Using technology effectively in the classroom is an evolving challenge for teachers and schools. Curious about what some of the newest technologies might have to offer, we decided to create a pilot program to test new devices such as iPads in the classroom. As FSM’s technology coordinator, I have some thoughts about this project…

TSR-80
The hefty TSR-80 was popular in the late 1970's

A few years ago Hewlett Packard came out with an ad campaign entitled “The computer, it’s personal again”. How ridiculous! Such a slogan could only appeal to a hopelessly nostalgic person with retrograde amnesia. Are they referring to the TRS-80? Or perhaps the Sinclair 1000? If only we could go back to the elegant and simple days of Windows 3.1 or dependability of Mac OS 6.0.7.

Computers have become so much more accessible, reliable, and powerful in ways that futurists exactly failed to predict. That said, computers could be more dependable, especially in the classroom.

One of the challenges I face as the technology coordinator is making sure that the computers work as reliably as they can. This turns out to be a tall order given what we know computers can theoretically do and what they ultimately are able to do.

Server troubles, network overloading, and Microsoft products tend to be the biggest culprits. An ideal computer would be one that boots instantly, requires very little software on its local storage drive, has simple licensing compliance, can be reset quickly to desired defaults, and is very easy to use.

Two devices have emerged in the past couple years that may fit that bill: the Apple iPad and the Google Chromebook. Both these machines are very simple, easy to use, require very little server resources, and can be restored quickly and painlessly to a preferred default. They are also much less expensive than laptops.

For the majority of classroom situations, being able to compose written documents and do Internet research is all that is needed. Both devices fit that bill quite well.

Piloting the iPad

iPad2

Instead of either rejecting the newfangled out of hand or diving in head first without seeing how the technology would work in our unique learning environment, we decided to create a pilot program to test new devices in the classroom.

We started this fall with the iPad.

Teachers were asked to submit proposals for how they might experiment with the technology in their classroom. Our head of school Lili and I selected four of them and gave them an iPad to use for the remainder of the school year. Each was given a small budget to purchase applications for their devices.

The program is still new, but we are starting to get useful feedback. It is too early to say how we might use this technology in the school.

Third & fourth graders check out their teacher Kak's new iPad.
Google Chromebook?
Google Chromebook
Google Chromebook

To get a better picture of our options, we may try a similar pilot test of Google’s new Chromebooks. These devices have not caught on as quickly as the iPad, but they are basically a browser-based operating system on a computer with a solid state hard drive. They cost about $300 each and all you need to use one is an Internet connection and a Google account. It gives you access to your webmail, and the growing number of powerful web-based applications for everything from word processing to video editing.

A big advantage of the Chromebook over the iPad is that it is an netbook with a near human-sized keyboard. An advantage of the iPad is its touch-based interface which is more accessible for all ages. There are other pros and cons of course, but it is hard to see which ones are most important until they get some regular use.

Who knows how much the technology will change in the next two years. One thing I know for sure is that the look of technology in the classroom will change dramatically. The other thing I know for sure is that the futurists will probably get it quite wrong.

Regardless, we’ll keep you posted about how this program plays out and how it affects our long-range planning.