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Nicholas Negroponte

In his call for a $100 LAPTOP for education in 2005, Nicholas Negroponte changed the course of computer history. In the face of many naysayers, Taiwan-based Asus announced the EeePC 701 subnotebook in June 2007 for a price of $199. While the actual price in November 2007 was about double that, Asus still sold 300,000 units in the first four months of its release and ultimately sold four million units in its first year of availability.

With over 200,000 applications available for Apple’s iPad and thousands more for Android devices, educators and students must sift through a lot of apps to find effective learning tools. An app is software that allows users to perform specific tasks on a mobile device.

A Pew Internet study released in April, “The Rise of e-Reading,” notes a gathering American trend of embracing digital content. The report found that 43 percent of Americans age 16 or older have read an e-book or other long-form digital material, such as a magazine article, over the past year. Of those in this age group who read every day or almost every day for work or school, 54 percent use tablets or other e-book readers. The report also says that those who read with e-book devices read more than others, and that portability and speedy access are major drivers of this trend.

Cameron Evans, Microsoft’s education chief information officer, doesn’t so much see the future holding a single device for one-to-one connections in classrooms, but what he terms “a richly connected ecosystem of learning devices, apps and services that are smart and aware of each other.”

The increasing number, affordability and practicality of apps, such as iBooks Author, is beginning to drive the choice of hardware devices for both schools and mainstream users, says Gail Palumbo, lead faculty and area chair for curriculum, instruction and teacher leadership for the University of Phoenix. “People are demanding more powerful apps that no longer work on older computers or even many newer ones,” she says.

Sixth-graders from the Wayland-Cohocton Middle School in New York train on Toshiba tablets, which the school won in a 2010 Win a Wireless Lab Sweepstakes.

Tablets have come a long way since Apple launched its pioneering Newton MessagePad in 1993, the first Internet-connected flat-screen device pairing a stylus with handwriting-recognition software. Since then, computer hardware companies have been refining and experimenting with the concept of Internet-connected tablet computing devices. The personal digital assistant (PDA), convertible laptop/tablets, dual-screen booklet tablets, e-book readers and other designs have been among the many iterations of tablet computers, sometimes known as slates or media tablets.

“Ninety-one percent of teachers reported having access to computers in their classrooms, but only 22 percent said they have the right level of technology.” – Source: PBS Learning Media (2012)


Mooresville (N.C.) Graded School District

Scott Smith once led efforts for North Carolina’s technology educators, when he served as president of the N.C. Technology in Education Society (NCTIES), the state’s affiliate of the International Society for Technology in Education. Now, he is chief technology officer for the Mooresville (N.C.) Graded School District—a suburban town located 20 miles north of Charlotte. It’s one of the only public school districts in the country to issue laptops to every student in grades 3-12.

Until recently, student electronic devices, from cell phones to iPods to laptop computers, were the forbidden fruit in schools. But with technology budgets languishing and such devices becoming more powerful, affordable and omnipresent in students’ lives, district technology leaders are now eyeing a welcome educational harvest through bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs.

Netbooks Replace Smartphones
Watkins Glen (N.Y.) Central School District

Back in December 2009, Watkins Glen Central School District in Garnerville, N.Y., gave smartphones to 200 fifth- and seventh-graders and 20 teachers in three schools. Two years later, this small pilot program has transitioned away from mobile phones to a one-to-one netbook program for all 850 pupils in grades 5-12. According to Superintendent Tom Philips, the HP Pavilion netbook is more educationally appropriate for Watkins Glen than tablets or mobile phones.