Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Learning, laptops, and promises

There's something magical about a laptop computer. The ubiquitous image of a small powerful computer embodies the vision of 21st century portable computing. And the news has been dotted with stories of laptops in schools, an image that has been both positively and negatively portrayed. There's also the wonderful efforts to put inexpensive laptops in the hands of students in undeveloped countries around the world.

We need to be careful as we broaden our use and reliance on technology. For me, the only thing worse than not having access to adequate technological tools is having access to technological tools that are unreliable or malfunctioning. That's kind of what I was saying in my last post - you know, it was there buried beneath all that the griping and teeth-gnashing. Anyway, the frustration came when the technology didn't deliver on its promise to completely transform our world and radically change learning as we know it. Admittedly, I share some blame for this problem. Maybe it wasn't a promise made by the technology, but an unrealistic expectation I had for it. Either way, the only way to get teachers embracing these powerful digital tools is make them work and keep them working: troubleshoot the glitches, fix the occasional broken keyboard, and keep the network up and running.

It's also time for me to make better on my promises earlier this year to do more in my own classroom. I am fortunate enough to have access to 25 laptops. Now it's time to grow beyond posting comments on the class blog and get the students collaborating with one another, or better yet, with another class somewhere.

Here's one thing I've done so far to keep moving forward. The students in my essay writing class each have blogs, and they are working on an end of semester research paper. Their blogs are serving as a center for their research, something they are having difficulty embracing. This week I told them to find at least three good sources and use it as a jumping off point to write a blog entry about it - summarize relevant information from the source, synthesize the ideas with their own, and ask questions that could lead to further research. Here's a model blog post I wrote to show them some of the basics. In hindsight, I should have spent more time discussing and analyzing the characteristics of a good blog entry, such as embedding the hyperlink and connecting their ideas to what they read.

Well, that's what I have the laptops for, right?

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