Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Sustainable Tech

From eSchool News Online, a VERY interesting article about Debbie Tschirgi, a tech director in Washington state, who has developed something called Sustainable Tech, basically a one-computer classroom with peripherals. While I've used a few excerpts from the article, if you want to read it now, here's the link.

" Each of the five classrooms will be equipped with one computer bought by the district; a SMART Board interactive whiteboard and peripherals from SMART Technologies; a Hitachi CP-RS55 digital projector; a Califone Sound System; an AverVision 300 digital document camera; an Avocent Longview Wireless Extender for the projector; an eInstruction wireless response system; an annual subscription to eBoard, an online educational learning environment; and other peripherals and software solutions that are requested to ensure a successful implementation of the project."

What's missing from this picture? Computers for the students, of course. But, according to Tschirgi, the four computers per student model that they had been developing, just didn't work:

"'But now we know that it was not the best thing: It was not replicable. Districts without the funding couldn't replicate the model, because of the high [degree] of classroom access to technology. It was not replicable, and it was not sustainable.'"

The article goes on to suggest that many school divisions are shying away from the ubiquitous computing phenomenon (laptop projects and such) because of the administrative nightmares:

"Ten years later, many educators have come to believe that technology plans with such high student-to-computer ratios are expensive to deploy and fraught with difficulty from an administrative point of view. Further difficulties arise when the software becomes obsolete, or the machines begin to wear out, or both."

So, for all those people who think that schools should be run more like businesses, here's the first clue that the business model doesn't work...there is no business on the planet who would think that a ratio of four workers per computer is "high" and that doesn't have some kind of replacement plan for old technology. If we want computers to be more than just fancy presentation systems for teachers, then we have to move towards ubiquitous computing. The computer can't be a real tool if I can't access it when I need it.

But I think the underlying message of the article is clear: NCLB and state standards have pushed teachers toward more teacher-centered instruction for which this sustainable classroom system is perfect. The includion of the eInstruction wireless response system means that teachers can be constantly assessing students, usually in a multiple choice format similar to the high-stakes test they will be taking. And while some of the technology like the SmartBoard might mean that students get more involved, this is definitely a teacher-centered model. In fact, it is the teachers who will be using the web to collaborate, sharing their experiences and learning together.

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