Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Are We Ready to Leverage 1-1 Computing in Schools?

Looks like HP is the latest entrant in the "classroom laptop" market. With the "Mini-Note", HP joins Intel (Classmate PC), the OLPC (XO Laptop), and Asustek (Eee PC) to bring lightweight, functional computers in the hands (laps?) of children in classrooms around the world. At $500, the Mini-Note seems moderately more expensive than the ClassMate PC (which costs around $350), the Eee PC and the XO (both of which cost around $200).

It won't be long before these hit the Indian market too in a big way. [They are already being used in pockets where Intel and others are funding some initiatives.]

According to the article -
"HP also says it plans to provide free, online professional development courses designed to help teachers engage students' interest and improve their achievement through the use of technology."
Unlike the OLPC which was criticized for not paying enough attention, at least initially, to teacher preparation (see this link suggested in the comments in response to this blog post), HP clearly knows to say right thing with regard to teacher preparation! Fortunately, today there is wide-spread cognizance of the fact that none of these initiatives will fly unless teachers in the classrooms are on board, comfortable with the use of these machines, and aware of how to use them to meet their teaching-learning goals!

And what about curriculum? Most teachers around the world are used to delivering canned syllabi and curricula which essentially means following prescribed textbooks. Who is developing curricula that effectively integrate 1-1 computing in the teaching-learning process, and effectively replace textbooks and blackboards & chalk-n-talk with individual computers for students in the classroom?

Furthermore, how well are instructional designers doing to meet the learning needs of children in different parts of the world where contexts and cultures are so dissimilar to those of the US where the makers of these machines are headquartered?

Lastly, even if good curricula are being developed, are teacher PD programs like HP's preparing teachers to meet the demands and needs attendant to the use of these new curriculum? Or are they just familiarizing teachers with these machines, not unlike the mammoth Intel and Microsoft teacher training programs that have simply "trained" millions of teachers in the developing world on the functional aspects of PCs and the use of the Microsoft Office suite, without paying attention to how teachers will leverage these machines and software (all software, not just MS Office), for meaningful learning in the classroom.

Unless these issues are given the attention they deserve, the idea of Intel already selling "tens of thousands" of Classmate PCs since they went on sale last year and OLPC putting "hundreds of thousands of XO laptops" in the hands of children, even before a single Mini-Note has sold, does not give much reason to rejoice...

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