Larry Carr and I appreciate District Administration for choosing our district, Mohawk Area School District in Pennsylvania, to win the $30,000 X-Factor Student Achievement Award, sponsored by AutoSkill International Inc., last summer. You cannot believe how much the students love using the room and enjoy coming to physical education/wellness.
Lou Ann Miller, physical education and wellness instructor, Mohawk Area School District, Bessemer, Pa.
Disappointed with Program
I am disappointed that Renzulli Learning is being touted as a valid tool for differentiation and enrichment ("Differentiation and Enrichment," June 2008). Every non-tech-savvy curriculum and instruction and gifted and talented director/coordinator is staring with longing at Renzulli Learning-it's going to save them, integrate technology, and change how teachers teach. After my first encounter, I wondered why schools weren't just using Thinkfinity instead. It's free! I looked at Renzulli Learning when they came to visit. I wanted to be open and accepting of this tool, but every question I asked highlighted a simple fact-Renzulli Learning is NOT chock full of "activities." It's a database of links to other people's stuff .
Another objection is that every other system used in districts that affect teachers and students features automated data transfers every 24 hours to prevent loss of service due to student/teacher mobility. This system lacks that. And Renzulli Learning puts the burden of managing online student profiles on the classroom teacher.
Miguel Guhlin, edublogger, mguhlin.net
Do Handhelds Go the Distance?
I read with interest the article on the use of handheld devices presented as a financially and pedagogically viable alternative to laptop computers. Whenever I read of such "new" technological approaches, it appears to me as a comparison of an all-terrain vehicle to a dirt track motorcycle. Both can be seen covering the same terrain, with similar drivers; however, the ride and the results are quite different. Although they contain significant power, handheld devices serve specific functions and do very well in these domains. But the comparison to the potential of a laptop in students' and educators' hands is simply not there.
Many superintendents and policy makers are seeking alternative, cost-effective options to the laptop context, and that is understandable. In my estimation, what is really needed is to have laptop manufacturers arrive at the logical conclusion that the current provision of laptops, designed by adults for adult usage, remains a leap in logic when applied in the classroom context.
Educators should insist with laptop technology manufacturers to ultimately design and provide a laptop that meets the needs of our educators and students, in a cost-effective manner. If the One Laptop Per Child, the popular $100 laptop program, can do it, so can the folks in Silicon Valley.
Presenting comparisons in the types of technology for our classrooms engages readers in searching for options, but the more pervasive, long-standing issue is why it is taking so long for technology to be truly integrated into our classrooms.
Ron Canuel, director general, Eastern Townships School Board, Quebec
The most important point in "Getting Mobile" by Cathleen Norris and Elliot Soloway may be about the future of cell phones as mobile learning devices. Already, millions of students have various smart phones, yet few districts have thought of meaningful ways of including them in the learning process.
Today, most Web-enabled phones are more than simple communication or information devices. They are publishing tools capable of sharing a rich set of information with global audiences. For instance, many can take advantage of global positioning to add geographic data to pictures, video, documents and more. These artifacts can be instantly publishable to either public or private sites and archived, and the content can then be used as raw research from which to draw conclusions, collaborate with others, and create larger, more meaningful projects.
Not only can most cell phones receive streaming video, but soon many will send live streams, creating the potential for classroom interactions from students far afield. Cell phones are becoming one-stop coordination, collaboration and content creation tools, quickly moving beyond talking or texting devices.
These shifts will not come without costs and disruptions. But for budgetary and curricular reasons, schools must begin to prepare for the possibilities and pitfalls soon. At minimum, we need to begin to understand how to leverage the potential of these smart phones in our own learning so we can soon modeltheir use for our students and make appropriate decisions about the ways we might engage them in the curriculum.
Will Richardson, chief learning officer, Connective Learning
Your "Getting Mobile" article touches on many core One-to-One challenges, particularly the need to think carefully before selecting which type of mobile devices will be used.
We all recognize that students need the best tools for learning, and this choice shouldn't be based on price alone, but rather on appropriateness for the task. I applaud the teachers who use PDAs and iPods in innovative ways to transform the curriculum. The danger here is in assuming these devices should be the only device students use in One-to-One schools, replacing fuller featured full-size or ultraportable laptops. (I view an ultraportable, for example, the OLPC's XO and Intel's Classmate, as being in a different category from PDAs and cell phones.)
Although I am happy to use a Blackberry for my e-mail or a PDA for recording data on the go, I would not want to use a similar-sized device when working on or building a spreadsheet, writing a long report, creating a movie, programming a game, or (perhaps, one day) writing my novel. As the article so aptly states, devices should be personal, portable, multimodal and constructive. We want students to be producers of knowledge and knowledge products, not just consumers. We want them to see the big picture, and screen size does make a difference.
Your article will stimulate the critical conversations that should occur around One-to-One and transforming schools and learning environments. Let's hope more and more schools get involved in this discussion.
Susan Einhorn, executive director, Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation (AALF)
Letters to the Editor may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mailed to Judy F. Hartnett, District Administration, 488 Main Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06851. Selections that are published may be edited for length and clarity, and become the property of District Administration.