Monday, October 18, 2010

Laptop Learning Progress Update #1

As many of you know, my school recently forged ahead with a laptop learning paradigm. All students in grades 6-12 are now required to show up to school each day with their own personal laptop computer. We take an OS and software agnostic approach-students and families self select their OS and software mix so long as it meets the minimum specifications outlined in this comprehensive document. Students and families purchase the computer on their own and the school provides a limited amount of technical assistance (we help them connect to the wifi network, manage printers, develop personalized data backup strategies, access network storage, etc).

Our tech support plan for student owned computers is crudely simple...we provide 15 minutes of support for student laptops and a loaner netbook for the times when students need to take their computers in for repair.

I'll be writing a few reflections throughout the year on our progress with laptop is my first and I'll do it in the form of a list.

1. We had HUGE fears about damage to student computers, theft, loss, accidents, etc. While a few minor things have happened, I'm glad to report that the students take really, really good care of their computers. No surprise here, really. Would you want to lose something that was valuable and contained your important documents, music, video, etc?
2. Having ALL students come onsite for learning sessions for two hours in the three days before the start of the school year was really smart. We used this as an opportunity to show the students how to connect to the network, access server shares, manage printers, etc. I can't imagine if we tried to do this in classrooms in the first few days of school. 
3. Having Moodle and Google Apps for Education in place as core academic learning platforms was crucial in allowing us to deploy this OS/software neutral laptop learning model. Our teachers have been using both systems for nearly two full years prior to this year - this has been super helpful.
4. Laptop learning has exposed weaknesses in the area of professional development. While we've offered summer learning institutes for the past three years running, we really don't offer anything systemic or sustained during the school  year. As a result, we've started a series of visits to area schools who have been doing this for a while along with some periodic "learning exchanges" where faculty have the opportunity to share some of the things they've been doing in their classrooms. It is my hope that we can increase the opportunities for teachers at ALL levels to engage in regular sharing, reflecting, etc in informal, formal, and vertical/non-departmental/non-grade level groupings. 
5. Student involvement in the process is still something I'm struggling with. We have a student powered "Genius Bar" that is supposed to be a place for students to help with troubleshooting, tech support, etc, but we don't have a great deal of traction with this. Our students are incredibly busy and often times don't have the time to do this. I'm still not giving up on this concept as this is such a wonderful opportunity for youth involvement and leadership.
6. On the technical side of things, the Cisco NAC device that we are using is overly complicated and buggy. Users have a client application on their computer that they use to authenticate to the WiFi network...sometimes it loads, sometimes it doesn't-when it doesn't load, they can't connect to WiFi. Also, I can't say that we've managed the printing challenge very effectively either. 
7. Having ed.Voicethread integrated into our Moodle network has been pretty slick. A few of our  language learning teachers love it and I think this is going to grow and increase in use. 
8. We don't require teachers to use computers in their classrooms...this approach is genius. As with any classroom tool, teachers make the choice about what will be used on any given day. I believe this has created a calming influence on our folks and prevents TICS (Technology Integration Coercion Syndrome). 
9. During morning recess in our Middle School we require students to put their laptops in their lockers so that they can get outside and play. It has been GREAT to see kids playing four square and other outdoor games during this time. I'm glad to know that the presence of laptops has inspired our school community to think more carefully about creating more opportunities for kids to play. 
10. We have unfiltered access to the Internet here at Castilleja and I'm quite proud of this.  I'm also quite proud of the choices that students make when they use their computers during study halls, lunch, and other discretionary time periods. I often times walk around and ask students what they are up to...nine times out of ten they are working on school business which is evidence that they are doing a nice job of managing their time. Yes, some do use facebook before, during, and after school, but by and large they are using their computers quite responsibly as we would expect. 
That is all for now...sort of a mind dump. I hope to have more stories from the classroom in in future "Laptop Learning Progress Updates" here at the blog.


  1. Matt, thank you for posting this. We are watching your program to see what lessons we can learn for ours.

    Regarding network access, I wish we'd talked before!

  2. thanks for the link, Richard. Oh, how I wish we would've liked up on this several months ago!!!

    Glad to hear this update was of use and I'll definitely be doing more in the future. As the post suggests, things are off to a decent start. The whole process has been more evolutionary than anything else. In reality, our students have been bringing personally owned devices of all flavors and form factors to campus for years. What we are doing now is nothing more than an extension of this model. And with a better eye toward professional development, I'm confident we'll continue to build stories of best practices on teaching and learning in the digitally connected classroom.