Tag Archives: 1:1

BYOD: Does anyone have a right to WiFi in a school setting?

Free speech. Freedom of religion. Freedom to bear arms. Free access to your school’s WiFi network. We hold these truths to be self-evident.


Until the tech department changes the passwords, that is.

At my school, students had grown used to a very generous Bring Your Own Device atmosphere that had built up over several years. I suppose most students had their phones on the school network and I was starting to see a sprinkling of individually-owned iPad minis, other tablets, and the occasional PC laptop appear in class. This was accomplished by having a Guest network available through the school and most if not all students had the user name and password that the technology department had freely circulated for their use.

But how were they using this access? According to a recent conversation with our tech department folks, the vast majority of traffic on the school-provided WiFi was to YouTube and Facebook. The assumption, and probably an accurate one, is that most of the bandwidth being slurped up by the BYOD crowd was for non-academic purposes. So the tech department decided to do something about it. Their first step was to change the Guest network login username and password and to not give it out to students.

But those crazy kids knew a couple of the other WiFi network passwords too, either through divine intervention or the fact that they were friends with the student tech interns over the past few years. The technology staff report walking into classrooms and seeing some of the not-so-secure network passwords scribbled on teacher whiteboards. See where this is going? If you are a network admin, you do.

If you are a network admin or keep an eye on such things, you know that network (IP) addresses for computers consist of 4 numbers (ex: where the last two numbers are the subnet (11) and the individual device (3). It turns out that each subnet can only dish out 255 addresses, for some arcane reason. This limits the number of devices that can be on one subnet to no more than 255, and usually less.

Now when all of our BYOD devices, which was pretty much every cell phone in the building, hopped on the same WiFi network, what do you suppose happened? Thats right, we ran out of addresses. Now it was personal because the network that everyone had hopped on was one that all my Macs and iPads were on, because Apple stuff like AirPlay and Bonjour loves to be on the same subnet. But having one subnet means only 250 or so devices, and now every kid in the building was snagging those IP addresses. Major network crash, right in the middle of some test prep that my students were trying to do on the Macs. Not pretty.

Our response? Change all the passwords. Quite logical, actually. Now only school-owned devices can connect to the school’s WiFi network. There seem to be no more connection problems and the speed of the network seems faster, but that could be my imagination.

Was this the right call, kicking every BYOD off of the school network? I’m not sure.

I totally understand why it happened the way it did and I get the argument about network connectivity as a limited resource. But if your students are like mine, and like the individual who drew the image above, access to WiFi ranks way up there on the list of basic needs. Lots of the YouTube traffic that I saw from my students was happening in the background as music that played while they worked on school-related stuff. Many teachers in the building report multiple instances of cell phones being used on a routine basis for academic purposes. Is it fair to now force students to use up their data plans for learning activities while school-provided WiFi lurks just out of reach? Is the local coffee shop now a more welcoming place to learn because they provide WiFi?

I think there are some positive aspects of BYOD, but right now we’re clunking around our implementation of it. How’s it work in your school? What solutions have you seen work? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

When the batteries die, break out the crayons


This is a cautionary tale about what happens when educational technology fails. Of course, tech breaking down is nothing new, but reliance on technology in a 1:1 learning environment introduces some complications that you might not have thought about.

Not so long ago, I would have ranked myself up there on the list of folks who knew how to do educational technology pretty well. I had managed to score a cart of MacBooks so that each student could be guaranteed 1:1 access during class time at least, and I went about implementing some fancy new strategies like student blogging. I even got tagged to write an article in Edutopia about it in 2010, so I was doing something at least marginally interesting with technology at the time.

A year later I was able to convince my tech coordinator and principal that I could really use a class set of iPads since my hardcopy Anatomy textbooks were falling apart and there were some new apps appearing that would let my students get their textbooks electronically. When the district bought some new iPad2’s, I snagged a class set and went on to check them out to students in my own mini version of a 1:1 program for about 40 students at a time. We used the Inkling app to buy 30 copies of Hole’s Anatomy on the iPads and shelved the old textbooks, definitely a win in most #edtech circles.

Fast forward to this school year, 2014-15, in which I’ll need to use the same laptops that’ve been around in my room since 2008, but now add in the fact that our technology coordinator spent the summer closing up shop as he left for a new (less stressful and well deserved) job so no new technology hardware purchases were made nor any older units repaired. This means that several macs that I sent in for a missing key or sticky mousepad are now completely AWOL, as are several iPads that needed minor repairs, as are multiple batteries from the Macs (the removable variety) since I pulled several for disposal at the beginning of the summer.

I should also mention that I have 46 Anatomy students but only 38 working iPads and only 30 Inkling textbook licenses, so the tradition of loaning an iPad to every Anatomy student ended this year.

This is when I realize how spoiled I’ve been. I have always been able to get all the technology that I felt that students needed to learn in a “modern” classroom. But now that a lot of that technology is powerless (literally) to help my students, what’s a tech-nerd to do without technology? How does a very functional 1:1 implementation carry on when it is no longer 1:1?

We’re going old-school, of course. My Juniors and Seniors in the Anatomy class are coloring. ON PAPER (using study guide packets, and, yes, I see some irony in that after slamming packets in a previous post). We’re using a hardcopy textbook again. Its from 2004 and most are falling apart in some way.

But here’s the fun part: I think coloring diagrams of the human body has a place in an anatomy course, and I forgot that in my quest for the latest gadgets. I think students poring over a list of terms and deciding their locations in a particular type of tissue, organ, or system has a lot of merit as a learning tool. Its not that the iPad can’t do that, but I honestly rarely saw my students using the iPads that way. If you give a student a handout to help them learn about the human body, there is pretty much only one use for that handout, but if you give them an iPad, it gets a little more complicated. If you were a student with an iPad, would you choose to read an anatomy text on it instead of using one of the other thousands of apps that it could run? Maybe, if the teacher forced you to, but I never did think that forcing kids into certain apps was the best use of iPads, which meant that our fancy Inkling app textbooks went largely unused, I’m sorry to say.

This year represents a chance to take a much lower-tech approach to teaching Anatomy, a return to how I used to teach it in some ways. Oh, I’ll still use technology for the class. In fact, we’ve already got our blogs set up and will eventually set up our assessment portfolios online too, as we’ve done for the past few years. The only difference might be in the kinds of artifacts we post there. Expect to see some more coloring, and, who knows, maybe some better test scores as well.


iPads in Science Education: Apps Students Actually Use

Almost every tech blogger I run across publishes some sort of Top Ten list of iOS apps at some point in their blog. Not to be outdone, I present my own list here, but whether it has ten apps and whether it manages to sell stuff to anyone remains to be seen. With any luck this post will let you see how we’re using iPads as creative devices, not as content delivery devices.

If you’ve been following this blog, you may remember that at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year I managed to get around 40 iPad 2’s for my students to use. These were given out primarily to my Anatomy students but some found their way into Physics students’ hands as well. If you’re interested in some notes on the deployment check here.

The deployment this year was similar, but was aided greatly by the addition of a Mac Mini as a sync station that students can use to update the apps on their iPads (Last year I had a dedicated local user account on my own Mac laptop to manage the iPads and, well, that sucked).

On to the apps! Here are some apps that we use and some sample learning artifacts from students that should give you a sense of how we are actually using the iPads:

Explain Everything: The iPad is great for drawing on with your fingers and it has a microphone, so why not talk and draw at the same time! That’s the premise behind Explain Everything. Here are some examples from Tiffany and Bethany in my Anatomy class.

WordPress and BlogPress: Since I run a paperless classroom based on student blogs, these apps see a lot of heavy use. Besides the obvious benefits of being able to create and edit blogs on the iPad (I’m using the WordPress app to write this), a secondary benefit is that students without Internet access at home can work on drafts that can be saved on the iPad at home and published once they’re back on the school’s WiFi.

Evernote: If you are familiar with Evernote at all, you know that it can do a lot. It should be no surprise, then, that different students use Evernote in many different ways. Several AP Biology students (including Steven and Mandi) are using it to keep track of some of their long-term experiments, taking both notes and pictures that they then use later in blog posts. Another student and I use a shared Notebook in Evernote to make sure he doesn’t lose his work, which for most of the first quarter seemed to never make it onto his blog. Using Evernote on both of our iPads lets me see his writing, even if it never makes it to his public blog.

Camera: No App Store link is necessary for this one, as long as you’ve got an iPad 2 or later model. The camera allows students to capture both still pictures and video. Some of the uses of pictures taken with the iPad can be seen on Evan’s Chemistry blog where he captures a periodic table scavenger hunt sheet he did and at Ashley’s Anatomy blog where she captures drawings from a histology lab. An example video is this one that Henry shot on his iPad in AP Biology to introduce the class to his viewers.

Skitch: Once students have pictures on the iPad, Skitch can be used to draw and annotate on top of those pictures for artistic and academic purposes. Some examples can be found on Leeanne’s blog and Stephen’s blog.

AirPlay and screen sharing: While not technically an App, one of the built-in features of the newer iPads is the ability to share the iPad screen over an AirPlay connection. In my room we use AirServer on my Mac to project student iPads onto the screen for the whole class to see. This has come in handy several times when those “google moments” happen in the middle of a discussion when a student wants to contribute something they just pulled up on their iPad. Much more about the technical side of AirPlay sharing can be found here.

Vernier Video Physics: I’ve mentioned this app before, but its awesomeness begs for it to be mentioned again. Students take videos of anything in motion and can create motion maps and graphs simply by marking where the object of interest is over time. Here’s an example from a constant velocity buggy lab.

Prezi: If you’ve been a Prezi user as long as I have, you’ll know that it has come a long way from its early days as a spinning, sometimes nausea-inducing replacement for powerpoint. These days there’s a Prezi app, and, while it can’t do everything that the web version can do, it does have some editing capabilities. I have several students currently working on Prezis, and some even prefer working on them on the iPad.

That’s the wrap up of the apps we use most. Sure, there are several science apps on the iPads, too, like our Inkling Hole’s Anatomy textbook, Visible Body, Frog Dissection, and Molecules, but these apps and books are content-specific tools that get used for a special purpose only every now and then. The real workhorse apps seem to be the ones that allow for manipulation of text, images, and video into new forms. These kinds of tools can be applied regardless of the content being discussed and give students creative new ways to show what they know.

iPads in the classroom: a review of my 1:1 deployment so far

iPads as sketchpads

Group drawing of a neuron using iPads

I’m going to return to my roots as an edtech blogger for a moment and recap this past semester’s iPad deployment project, so those of you used to reading my notes about SBG will have to wait for the next post.

Let me begin by saying that this project would not have been possible without Erik, my district’s technology guru and grant writer. He was open to the purchase of iPads, found the money to do so, and has provided advice along the way. An additional word of thanks goes to our student tech interns Kiel and Michael for the initial unboxing and setup of the iPads this past summer. It really has been a group effort to get to the point we are at now.

Begin with the laptop
I’ve been lucky enough to run my classroom with 1:1 laptops for the last couple of years through the use of a dedicated cart of MacBooks. While students normally don’t take the laptops home, every student has an assigned MacBook so that they always logged into the same one every time and so were able to customize their tech setup to their liking. This is a huge point that I’ll be coming back to: students (and teachers too) love to customize their devices. This allows for local and cloud saved files, bookmarks, passwords, and user interface tweaks that collectively define a student’s workflow using the laptops in my class.

Enter the iPad
I had been an iPod Touch user for a while and knew the ins and outs of Apple’s iOS but really hadn’t played with an iPad much outside of an Apple store. Several students had their own iPod or iPhone in class and we managed to do some productive things with them such as web access, calculations, and the occasional reference app like wikipanion. So when Erik mentioned that he might have some funds available to buy a small number of iPads, I was of course interested in trying them out to see what students would be able to do with them. We ended up purchasing several iPad2’s over the summer and I managed to snag one for myself to play with.

Preparing for 1:1 deployment
After tinkering with the iPad for a while over the summer, I saw that the best use of the iPad in a pilot trial would be as a vehicle for sharing resources for my anatomy and physiology class. In particular, I wanted to replace our old mangled anatomy textbooks with an iPad-based text such as that offered through the Inkling app. There were a number of anatomy apps such as Visible Body and VueMe that I wanted to use with students as well, so I pitched the idea to Erik of a pilot iPad trial with my anatomy class, since that seemed the best audience for a limited number of iPads. That’s indeed what we agreed on and later we added a few more iPads to the project by also distributing them to my physics class, for a total of 42 students with iPads, since there was a lot of overlap with students taking both classes.

Setting up the iPads
As I mentioned above, our awesome student interns did the unboxing and initial prep of the iPads, which consisted only of loading a profile that allowed access to the school’s wifi. The rest was up to me. I set up my school MacBookPro as the sync station by creating an iTunes library in a different user account than my normal login with a unique Apple ID. I bombarded Erik with requests for apps from Apple’s Volume Licensing Program and got those installed. I begged our principal to allow the purchase of the anatomy textbook on Inkling and, after some discussion about whether this was a technology or a textbook purchase, he was able to find the money in the budget to buy the texts. The folks at Inkling were really helpful and got me set up with a class set (30) of anatomy texts, each tied to an Inkling account that I manage so that I can reissue the textbooks even after I wipe the iPads at the end of this year.

Distributing the iPads
My philosophy from the beginning of this pilot project was that students should have their own iPad to use at school and at home and that they should be able to take full advantage of the iPad’s capabilities by having full control over their own device. So after preloading the iPads with a set of apps that I thought they might find handy, I had students sign the required paperwork, did a brief orientation session, then turned them loose with their new iPads to see what they could do with them. Most students immediately set up their own Apple accounts on the devices and added new apps and music to their iPads. This started the process of having the students customize the device for their own use, a process that is still ongoing.

iPads as cell nuclei
iPads as cell nuclei in human models of tissue types

What do students do with the iPads?

We’ve been using the iPads for a semester now, and they are just there, quietly a part of what we do, now that the rush of a new toy has faded. Sometimes they replace the MacBook. Sometimes they get replaced by the MacBook.  I wanted to get a better sense of what the iPads were being used for, so I gave students a survey last week about their use of the iPads and here’s what I found:

    1. With few exceptions, students claim that they use their iPad a lot, both at school and at home.
    2. Students claim to spend about equal time on school and non-school related activities on the iPads.
    3. Students’ most used app varies widely among survey participants. Top apps listed were Safari, Pandora, Facebook, Pages, Calculator, Mail, and FaceTime.
    4. Similarly, students favorite app varied widely among survey participants. Some of the favorite apps listed were Safari, Camera, Shakespeare, GarageBand, SimplePhysics, GoodReader, YouTube, The Elements, Angry Birds, Opera Mini, Osmos, and Evernote.
    5. The most interesting responses were to the question of whether the iPad was worth it and would they use one again next year:

I would because I can continually do my school work and do multiple assignments without finding a laptop.

YES IT IS. They’re fun and useful.

yes greatly for the fact of accessibility and learning about tech.

Yes I would because it helps with more than one subject and it is much more convenient  than carrying around a lap top.

yes i would, Sometimes when assignments are due that need to be done the next day, the iPad come in handy to get those done.

DEFINITELY. The iPad has been extremely useful in completing various types of schoolwork.

Yes I would. I would use it because it works fast and is easy to take everywhere.

Yes! i use it all the time! Even though i do mess around on my iPad its still get a lot of work done.

Yes I would use it for school-related work next year. When I do use it for school-related work such as notes and projects it is extremely helpful. Also if I ever have a question that needs to be answered, I can easily get on the iPad and find the answer.

I think the iPad is worth it however a laptop may be more convenient because it allows more programs to be used. For example I don’t have a computer at home at the moment and Most of my school work requires some sort of technology and thats when the iPad comes in handy however I can’t do everything on the iPad.

I am not a technology based person although I was born in the tech-boom era. I appreciate technology to an extent with its resources, but I believe that some things should not be “turned into an app”. For me, I would stick to using the laptops. iPads are higher quality, and more notorious, but I find their powers to be limited. They are difficult to keep clean as well. It is a great idea though, for saving space. That’s coming from a traditionalist. I’d say keep the iPads for future use, just not for me.

Not any more than I do now.  I don’t like Apple products, they’re overpriced and overhyped.  Not to mention the nonsensical programs you have to download just to use an Apple product.  They aren’t worth the trouble.

YES!  I use Pages all the time to take notes for all of my classes and to type up reports.  I also use it to connect to things like Edmodo and GoogleDocs whenever i need. The IPads come in handy many times during the day!

Some takeaways from the survey

Given their own personal iPad and the freedom to modify it, high school students use the iPad in a variety of different ways and for multiple courses throughout the school day. Nearly every student had their own beliefs as to which apps were the best or the ones they used most. Games are on the iPads, but so are a variety of tools for school-related tasks and the students who took this survey believe that they can find a balance between the two. The overwhelming majority of students would use them in coursework again next year if given the chance, which was an interesting result given that most students taking the survey were seniors who are unlikely to get an iPad from me next year since they’ll have graduated.

In conclusion, after a semester with 1:1 iPads, the reviews from students are very positive on the whole, although not every student chooses the iPad as their primary learning tool. iPads seem to allow students to personalize the technology that they use to navigate the requirements of their different courses. Furthermore, by allowing students to take the iPads home, both students and their families have been able to use the devices for a variety of tasks that they might not otherwise have been able to accomplish. Efforts are underway at our school to integrate the iPad into other disciplines besides science and to increase the number of iPads that we can put into the hands of students.

This blog used to be about technology: what happened?

To celebrate my (belated) 1 year blogoversary, I went back over the year’s worth of posts just for kicks. The biggest trend I saw over time was more blogging about assessment and less blogging about 1:1 and edtech issues. Why the switch?

I think that the technology became so ingrained in what I do in my classroom that it is essentially invisible right in front of me. Of course we use blogs. Of course we have Edmodo, Moodle, and our Wikis. Why do I need to write about them? They are simply a routine part of what I do. I’d much rather be thinking of ways to improve assessment and instruction in my classes, now that the infrastructure is set.

Students, too, have made some comments lately to show they take our nearly paperless setup for granted. We made drawings of pedigrees in biology the other day and students, who have been in my class for over a semester now, didn’t know where to put their papers for me to review. When directed to place their pedigrees into the box, most students said “We have a box?” Some even made sure to do their pedigrees using drawing programs, just because that’s what they are used to.

So when did this shift happen? When did this blog stop being about technology? It stopped being about technology once I started teaching with 1:1 MacBooks and rock-solid wireless network. It stopped being about technology when I didn’t have to have my students leave the room to “go use the computers.” It stopped being about technology when access to the technology was no longer the pressing issue.  It feels like some sort of Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs situation here, and I’ve somehow finally fulfilled one of the basic needs so that I can now pay attention to the other levels of need in my classroom.

Some people say they don’t “need” technology in their classroom, but I do.  It allows me to let students go off in multiple directions at once as they are pursuing their interests. It gives students multiple ways to show that they have acquired knowledge about our class topics. It gives students ways to communicate and stay organized. Access to technology allows my classroom to be student-centered.

That’s why you haven’t heard much from me lately about what technology we are using in class: it is so routine that it is ordinary and boring to consider as a separate issue. Of course we are using technology, why wouldn’t we?

2009-2010: My Edtech Year in Review

My main challenge this school year was to experiment with what works and what doesn’t work in a 1:1 laptop classroom. While I have taught discrete technology-based lessons in past years using a shared computer lab, this year marked the first time I had access to a laptop for each student in my classroom and could begin to change how my class operates. This post will discuss what I’ve learned over the course of this “edtech year”.

What worked for me (good stuff to try):

Edmodo: I’ve used it enough to earn “power user” status (thanks to @zemote).  My biology classes, in particular, have benefited from Edmodo, since I had a variety of internet-based lessons that I adapted from previous years.  Edmodo allows for easy delivery of links for students to visit and allowed me to assign and collect assignments paperlessly. Students appreciated Edmodo for its ease of use and the text-message notifications they received when I posted new resources or assignments. Edmodo made several major improvements over the course of the year and continues to improve its service. It is currently free but expect some “premium” services to roll out soon that might cost a bit.

Moodle: I set up a Moodle site hosted by http://www.keytoschool.com/ for free. This Moodle site became my main testing platform and really cut down on the amount of paper we used in class.  Moodle can import tests that are written in ExamView, with a few tweaks.  I also wrote a few tests using Moodle’s built in question editor or uploaded banks of questions available in Moodle format on the Web.  I like how Moodle can provide instant feedback to students during a test and that the test may be set up to allow students second chances if they miss questions. Short essay questions become easy to read and to grade when delivered via Moodle.

Planbook: What’s not to like about Planbook? It keeps me organized and it was created by a physics teacher. I use it to post lesson plans and files so students and parents can keep tabs on what we do in class. I believe in having a transparent classroom and this software allows everyone to see what I do.

XMarks, Delicious, and Diigo: These are social bookmarking tools that I use all the time. I use XMarks to maintain the content area links found on my homepage. As I bookmark new links, they are automatically added to the shared folders that my students access. Delicious and Diigo do pretty much the same job for me, which is to create a list of my bookmarks that is sortable by tags. I also love getting new resources sent to me from the groups that I belong to on Diigo.

Evernote and DropBox: When my chemistry students started a major online research project, I set up my macs with Evernote and DropBox and gave students a brief overview of how they worked.  Several students got hooked on Evernote, in particular, especially once they tried out the Evernote iPod app.  I’ll definitely be encouraging the use of these two next year for synchronizing files between home and school devices.

PollEverywhere: We used PollEverywhere a few times, and it worked as advertised. Students preferred it to the Senteo clickers because they could use either the laptops or their cell phones to participate in the polls.  However, since Edmodo introduced its anonymous polling feature, I haven’t gone back to PollEverywhere much.

What didn’t work for me (maybe it will for you?):

SMART Notebook software and the SMARTBoard: I found SMART’s premade science resources to be lacking and I never really took the time to create fancy Notebook-based lectures or activities. Notebook isn’t that well supported on Snow Leopard to begin with (yet?) and after the first few crashes I knew that I wasn’t going to waste my time with it. The students and I rarely use the touch function of the SMARTBoard itself, although it is nice when we do. Maybe I haven’t explored the software enough, but I find the SMARTBoard to be as useful as the LCD projector and screen that I used in previous years.

SMART Document Camera: I already had a ProScope that I used for projecting images of various specimens and it had decent microscope adapters so the SMART camera went mostly unused.  I don’t teach from transparencies or notes much either, so there was no need to project pictures of them on the board. Add in the fact that the SMART camera only works in Notebook and…well, you get the idea.

Posting resources to Moodle: I started the year with blank Moodle courses and on the whole, they are still fairly blank, aside from the occasional quiz.  While Moodle does have a powerful ability to organize your courses, the interface for uploading web links and files is tedious to use. Only one file at a time can be uploaded, or at least that is all that I ever managed to do. I switched to posting links in Edmodo once I realized students were looking there more often.

GoogleApps: While I’ve tinkered with GoogleApps this year, my district only switched over to GoogleApps for mail halfway through the year. The biggest drawback is that students do not yet have district-assigned Google accounts so the possible uses of GoogleApps are limited at this time.  I expect that next year we’ll have students on board from the beginning of the year, so I may get to play with GoogleDocs a lot more, although that might add to….

Spreading out over too many sites: All told, I have three major platforms that students access: my home page, Edmodo, and my Moodle site. I would love to have one system that easily collected my links in an organized way, was a paperless assignment exchange and grading system, serves as a student-teacher-parent communications board, and allows the kinds of flexible assessments that Moodle offers. Maybe Moodle or some other LMS can do all that, but I haven’t figured it out yet. Until then, my students will have to deal with several sites and their passwords.


There are several other edtech/web 2.0 tools that I tried out, but those listed above are the ones that I keep coming back to as the framework for my online coursework.  As you can see, my favorite online tools are those that provide the infrastructure for communication with students and parents and establish new ways to assess student learning. I hope that we continue to see free or low-cost services that meet the growing demands of teachers in 1:1 environments like mine.

Student-owned vs. School-owned 1:1

In the chaotic world of educational technology, the Holy Grail of late seems to be the implementation of 1:1 computing initiatives. Most educators will agree that having more computers for students is a worthy goal for school districts. Therefore, many districts are rushing out to buy netbooks or macs or the handheld device du jour. But what about those districts that are starting to allow students to bring their own Internet-capable devices to school?

This solution would seem cheaper for school districts. They don’t have to buy or maintain the hardware and if a laptop is damaged or stolen it’s mostly the student’s problem. All a district need do in such a student-owned 1:1 environment would be to provide some sort of reasonably open wireless network that student devices could join. This sort of solution probably appeals to kids who have the latest and greatest tech and want to be able to use it at school. Some parents, too, might agitate for their child to be able to use the fancy new iBeast that they just bought him or her at school as well.

I’ve seen some problems, though, with allowing student-owned devices into our building. First issue is that the devices themselves become yet another dividing point between our richer and our poorer students, a shiny new status symbol, except this one doesn’t stay parked outside. Sure, iPods and phones have been status symbols in some circles for a while, but now we are talking about using these devices for delivery of educational content. What does the poorer kid who doesn’t have his own device use? A loaner from the school that probably has a big “Property of…” sticker on it? That’s not nearly as cool as bringing in your own shiny iBeast (with games to impress your friends, even).

Another issue that I am seeing is one of management. I use a set of Macbooks in my classroom, all of which are monitored and, if the need arises, controlled using Remote Desktop. I can see what students are doing, help them with technical aspects of their learning tasks, and lock their screens if I want their undivided attention.

But what about those students who bring their own laptops or iPods to my room? Their network activities are invisible to me unless I stand over them while they work. Is it fair that they are monitored less because they brought their own tech? If anything, they need to be monitored even more because I don’t know what software distractions lurk on their gadget, unlike the class set of laptops, which have a defined set of capabilities.

At this point, some of my gadget-owning students and their parents are thinking “well of course I should be able to bring my gadget to school: it’s got all my project files on it!” I’ve got four words for that argument: Evernote, DropBox, GoogleDocs, and Edmodo. All four are free web-based services that can share notes and files between school and home. Even easier, bring in one of those cheap USB flash drives with your files on it. Either way, the argument that students need their own tech to access their work is outdated. Cloud computing has seen to that.

Where does this leave a school wanting to go 1:1? I would argue, as I have previously on Edutopia, that the best entry point to 1:1 is to establish class sets of similar devices that are able to be monitored by the teacher. Aside from the egalitarian nature of equal access to technology such a setup allows, you might even convince your network admins to open up many blocked sites if you can show that you are able to constantly monitor what students are viewing. In effect, it gives the teacher the ability to become part of the filter, rather than relying on a Big Brother network filtering system that blocks access to everything.

In summary, while allowing student-owned devices may be monetarily cheaper than buying edtech gadgets, it does introduce several issues that schools should address before they let these devices inside their classrooms.

1:1 Laptop Programs: Shifting the Way Students Learn

This week I was invited to write a guest blog for Edutopia on the #edchat discussion of 1:1 laptop programs and their impact on learning.  The Edutopia blog can be found at  http://www.edutopia.org/1-to-1-laptop-programs-edchat-chris-ludwig but it also appears here:

AP Biology students with their MacBooks

I usually join the 5:00MST #edchat on Twitter but this past Tuesday (January 19th) my colleague @boundstaffpress (Justin Miller) mentioned that I should tune in to the early version of #edchat.  The topic, laptops in the classroom, was one that I follow carefully since I run a science classroom with MacBooks for each student. So I multitasked while teaching and joined some of the #edchat discussion of whether 1:1 laptop programs are the future of education and exactly how such programs are changing education.

One of the main questions at the beginning of #edchat was related to which types of hardware do schools choose and whether students get to take it home:

@RonnieGonzalez Does every student need a laptop to take home or just desktop in their class? Instead of labs, every classroom with a thin client

Many hardware choices exist but for my classroom I chose to use MacBooks. These laptops are powerful enough to do most any task that desktops can do but students could use them in my room at their desks without having to travel to a computer lab.    Students use my class set of MacBooks at school but not at home, although I have checked them out for special projects. Each student does have the ability to personalize their laptop experience, however, and they refer to them as “their” laptops.

Another of the major #edchat concerns was about student misuse:

@seanbanville Big danger is students chatting, surfing, gaming, etc instead of studying.

@lhiltbr Classroom management is also a huge piece. Make sure students know expected routines/procedures/uses of the tools.

I had these concerns, too, when I first started envisioning how they would be used in class. Therefore, since the laptops were new to the students this school year, I started each class off in August with a Technology Boot Camp in which we discussed some basics about the laptops themselves but also began a conversation about what kind of class we wanted to have now that everyone had a laptop.

Students do use the computers for a variety of tasks, most of which, but not all, are directly related to classroom learning tasks. I have no problem with students checking their English class Ning or reading articles in Forbes as long as they are on track with my content. I know that they are on these sites because I use Apple’s Remote Desktop to monitor student use of the laptops.  I can lock all screens if uninterrupted discussion is necessary or chat privately with a student who is off–task or needs help with an assignment.

Probably the biggest area of concern on #edchat was how 1:1 laptops in class would change the role of the teacher and whether teachers could handle the change:

@cybraryman Laptops are wonderful but teacher needs to know how to incorporate the tech & when and how to use it first.

@evmaiden Teachers won’t be replaced by technology but teachers who don’t use tech will be replaced by teachers who do

My style of teaching and assessment of students has changed dramatically now that everyone has a laptop in class.  For example, I now use Edmodo to share assignment files and information with students.  This extends my contact time with students who ask questions and turn in assignments anytime or anywhere because my courses are now effectively online.  Assessment of students can be altered, too, since it is possible to deliver flexible student assessments online using my Moodle site. And, most importantly, each student now has the tools to create digital content that shows their level of understanding of a topic.

A class set of laptops has definitely changed how my classes operate. The most exciting change is the spontaneity and interactivity that laptops bring to classroom discussions. I still lecture at times but students now have instant access to information besides what I offer so if a student finds a relevant example from a reading or video then they can share that with the whole class. Not only that, but students that I have taught in past years who never took notes during lectures are now consistently taking notes using their laptops.

In summary, I think that students with laptops in class are more likely to contribute to class discussions and are able to engage course content in more meaningful ways. So even though schools like mine aren’t yet true 1:1, even a class set of laptops can lead to a major shift in the way students learn.