Fred Bartels is the Director of Information Technology at the Rye Country Day School in Rye, NY. Recently I read a reaction editorial he wrote in response to a New York Times article on schools dropping their laptop programs and I immediately asked him for an interview. As you probably already know, this topic has hit a sour point with technologists who have had immeasurable success with laptop learning. So here's my email interview with a true expert in the field of laptop learning.
A.B. Explain the one to one laptop program at Rye Country Day School. What are the challenges?
F.B. "I've been at RCDS for 23 years. When I started, the school had 18 Apple II+ computers, no network, and not a single server or hard drive on campus. Twenty three years later we have a one-to-one program involving over 500 students, another 250 lab and faculty/staff computers, a fully networked campus (both wired and wireless), lots of servers, and 3 T1s for Internet access. The changes have been massive but in many ways I feel we are just getting started. Our one-to-one program is in its 8th year and encompasses grades seven through 12. We feel the program is a success and that each succeeding year brings additional benefits. Teachers change more slowly than technology but they do change. As our teachers have slowly and steadily become more comfortable with computers they are increasingly willing to support more challenging uses of computers by students. To achieve their educational goals students are using wikis, blogs, podcasts, and digital video along with the "old" standbys of word processing, spreadsheets, databases, email and web-based research.
Laptops have in many ways just become part of the scene, of little more note to members of the community than paper, textbooks and writing implements. It is common to see students with a laptop, a textbook and a notebook open in front of them, shifting their attention smoothly and easily between them. The full integration of the computer into the academic life of students and faculty was our goal when we started our laptop program. We are, more often than not, now achieving this goal. However, running a successful one-to-one program is a high-maintenance endeavor. We've had to add tech support staff, curricular support staff and funds to the technology budget in order to make our program run smoothly. This is very much in line with what the business world has found to be necessary in order to see significant productivity gains from information technology. The hardware and software costs are really the tip of the iceberg. It is the changes to the practices and culture of the organization that require significant ongoing inputs of time, money and energy."
A.B. Do you find teachers, technologists and librarians collaborating in their uses of the technology for the students?
F.B. "There is a huge amount of collaboration between the librarians, the technologists and the teachers. In fact, this collaboration has been steadily increasing. As computers find uses in all areas of academic life the librarians have become essential partners in guiding and educating students, teachers (and the technologists) about the vast and constantly expanding resources available on the Internet. One of our librarians took the initiative to master wikis, and has been incredibly helpful to teachers who want to make use of this new tool in their courses. Another example is that the librarians now handle the loaning of digital video cameras to students. This has led to cameras being reliably available and a corresponding increase in faculty being willing to undertake projects involving video."
A.B. What was your reaction when you read the New York Times article? "Some Schools Drop Laptop Programs"? Mine was, "Gosh…they need to come to my school. We're doing great things with laptops."
F.B. "I felt that the author really missed the bigger picture in her article. Given Moore's Law and the steadily increasing power and usefulness of computers, it is inevitable that schools will change to take advantage of that power and usefulness. The central theme of the article is that laptops may not be compatible with schools. I'd turn that around and say that if the existing structure and organization of a school is not compatible with laptops then school structure and organization needs to change." [Right on Fred!]
A.B. What are your favorite blogs you recommend for educators?
F.B. I actually read very few blogs. The two that I currently follow are http://www.k12converge.com/ by Jim Heynderickx and http://thinklab.typepad.com/ by Christian Long. I'm also a devoted listener to the weekly webcasts produced by Alex Ragone and Arvind Grover, which can be found here: http://www.edtechtalk.com/taxonomy/term/9
I thank Fred for his insights and welcome any further thoughts from readers. How does you school use laptops for learning?