-go since they neither came with the appropriate software nor anyone to manage them, not because the users are kids as well. At the very least they needed to get a decent firewall config, antivirus and antitrojan software and some
  • by Glowing Fish (155236) on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:08PM (#18998449) Homepage
    I think one of the biggest paradigm shifts that people are going to have to adjust to is the idea that information, like many other things, is now often causing a problems with too much, and not with too little.
    Having constant access to information does not mean you are educated. Becoming educated is more than just having access to information. You can give a student a laptop, with built-in or internet access to a database of information on anything in the world, and that doesn't make them educated. A fully 3D, interactive CD-Rom showing the human anatomy isn't what is needed for someone to become a doctor. Its the understanding of the basic concepts, and the discipline to understands how information fits into the big picture that allows people to really be educated. Without out, information is just a distraction.
    • by anaesthetica (596507) on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:19PM (#18998531) Homepage Journal

      Indeed, it was Einstein who said,

      Never memorize what you can look up.

      Kids need to be taught to understand concepts, how to think critically, and how to engage in research. Having access to information and memorizing some of it is nearly worthless.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by esmrg (869061)

        All the school really needs is a few donated piece of shit desktop machines sitting in the back of the classroom running Ubuntu. The teacher helps with critical thinking and conceptual discussion during lecture time, and can ask students to look up supporting facts on the internet when needed. That way the student learns the concept, and how to effectively find the information when they it. The machines are cheap (if not free), have access to educational databases, the internet, and can be locked down t
      • >Never memorize what you can look up.

        With due respect to the man who said that, there's a lot to be said for caching. He probably had more memorized than he was fully aware of.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Eli Gottlieb (917758)
          You're correct in that the human brain often does its own caching, but there's a great difference between caching and rote memorization. Caching involves temporarily remembering recently-used information relevant to the task at hand, like an equation or a recently-accessed disk block. Rote memorization involves committing arbitrary information to memory outside of its use-case.

          Due to our mind's wiring, we usually find rote memorization more difficult and less effective than doing our jobs, looking things
      • by Kjella (173770) on Friday May 04, 2007 @11:38PM (#18999041) Homepage
        Kids need to be taught to understand concepts, how to think critically, and how to engage in research. Having access to information and memorizing some of it is nearly worthless.

        I think Einstein memorized more than he thinks, and in any case mathematical formulas which was his domain are very much a special branch. I find that this "memorization is pointless" is often being warped into "knowing WTF you're talking about is worthless". Let's say the assignment is "Explain the reasons for World War II". That involves a lot of critical thinking, it's not about memorizing dates or names or figures or whatever. Pick any of the below:

        - Past history of wars
        - Massive war damages to pay
        - Heavy demilitarization
        - Insane inflation, poverty
        - Rise of glorifying nationalism
        - Rise of xenophobia, racism
        - Fear of Communism

        From these (and more I'm sure) you can start to draw concepts and critical thoughts. But you wouldn't get anywhere without knowing that yes, there is a history of wars here and yes, there were economic problems and yes, there was racial ideologies and so on. Of course, at this point you're going to tell me that you could just look up that information here [] but then you've put the cart before the horse. You're using other people's critical thinking, their logic and arguments and almost certainly arrive at the same conclusion they did with little critical thought of your own, unless you're doing a proper source analysis and inspection of their logic, counterarguments and so on.

        Giving critical thought to a matter means in my opinion that you need to know more about the subject than mere memorization, which is usually only of some important events. By that I don't mean that you need to know them by heart, but you do need to keep them in mind at the same time as a working set. Critical thinking is figuring out which of these facts are relevant and arguing why. If you feel you see a factor that's been underrated or overrated, and can gather evidence and arguments for that then it is research, it shows understanding and critical thinking. Quoting others like a parrot is not, memorization of arguments and memorization of facts are just two sides of the same corn.

        In short, if the information you're basing yourself on is crap, the conslusions will be crap even if the logic is excellent. You can reason yourself from knowledge to understanding, but you can't reason yourself from ignorance to knowledge, and so neither from ignorance to understanding. Memorization is not a goal, but it is a side effect. If you meet someone that can't quote you some facts about how WWII started, then he sure can't have any meaningful understanding of it either.
    • by Coryoth (254751)
      Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
      Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
      -- T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock

      Information is not the same as knowledge -- you need to piece the information together in a structured way for it to be meaningful. Knowledge is not the same as wisdom, or insight -- you need an understanding of how the knowledge connects together, and how it relates. Right now we have a glut of information. The job of a teacher, in this day and age, is to help
  • Or is it because they're more ahead of the tech curve than their masters? I think the real problem is that those in charge thought they could solve problems with laptops, but instead created new ones that they had no clue how to deal with. I'm sure if the staff of said schools were qualified to be able to assist students, maybe they they ahve wouldn't seem such a big deal.
  • If it is not porn, then myspace, then youtube, then IM, then video games...Come on, what were they thinking?
  • by vethia (900978) on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:18PM (#18998519)
    My undergraduate university had a laptop program, and it was one of the great things about the school. Every student received a laptop as part of his or her tuition; each year was furnished with the same model of computer, so students' technology capabilities were roughly equal across the class year. The program let people like me, who didn't own computers before college, get one for a reasonable price and it discouraged theft because everyone had pretty much the same computer anyway. Teachers could assign projects or expect students to utilize certain software without having to contend with unequal access to technology, and the computer help center only had to train its employees to service a maximum of four machine types in any given year, so I imagine it cut costs there.

    Of course, this is a different situation than the one discussed in TFA; we were college students, not high schoolers, and although our computers were under warranty, they were bought with our tuition money and belonged to us, so there was incentive to keep them nice. We also seldom, if ever, used the machines in class, but when we did, there was a good reason.

    A laptop is a tool, just like any other. Tools can be misused, but they can also be instruments of success when applied correctly. Don't be so quick to shun the idea of school-issued laptops. When done right with the right age group, it can really work.
  • Citing the expense of providing and repairing laptops, difficulties of network management, and discipline problems stemming from pornography, cheating, and cracking that more than outweighed the productivity benefits, management at Armonk-based IBM is taking thousands of laptops away from employees.

    The laptops are reportedly being sent to India and China, where labour is so cheap that low productivity doesn't exist.

    That's the theory, in any case.
  • "Apparently, politicians... [don't] always work out."
  • Wait....

    They downloaded porn on their free laptops?

    You mean.... if you give a bunch of middle schoolers free computers with ubiquitous Internet access and instructions on connecting to the Internet..... they might download porn?

    But I thought children were sexless, innocent cherubs.


  • They'll have few games to play, and they'll have to learn to compile the kernel just to get their homework done.
    • by Endo13 (1000782)
      Only problem is, there's no "Microsoft" to push Linux.

      No, this is not a troll/flame/MS bash. I'm just pointing out that there's no single large company that stands to make a large profit by having millions of Linux computers distributed to schools - which MS has certainly done with Windows/Office.
  • Technology could be very effective in schools. Hell, technology is very effective in schools now. Mass produced paper and ball point pens are a significant improvement over the chalk slates of yesteryear. They in turn, were better then the wet clay tablets of further back. The key here is that you need to introduce technology that can be targetted toward making specific things that we expect children to do at school easier. Just giving them a laptop is "introducing technology to schools", but it isn't intro
  • by morari (1080535) on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:28PM (#18998617) Journal
    Of course, I went through a few different online academies, so it was a necessity. I was home-schooled after elementary, it was only in high school that we went with online academies so that I could have a diploma instead of a GED. I went through four different associations, each better than the last. Ecot, which gave out woeful Compaq desktops and didn't have the slightest shred of organization. TRECA, which provided locked-down iMacs and practiced an overall totalitarian monitoring policy. Ohdela, which gave out decent laptops and had a fairly stable, if not hand-holding system. The best was BOSS (Buckeye Online School for Success); they provided adequate desktops, however I never used it as I took all book-based courses. Read the material, answer questions, send away for exam. That was perfect for me, as I was highly annoyed with the interactive classrooms and hand-holding lessons of the other schools. Of course, I'm sure I'm in the minority on that. I'm also sure that I'm in the minority when it comes to wiping out XP and installing Linux on the computers install. As I wasn't playing many video games on them, I found the OS more than suitable for school work.
  • So... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mdboyd (969169) on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:33PM (#18998649) Homepage Journal
    Are all of these problems going to happen with the OLPC program? Will the children of third world countries really use these laptops appropriately? Granted, this new abundance of technology could be greatly beneficial to the young people of these countries, but it may also breed new problems as well.
    • Yes. No. Obviously.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DerekLyons (302214)
      There have been people (here on Slashdot) asking that very question ever since the OLPC project was announced. We have been repeatedly told to 'shut up' because it was 'obvious' that giving people acess to technology was a good thing.
  • > Apparently, politicians embracing technology as a quick fix for social problems doesn't always work out.

    And apparently the people who submit stories to /. sometimes betray their biases.

  • OS? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by feranick (858651) on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:43PM (#18998695)
    This is why current OS are NOT tailored for students. Pretending Windows + Office will help getting a better education is simply dull. In this regard, I really hope the OLPC will work and may stimulate new development of finally useful educational platform.
  • by Vasco Bardo (931460) on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:56PM (#18998773)
    well, not new, just your run-of-the-mill lurker.
    Anyway, I find TFA poorly researched and rather superficial, much like the whole school-issued-laptops program.
    I've been a math teaching assistant at college for a few years, and have worked in IT most of my life. I feel somewhat qualified to have an opinion on this issue.
    The problem is not the laptops. It is not the kids. It is not even the teachers. The problem is management (ie PHBs) not thinking stuff through, and lazy journalists. If I was a journalist I would try to get answers to these questions:
    A) What was the plan of the program?
    B) What did they expect to accomplish?
    C) How was the actual implementation?
    D) What analysis was done afterwards to correct the problem?
    E) Why are the kids getting blamed?

    I suspect the answers will be:
    1. Give laptops to kids
    2. ?
    3. Congratulate myself

    The more money I pour into laptops, the better kids grades will be. Just because.

    kids got laptops, and nobody (teachers and students) had any clue what to do with them, so they mostly fooled around. And the problems were with a. and b.

    Too busy blaming the kids for education management FUs.

    Because they are the weakest link.

    Of course, other questions cross my mind:
    - How many kids had used computers before?
    - How many used them at home?
    - How many parents got involved with the program?
    - How many parents where computer-savvy?
    - What budget did the teachers have available for computer courses for themselves?
    and so on and so forth...
  • O Rly? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AbsoluteXyro (1048620) on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:58PM (#18998785)

    I could have told you that giving high school kids laptop computers to use in school would only make matters worse. I oft-times wonder where the common sense is in the administrative bodies that cook up these hair-brained ideas.

    You see, here's the problem... High school is to kids, essentially, a place where they are forced to perform menial tasks and busy work for 8 hours a day with no reward and the only motivation is to avoid punishment (if they are indeed punished for bad grades/failure/dropping out). The incentive to excel academically is nigh nonexistent for the majority of high school kids. Introducing laptop computers to the mix does nothing but give the students a tool they can use to pay less attention to class with. After all, most of these kids aren't interested in doing much more than passing their courses... playing some solitaire or looking at some titties is much more entertaining than staring at the clock for 5 hours a day, waiting to be freed.

    At university, however, laptop programs are far more beneficial. My university (Winona State) issues tablet computers to all students. Indeed there are still plenty of instances of students who decide to play solitaire rather than pay attention, their grades reflect it and (for the most part) their behavior changes accordingly. Personally, I take all of my notes on my tablet (I can type far faster than I can write by hand, and the professors can certainly talk faster than I can write!), and it is hellof convenient to be able to draw diagrams right into my notes digitally with the stylus. You can begin to imagine some of the benefits... like pressing Ctrl+F instead of flipping through pages upon pages of notes to find a definition. There's a whole boatload of advantages to the system and I'm sure most of you slashdotters can think of them yourselves.

    My point is, the real driver behind the effectiveness of laptop programs is the students' motivation to excel in academically. High school doesn't give the motivation, so laptops will only help students actively perform poorly. In a university setting, however, there is motivation. Be it the fact that the student is paying for an education out of his/her own pocket (like me!), or that the student is seeking a degree in order to make money hand over fist, or that the student is studying something he or she is actually interested in and doing it of his/her own free will. Because of that motivation, students will utilize computers effectively.

  • No wonder... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Brenky (878669) on Friday May 04, 2007 @11:02PM (#18998801) Homepage Journal
    My sister has been taking part in her school's laptop project for the past two years. From what we've seen, it is an extremely flawed system. Here are some problems we've encountered:

    -Many of the teachers are opposed to this foreign technology overtaking their classrooms. Right there, 25% of classes will not have laptop usage. Furthermore, even more of the teachers don't even know how to use a laptop.
    -There is no educational software provided. I know that there are some really good educational titles out there that would be a tremendous help in classrooms, but nobody is taking the initiative to install/support them.
    -The laptops were aimed to lessen the use of textbooks. Oddly enough, they just add to the ever-growing pile of virtually useless school-provided materials.
    -The security system is flawed as well. They are heavily restricted - that is, until you quit a certain task in the task manager - after that, visiting porn sites couldn't be easier!
    -The aforementioned hardware problems.

    What needs to happen is for the school districts to implement a laptop education program of some sort. One that will ease teachers' fears of computers/help them to better assist their students, and one that will teach kids the basics of computing (no, how to use Word doesn't count). This should have been done from the start. What needs to happen for this
  • I like how the conventional Slashdot wisdom here is, "of COURSE giving students laptops is an idiotic waste of money!" when so many people here are also strong supporters of the One Laptop Per Child initiative. If making sure children in poor countries have access to computers is so important, how is doing the same for kids right here not as important, especially when kids here are probably much more likely to need computer literacy in their workplace?
  • by MrNonchalant (767683) on Friday May 04, 2007 @11:20PM (#18998925)
    Speaking as someone who is heavily involved in the specifics of a 4-year-old 1-to-1 laptop program in a school, I can state that it is a matter of integration, planning, and infrastructure. If you sit down and you recognize that lots of laptops will break, that the curriculum must be modified, that students will attempt to get around restrictions you will have a much better experience. If you just dump the laptops on the schools and expect it to work you're going to be in a world of hurt. This is not to say the deployment at my school/employer is flawless, far from it. We have all those problems and more. But they have not been crippling, because we planned and we have the integration and infrastructure in place to mitigate them.
  • And it's worse than you can possibly imagine.

    We were always told in meetings to have students use the laptops as much as possible (I imagine to justify the expense in supplying students with them). It didn't matter what we did, so long as we were using technology in the classroom. The other big push was the state achievement test (thank you very much Bush). We were never told of a definite way that we could use these computers to help improve test scores.

    Of course, any chance that students have to goof off, they will, and any time my students got to use their laptop, they would be using it for IM, games, or just generally surfing the web. i tired to keep an eye on all of them, but when you have classes of 30+ students, it's difficult to make sure they are all on task with traditional kinds of instruction and assignments.

    The most successful I ever was in that district was when I was teaching summer school. I think a large part of that was because the students didn't keep the laptops over the summer. I brought in a classroom set of laptops in for a day so they could type a paper. Before I brought them in, I unplugged the wireless router in the drop ceiling.
  • Long ways to go (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MrManhan (1097927) on Friday May 04, 2007 @11:37PM (#18999025)
    As a high school teacher, I can see a lot of benefits to having students with laptops. You could save a LOT of paper (it's amazing how much paper and toner is used on making handouts in our school every day), textbooks wouldn't have to be lugged around, assignments could be turned in electronically (no more "the teacher lost my assignment"), tests could be automatically corrected and students would have instant feedback., along with a lot of other benefits. The reality is, I rarely even go to the computer lab for anything class related because it's a waste of time. A lot of the websites with any interactivity are either blocked by the network, the computers don't have the right plug-ins (which students can't download and install themselves), or there is some other problem. Also, there are always a couple students in class that can't get on the network for some reason. This results in me wasting time emailing the tech department so they can reset his or her account. In the mean time, my student who can't get on the network has wasted a class period. The fact that the student was kicked off the network for downloading games in a different class is beside the point. With all the problems of just visiting a computer lab in an average high school in Middle America (and dealing with the "technology guy" who seems to invariably be a prick", I think it will be a while before we are ready for eSchool. Slowing the process even more is the teachers. My 50 year old coworkers usually need help loading a new program on their computer. They aren't going to be much help to students with a email issue, let alone be able to develop an electronic curriculum. It doesn't mean that they aren't good teachers (they do a much better job than me); it just means that they would need a couple years of training to get up to speed. Nobody has the time, money, or interest to do that. I think and hope schools will work toward the concept of every student having a laptop. I don't think it will work, however, until computers are as commonplace as pencils and paper and books, so students don't think of them as a novelty, but as a tool for getting their homework points.
  • I was never clear on what this was supposed to remedy. Many adults have a hard time managing overly fragile laptops. I can only imagine the headaches with a child or teenager who hasn't really learned to respect the delicate nature of things yet. I'm guessing that they were attempting to help with the digital divide. However, I find that to be ludicrous in light of the purchase of laptops.

    It would seem to me to be more reasonable to pay for a $9.95 dial up connection to a local ISP for each family with
  • This is time (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Daishiman (698845) on Friday May 04, 2007 @11:55PM (#18999167)

    This is time for the big, collective "D'uh!" we've been holding about this for a while.

    As technologists I think we know better than the bureaucrats who propose these "nuggets of wisdom" that technology does not fix the fundamental problems in education.

  • Wrong approach (Score:3, Interesting)

    by L4m3rthanyou (1015323) on Saturday May 05, 2007 @12:01AM (#18999195)
    Handing each student their own personal laptop is the stupidest goddamn thing I've ever heard.

    Technology was not used to that incredible extent at my high school, but we did have laptop carts available to supplement the library and computer lab(s). When a class needed to do a computer-oriented project, the IT people would roll in two or three carts (with 16 laptops apiece, I think) and let students check them out. Each cart had chargers built in, as well as a wireless access point, so the cart would be plugged into ethernet to create instant wireless access in that classroom.

    We would do the task at hand, and the laptops would all be returned at the end of class. People didn't mess with them because of the futility in doing so. The systems were locked down, and anything you did manage to change would be wiped off at the end of the day anyway.
  • Good! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ccmay (116316) on Saturday May 05, 2007 @12:37AM (#18999383)
    All for the better. Good books, pencils, paper and a desk are all that is necessary and sufficient for elementary education. Computers just waste time and get in the way. And I say that as someone who owns a dozen computers and used to earn my living as a programmer.


  • by Billly Gates (198444) on Saturday May 05, 2007 @01:13AM (#18999537) Journal
    Studies show they work in lower income schools with students who have no access to computers or the internet. If the kids already have that at home then they will use it as a toy rather than a tool
  • Every time a new technology comes along, the education establishment embraces it as a silver bullet that will deliver knowledge while keeping the students' interest.

    When movies came along students sat through all sorts of educational movies as a way educating them and engaging them.

    Students were subjected to film strips.

    I was a professor when TV came along. The university had a new building devoted to TV lectures. I had to film a few lectures. They were terrible! All except the most telegenic faculty had the same experience. Very soon the building devolved to a lecture hall with an unused TV system.

    Computers were hailed as a magic solution. We see where that is going.

    Education consists of an engaging teacher and engaged students. Without those, all the newest gadgets are useless. With them the gadgets are superfluous.
  • by Doppler00 (534739) on Saturday May 05, 2007 @04:41AM (#19000247) Homepage Journal
    Of all the tools I thought were useful in college for helping learn, having working projectors and white boards in every room helped a great deal. The projector is good because it allows the professors to spend more time talking about the subject instead of writing nasty, ugly looking notes on a chalk board. More so, it gives students the opportunity to have the presentations at some point to study from. No these aren't replacements for your own notes, but it helped me tremendously in the past.

    I think better textbooks would help tremendously, i.e., course material that isn't designed by someone trying to do a social experiment. It actually amazes me that the same quality management criteria used in business can't be applied to the generation of these books. That is, the text books should improve gradually over time, not radically to try some math teaching method of the month club.

The one day you'd sell your soul for something, souls are a glut.