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Some Schools Ending Laptop Programs

CowboyNeal posted more than 6 years ago | from the great-expectations dept.

Education 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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Gee, you think? (4, Insightful)

Kid Zero (4866) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998351)

Wow... and it only took them a couple of million to figure that out.

Re:Gee, you think? (2, Interesting)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998469)

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:Gee, you think? (4, Informative)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998473)

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.

What problem were the laptops supposed to solve? (5, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

They did it to make money. (4, Insightful)

twitter (104583) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998825)

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.

Why not a computer lab? (2, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998919)

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 practice with a few school owned and maintained vehicles.

Re:What problem were the laptops supposed to solve (1)

pete6677 (681676) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998971)

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.

Re:What problem were the laptops supposed to solve (1)

philpalm (952191) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998993)

Some possible problems solved:
1) Instead of text books they can carry e-books ....a) A Pda, some phones, Ipods and gaming devices like PSP can also do it. ........i) No more heavy burden for students.
2) Access to internet files.... ....a) teachers can't copy them because of copywrite? ....b) Libraries and subsidies for home computers could be given.
3) Actual Computer usage is learned if a laptop is used... ...a) This effort is negated if no supervision and training given. ...b) Will schools also subsidize dsl too? ...c) Can the laptop be taken back if it isn't being used properly?

Re:Gee, you think? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18998865)

I am not a fan of the book Silicon Snake Oil. (I am a huge fan of his book The Cuckoo's Egg, though! If you haven't read that one, GET IT and READ IT. You will love it I'm sure.)

In SSO he had a long rant about computers and education, and I didn't care for it. He spent a lot of time talking about things like how a library card catalog is better than a sucky library automation software package running on dumb terminals. He liked how librarians can cross-reference things on cards, and all I could think about was "WEB SERVER". The web is all about links and cross-reference links; a good intraweb would kick ass as a library card catalog.

The best part about SSO was the description of cruising around on abandoned railroad tracks on a hacked-together train tracks go kart.

Re:Gee, you think? (0, Offtopic)

Butisol (994224) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998495)

Now can we finally send some laptops to the Antarctic? Penguins could learn the art of flight if only they had the right educational materials. How cool would that be?

No surprise... (4, Insightful)

TheGreatHegemon (956058) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:No surprise... (2, Insightful)

anaesthetica (596507) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998471)

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... (4, Interesting)

Coryoth (254751) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998697)

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:No surprise... (2, Interesting)

Simon80 (874052) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998783)

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 closely mirror the course content, and I could probably convince some of the profs involved to give me a soft copy, but I haven't tried yet. So basically, I'm annoyed that schools aren't actively trying to eliminate the current burden of overpriced textbooks that get obsoleted quickly, weigh much, and often aren't that useful anyway for more than example problems.

In response to your comment, perhaps there needs to be more research about how to use tablets to facilitate learning. It doesn't seem like there's any noise coming from that direction, and there's certainly room for new ideas, like shared virtual chalkboards and such.

Re:No surprise... (1)

Stinking Pig (45860) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998843)

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.

Re:No surprise... (1)

sqrt(2) (786011) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998863)

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.

Re:No surprise... (1)

anaesthetica (596507) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998877)

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:No surprise... (2, Interesting)

sqrt(2) (786011) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998917)

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 a problem also. The school system is the last place any blame should be placed.

Re:No surprise... (1)

phalse phace (454635) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998513)

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.

Re:No surprise... (1)

Korin43 (881732) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998661)

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..

Re:No surprise... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18998659)

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.
I don't like the tablet PC idea. But I understand your annoyance with having to maintain pristine textbooks. As far as I'm concerned, the schools should be giving the textbooks to the students. I don't know how much they save by reuse, but I think the value of being able to take notes in the textbooks or having the textbooks for review outweighs any savings they might have. With public schools spending from $5,000 to $16,000 per year per student, the textbook cost isn't extreme, especially with bulk discounts and cheap binding. It would probably only add ~$150 per year or so.

Re:No surprise... (4, Informative)

laffer1 (701823) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998739)

$150? School text books are similar to college text books. I've had to spend over $150 on a single class before in college. Unless prices are fixed for publishers, I don't see this happening. I remember getting fined in high school for book damage from previous students. We had to spend the first day writing down "marks" in the books and I missed a few pages. What would be nice is if on demand publishing became cost effective. As I recall, often only half the book was used in high school or at least a few chapters were skipped by the teacher. It might be beneficial to schools to offer dynamic versions of books that they could order which fit the needs and could also be printed fresh each year as you suggest.

This also leads to a few advantages like current text books. In high school, I had a french book printed in 1978 which is before I was born! It had water damage and was difficult to follow. The slang words weren't even close to current. History classes were often bad as well. I remember my text book talking about exciting "new" events in 1984 when it was 1992. That's not helpful either. Providing new books each year or on demand style books solves the outdated problem.

I used to work at an ISP. One school bought refurbished Macs and gave them to students for home use. These were desktop systems so they didn't need to worry about breaking. They also got a discount on internet access and students were provided desktops to use at school. This could solve some of the breaking problem. Plus the students were issued the computers as long as they were at the district. The school could buy a $300 dell or something and let the students use it at home for 6 years. (well ok maybe a brand that will last longer...) I'm not sold on the idea that computers automatically make students smarter. I would have played with them and not payed attention to homework at that age.

Re:No surprise... (4, Insightful)

Gerzel (240421) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998771)

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.

locking systems down does not work as there is a.. (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998361)

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.

A wise man once said (5, Insightful)

DragonHawk (21256) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998365)

"There are seldom good technological solutions to behavioral problems." -- Ed Crowley

Another wise man once said (1)

rah1420 (234198) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998425)

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.

And a less wise man once said... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18998775)

"Let there be one laptop per child.. And let that laptop cost $100 + some extra... And let me save yee impovrished nations that donate $100's of millions to my cause" Or something like that...

Better idea (1)

spike2131 (468840) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998369)

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 (5, Insightful)

dosius (230542) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998375)

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...


Re:No surprise really (4, Insightful)

anaesthetica (596507) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998485)

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.

Re:No surprise really (3, Insightful)

Jarjarthejedi (996957) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998705)

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 physics...you 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...

Re:No surprise really (1)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998639)

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 path.

Sure that's a lot. Schools also have from when the kid is about 3 or 5 (depending on the quality of "preschooling") up through to when the kid is 18. (Education only until the age of 16 should be scrapped. There aren't any trades or occupations that can get away with that any more. You might need vocational schooling or a trade school, but you WILL need schooling past 16. Many jobs need training beyond that - London cabbies are the best in the world, not because they're smarter but because the standards of training are higher. Don't even begin to tell me other vocational trades couldn't benefit from squeezing every last drop of blood - err, ability out of people.)

Where computers can assist in education, they should be used in education. Where they do not, they shouldn't be within a thousand feet of a single student. Where student-usable laptops are available, they should be securely configured to do the work intended and nothing more. If that means burning the OS and config files into an eprom, then burn the bloody OS and config files into an eprom. You can use LinuxBIOS as a starting point to do exactly that, if you like. That's what it's there for.

Of course, many schools are lazy and unwilling to put effort into teaching, training or educating, let alone designing the tools necessary for the job. Many others simply don't have the time or the money, even though they have all the enthusiasm and understanding in the world. You can't squeeze blood from a stone. Yet others are filled with people who entirely satisfy the criteria of "those who can't, teach".

In order for education to work, it must be ripped up, with the unable and the unwilling taken out of the picture, and the rest provided with absolutely anything and everything they need to do their jobs well. The important part of that is "well". Consultants and computer "experts" who recommend inappropriate solutions should be stripped of all certifications, degrees and acolades, before having their toenails painted pink and chased through redneck country. Appropriate is tough, sure. It means doing REAL analysis of requirements (ie: finding out what is needed, whether or not it is wanted), REAL problem specification and REAL supervised and monitored integration with the schools. Monitored? Yes. You need to compare what is expected with what happens, and modify the analysis and specification accordingly. That is why software has a life CYCLE. You take the output and use it as input for the next iteration.

It seems very clear that none of this has not happened. No real analysis, no reverse-engineering of expertise, no real specification of the problem to hand, and certainly no monitoring and assessing of impact until the point of total collapse was reached.

This is not nearly good enough. I would perhaps expect such poor performance if tenth-graders were running the education department and the schools. Oh. Maybe they are...

Re:No surprise really (1)

_Sharp'r_ (649297) | more than 6 years ago | (#18999003)

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 mice are available for use on the classroom wall/countertop next to those closets. So, no easy physical access to the stripped down computer itself.

2. All students login to their LDAP account with all non-OS storage on a central NAS. This means it doesn't matter which particular computer a student is using, their environment is the same. Computers are interchangeable, as they just need the basic OS and network connection. Student computers can thus also be wiped/replaced at any time with no data loss.

3. Student computers run Multi-Seat X so that more than one student can have a kb/mouse/monitor at a time per physical computer.

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 teacher as a curriculum resource before being allowed. Easy since all online academic resources will be stored in a DB as part of the records system anyway) with the use of the proxy server enforced at the network level.

5. No Microsoft products in use, including OSes.

6. Students with a computer at home may connect to their student environment from home as well, but they're allowed to mess that computer up because the school doesn't have to fix it.

See any flaws that I missed?

I've convinced the rest of the School Board that technology should be learned as a tool to use for something else that makes it necessary, like writing a paper, not as an end in and of itself.

Heh (3, Interesting)

tibike77 (611880) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998377)

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...

Re:Heh (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998511)

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.

Re:Heh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18998831)

A friend of mine attends a relatively new high school that requires laptops for all students. Every laptop had to run some kind of restrictive software that would prevent what you described from happening. Within weeks of the school opening, a workaround had been found and some ingenious students had even managed to install the server software for Halo PC (and I'm sure many, many others) on the school's webserver located on campus. Needless to say, it's hardly been an educational use of hardware.

Re:Heh (1)

KiLLa_TK (1030038) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998997)

you just described college... except that maybe the students have a tiny bit more focus on academics than fun fun fun all day!!!

Kind of makes free software look good. (1)

twitter (104583) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998999)

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 software that act as a small library of information. You know, like tools for learning instead of writting a quarterly profit and loss statement or playing video games.

OK, maybe some people are going to goof off and look at boobies [ratemyboobies.com] all day. So what? Those are the kids that would be making drawings all day anyway. You can lead a horse to water but you cant make it drink.

High school kids not responsible? (3, Funny)

navalynt (623324) | more than 6 years ago | (#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 (4, Insightful)

geek (5680) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998395)

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:Makes sense to me (1)

Ignorance Enabled (1097875) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998557)

I agree with your sentiment entirely. I am a new college grad, and I grew up in Maine. I was in the education system before the one-laptop-for-everyone was developed, but I would do exactly as you describe; I would use the laptop for exactly what I should not. Even with the systems we did have in labs, for example, I found I could get around their executable-lock program by making a VB script in an excel sheet to run whatever executable on the machine I wanted.

I also agree that they would make a good reward. My GPA was horrible for my first two years of high school. There was simply no sort of motivation for me. In fact my feeling was that being a B+ student for four years would look worse to colleges than to start out in the C range, then go up to the A range (and from the responses I got, apparently that WAS the case). The only motivation I was ever externally provided for good grades was a "good job" from my parents and a sundae once a quarter at school.

I would have been thrilled to be given (loaned) a laptop, even a poor quality one, as a reward for a good job. The only technology in my high school was a typing course in 10th grade. I found it a little strange because I also had a typing course in 4th grade! We developed with Hypercard in 5th grade and Apple's basic in 7th and 8th grade. Aside from that, we would use a word processor and Mavis Beacon.

I was lucky to be raised a father who felt the need to have a computer at home, and today I am a computer engineer. I just know how much more fun I could have had...

Re:Makes sense to me (1)

FLEB (312391) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998849)

I had an arrangement similar to that in 6th grade, but it was in the form of more access time on the "loaner computer"-- the one that we kids could screw with the settings on because it wasn't running anything important, and would get wiped at the end of the year. Of course, this was before the Internet, so the worst you could dig up was AppleBASIC programs you wrote yourself or Stupid Control Panel Tricks.

Still, though, I think just having a "bang-on" machine (even something older and more accessible to scare away the poseurs and intrigue the truly interested. Give 'em C64s, I say!) in the classroom is the best option. Less costly, more control, and it still fulfills those few little advantages of "having computers in the classroom".

(Your mention of HyperCard brought back the memory. I was determined to actually program this Mac Performa we had on-site, that had no tools to actually do that-- I'd go back and forth between the Hypercard Player that wouldn't let you edit, and the Hypercard Demo that wouldn't let you Save... let's say that I didn't quite grasp the concept of "crippleware" at my young age. But I still remember the teacher setting down a gigantic box with the full version of HyperCard on my desk. Gift-wrapped. I was gleeful. Of course, this was the last week of school, so I never actually got a chance to use it, but looking back, I realize now something I never knew back then-- I was a big dork.)

Re:Makes sense to me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18998583)

Also, they're always on my damn lawn.

Re:Makes sense to me (0, Redundant)

otomo_1001 (22925) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998609)

I wouldn't trust kids today with a pen let alone a laptop.

You forgot to add: Get off my lawn you dang kids!

Re:Makes sense to me (2, Insightful)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998633)

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.

Re:Makes sense to me (1)

Jarjarthejedi (996957) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998789)

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 while I do appreciate the knowledge I gained from those old machines I also recognize that had I been given this computer off the bat it would not have been good.

If you're given a free laptop to use during class the first thing that nontechnical people are going to do is play around, and probably break the computer. The first thing that technical people are going to do is use the machine as a testbed for all sorts of specialty hacks/programs. Either way the laptop is not going to be respected or treated well, nothing free ever is.

Your lack of trust about pens reminds me of my High School lol, pens/pencils were constantly stuck in the ceilings there because of bored kids and so, while I do believe there are benefits (and I've experienced them myself, looking up something you're curious about as the teacher moves on since the rest of the class isn't interested is educational) I also firmly believe that a) People who don't understand how to use a device shouldn't be given it and b) No one should ever be given anything free of consequences/penalties for misuse.

Not really all that surprising, you can't solve bad grades with technology, especially when the technologies users have no incentive to not use the technology improperly...

Why did they think that in the first place? (4, Insightful)

Glowing Fish (155236) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998397)

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!! (3, Interesting)

cbdavis (114685) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Duh!! (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998665)

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 sort of decent group policy in place, so they couldn't just turn it off. And even then you need more resources to manage and fix such a "loose" network than a computer lab. And that's just some of the ways it was screwed from a computer management perspective, if they had nothing more than a plan to have each student be able to run MS Office to write essays, well...

Do anyone get the feeling that this is about as sensible as giving brand new cars to a tribe that's been living in the jungle all his life. They've barely been told how to turn the key, don't know how to drive, follow road signs and rules, fill gas or any other basic thing. And when half have run off the road, the rest collided or ran out of gas, everyone is surprised to see that they didn't make it into the 21st century. Seriously, tbat project must have had a cloud of doom covering the entire state hanging over it.

Information access does not equal education (5, Insightful)

Glowing Fish (155236) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998449)

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.

Slashdot access does not equal education (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18998501)

"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."

Nah. And as an example look at slashdot.

Re:Information access does not equal education (4, Insightful)

anaesthetica (596507) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998531)

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.

Rote memorization does not equal education (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18998595)

"Having access to information and memorizing some of it is nearly worthless."

Like one's times table.

Re:Rote memorization does not equal education (2, Funny)

BorgCopyeditor (590345) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998685)

I was going to make what would have been an admittedly minor joke about this. The premise was going to be that the lazy kid would just say, "I can just look that up online," and then I was going to crack wise about how the site would be called multiplication.com, and if anyone were smart, they would rush out and register that domain name, etc. This would have netted a laughter quotient of around 3 x 10 ^ -8 chuckles per reader.

I was going to do all that, and then I found this [multiplication.com].

Reality has far outrun even the feeblest attempts to parody it. I think I'm just going to go to sleep now.

Re:Rote memorization does not equal education (4, Funny)

FLEB (312391) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998937)

Well, at least it wasn't:

Welcome to Multiplication.com, your source for Multiplication! To start multiplying, enter the two numbers you wish to multiply, and click the "GO!" button:

A: [ ]
B: [ ]
Register now (It's Free!) to multiply up to 4 numbers together* at one time, or purchase a Multiplication.com Gold Member account ($12.95/year) to multiply up to 24 numbers together at one time, as well as negatives!*.

* Resulting product for Standard Account Members may not exceed 65,535. Gold Members whose products exceed 2,147,483,647 will be charged an Overflow Fee of 10 cents for every further 1,000,000 of the product.

Re:Rote memorization does not equal education (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18998977)

Reality has far outrun even the feeblest attempts to parody it. I think I'm just going to go to sleep now.

Yeah, Borges pretty much nailed it.

Re:Rote memorization does not equal education (1)

metlin (258108) | more than 6 years ago | (#18999001)

You know, I had mod points and was going to mod it +1 sad, but I simply *had* to tell you that. :)

Sad, that.

Re:Information access does not equal education (2, Interesting)

esmrg (869061) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998879)


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 tight. Besides, they can't run spyware/malware/crapware/sonyrootkit/lastestgame. Imagine kids coming out of high school knowing how to form good search queries.

If only. But I can dream.

Re:Information access does not equal education (1)

Coryoth (254751) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998749)

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 teach the students how to put all that information together to build knowledge; how to learn. Often that is going to be done by example, by bringing structure and sense to information as it is provided. Wisdom is, of course, much harder to impart -- only the best teachers can do that; thankfully there are some.

Is it the students' fault??? (1)

Chabil Ha' (875116) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998459)

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.

Colleges too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18998499)

A few years ago the fashion was for colleges to go with laptop programs. The students would buy/rent standard laptops from the college and would have network connections in all the classrooms and labs (this was a couple of years before wifi). Part of the attraction for the colleges was that they would no longer have to supply computer labs and they would thus save money. Strangely, it didn't actually save money and most colleges didn't make the switch.

The trick with teaching is getting the students to engage with the material. If you can control what is on the laptop at every instant it might be ok but otherwise the darn thing is just a source of distractions. If the teacher isn't exceptionally organized the laptops will produce the opposite of student engagement.

Do school administrators actually use computers? (1)

Enrique1218 (603187) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998505)

If it is not porn, then myspace, then youtube, then IM, then video games...Come on, what were they thinking?

Contrary to what seems to be popular belief (4, Interesting)

vethia (900978) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

In other news... (1)

Dystopian Rebel (714995) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998535)

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.

Wait.... they downloaded porn? (1)

StewedSquirrel (574170) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998541)


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.



No Shit Sherlock (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18998549)

Hmmm.. lets give a bunch of bored students a really nice toy and say.. Oh, you can't hack.. no no no..

The world is run by fucking morons!

Not only was this outcome obviously predictable... (1)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998565)

..but how about all those uderpaid teachers whose lives could have been made a little bit better, by rewarding their crappy work with a better salary or bonus? Because, let's face it, being a teacher nowadays is really the pits. I've done it for a short while (replacing a physics teacher in a high school), and came out with an immense admiration for teachers' work.

Teachers are not underpaid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18998757)

Teachers are not underpaid - the public school system sucks, and so do most students.

For example, see a current LA Times story... [latimes.com]

I am not sure what the answer is, but by the time kids are in high school, you ought to be able to stop coddling them and tell them straight-up; "you suck, learn to work a cash register", "you should work hard, you have the potential for a career", and "you are heading for a hard, short life on the streets and in jail - leave school now."

Re:Teachers are not underpaid (1)

sqrt(2) (786011) | more than 6 years ago | (#18999007)

They've been doing that in Germany, 3 separate branches for different levels of academic skill, but guess what, they're slowly switching over to our 1 track system. Go figure, I personally think we should switch over to something similar to the German system, but our education system now is based on empty threats and second chances the shock to reality would probably be too great--for the students and teachers.


thrill-ki1l (911411) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998569)

My first computer was a laptop i convinced my parents to get me for school for my 14th birthday. I will tell you it definately helped my grades especially in english. I went from getting C- in english for years to getting A's in english. and most of my teachers loved that i turned in every assignment neatly typed


mp3phish (747341) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998837)

Let me guess. Because now you had an automatic spell checker and grammerchecker?

You didn't bother to look spellings and definitions up before, now the computer does it for you..

Maybe that is good, and maybe you learned from your mistakes as the computer caught them. Or maybe you could just be lazy and the computer just did most of your assignment for you. 99% of the value of learning in writing a paper is in correcting your work, not in the content itself.

As if we couldn't see this coming... (1)

talon_262 (514764) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998581)

Gee, you give a bunch of kids expensive laptops for cheap/free or mandate that parents buy them for their kids, then act shocked when they don't just use them for straight-up school work, but some students also misuse and abuse them!

Can you say "Duuuhhhhhhhh"?

Make the rugrats use Linux (1)

mbstone (457308) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998585)

They'll have few games to play, and they'll have to learn to compile the kernel just to get their homework done.

Re:Make the rugrats use Linux (1)

Endo13 (1000782) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998681)

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.

Laptops (1)

gopla (597381) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998591)

Laptops are difficult to handle in a corporate environment even today, what do you expect to happen in schools. We have even grownup executives taking laptop and connecting to it to outside corporate network, and bringing back viruses and trojans in the corporate network. Corporate IT dept. with all its might still strugle to keep all the laptops updated and patched.


Technology, Schools, and Political Solutions (1)

Coryoth (254751) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998593)

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 introducing anything terribly helpful to current methods of teaching and education. It's a cheap political solution that sounds forward looking because it is "technology", but it does nothing. What would work? How about eBook readers with all the kids textbooks pre-loaded onto it? Better yet, an eBook reader with basic tablet functionality to let the student annotate the PDFs, and write notes -- that's as much as it needs to do. Much more and it is just a distraction. Simple targetted devices are the key. The OLPC project is onto something -- they are quite targetted in the software and OS they are putting on there -- maybe not ideal, but it is something. Why are we not seeing eBook readers taken up? First because politicians tend to be stupid, but second, it is because (let's face it) current eBook readers suck: they just aren't that good. When we have ePaper or similar with much better DPI (and they are starting to appear) things might change. Until then the technology simply isn't good enough to replace pen and paper.

It has it's place. (1)

Steve-o-192.168 (1096403) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998599)

Technology has it's place in education. It's not for every situation, and there are some things, like physics, chemistry, & math, that it's very, VERY helpful to have a real, live teacher to answer questions.

Here is my personal story:
In highschool, I was in our city's "drop-out recovery program" due to many absences caused by illness (fibromyalgia).

Our entire curriculum was delivered via computer - old 8086's and 286's to be exact, networked together with 10baseT, hooked up to a Novell Server.

Josten's Learning did the software - The curriculum was state accredited, meaning that it met certain requirements and goals our state sets up for it's highschool students.

I started out in January of 1999 with no highschool credits, passed the exit exam mid 1999, and finished my last class sometime early spring of 2000.

How was I able to do this in an underfunded program with just 1 actual teacher?

HARD WORK, combined with useful technology.
Almost every day, I got there at 7:30 or 8 AM in the morning, and stayed every day, well after normal hours, and into the afternoon session when the GED classes were held, until around 5 PM.
I even came in some saturdays!

In the summer of 1999, I was healed by God of fibromyalgia and have had no trouble from it since then! Since then I went on to earn two Associate Degrees at our Community College (120 semester hours in 2 years... not bad!) and a Bachelors Degree in Electrical & Computer Engineering from Auburn University.

Re:It has it's place. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18998651)

also cocks.

Laptop Worked Fine For Me... (4, Interesting)

morari (1080535) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998617)

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... (3, Interesting)

mdboyd (969169) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998649)

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.

Can I say impartial reporting? (1)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998673)

> 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? (2, Interesting)

feranick (858651) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

My experience: (1)

The Orange Mage (1057436) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998745)

We were given 700Mhz IBM ThinkPads that somehow managed to run Windows XP Pro. (This was two years ago) We managed to brute-force Counter Strike 1.5 onto the things, running at about 20 fps in a 512x360-ish resolution in Software mode. It was more of a distraction than anything, but being able to write a paper while laying in bed was a nice productive thing about it.

I am new here, so I actually RTFA. (3, Insightful)

Vasco Bardo (931460) | more than 6 years ago | (#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? (3, Insightful)

AbsoluteXyro (1048620) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Grades aren't everything (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18998799)

If a lot of kids learned programming/hacking, networking skills, they could go and do useful things - despite what their grades may so. Did it reduce the grades of kids?

I can understand the repair issues - laptops for kids use have to be designed for kids - these things are very fragile.

No wonder... (3, Interesting)

Brenky (878669) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998801)

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

Hardware without the software (1)

linzeal (197905) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998809)

Don't blame the technology of using computers in the classroom. What is needed is better educational programs and collaboration software.

OLPC? (1)

ZombieRoboNinja (905329) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998839)

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?

Go to Plan B (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998845)

1) Take the laptops and give them to 3rd world students instead.
2) These students will use them for learning instead of pr0n.
3) When they graduate with CS and engineering degrees, hire them on H1-B visas.
4) ???
5) Profit!

Politician don't work out? (1)

holdenholden (961300) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998851)

"Apparently, politicians embracing technology as a quick fix for social problems doesn't always work out."

So, does that mean that politician don't work out?

Integration, Planning, and Infrastructure (2, Interesting)

MrNonchalant (767683) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

I went to LHS (1)

sanosuke001 (640243) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998927)

I went to LHS, the first high school mentioned in the article and honestly, the staff they had were very lazy, the teachers knew next to nothing about computers, and not all students even had laptops. I was in the class just before they started the program (my brother was in the first class allowed to sign up for the laptop program) so I ended up buying my own laptop to bring to school for personal use.

The problems with the network staff at the school were any problems, they would blame the student and just re-image the system. Now, re-imaging is a quick solution but blaming the student wasn't fair. Also, they made the students pay ~$900 for the laptop which wasn't work $400 in my opinion. I believe in the first version of the laptop, it was an IBM thinkpad celeron 500-700 I believe. (I'm probably wrong) It made the system virtually useless outside of typing where you could buy your own system for marginally more money, get to keep it, and have it much more useful.

The biggest problem was allowing free access the the wireless network and then complaining when all of the students played Counter Strike during Academic Study (a 2hr study hall every other day for all students) so students doing any legitimate work wouldn't be able to because of the network being overloaded. Also, the teachers didn't know much about computers, which wasn't their fault but implementing a laptop program without training the teachers first is a bit useless.

Putting into place access restrictions and blocking net traffic with decent tools would have fixed a lot of the problems they had. Also, mandating that each student be given a laptop would have helped teachers since all of them would be working with students who had them. Since it wasn't mandatory (when I was there) a lot of students who couldn't afford them were left out which segmented the student body. However, using laptops in classes that aren't technical classes is a bit difficult. If they didn't expect this problem when they started the program, then they were blind. I had my laptop in my Computer Science 3-4 class and I got a lot of work done; but I also played a lot of Diablo 2 during classes. However, it did make keeping track of my notes a lot easier than stuffing them into my backpack. The laptops do get in the way more than help but the problems with overwhelmed networking staff, sub-par equipment, flaky networks (which could have been fixed with better restrictions on access), and uselessness in the classroom made these programs doomed from the start.

i used to teach in a district w/ a laptop program (3, Interesting)

no reason to be here (218628) | more than 6 years ago | (#18998935)

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.

sucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18998939)

well, for the people that actually did benefit from them...
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