More districts are embracing the use of personally owned devices in schools. Certainly, the current trend of students bringing their iPods, netbooks, tablets and other Internet-ready devices to school is the latest, but not the final step on the digital journey.
We spent the 1980s bringing in computers to schools, often having several students working together on one computer. In the ’90s, there was a huge growth in class computer labs and, over the past decade, with technology becoming more mobile, we have established one-to-one pilot programs.
Since schools and districts have experienced ongoing success with these programs, technology costs have decreased and devices to access the Internet have increased. Many districts, including ours, are looking at what role and purpose personally owned devices in schools can play. And, as we open up our networks, we are seeing a huge uptake of students with their various Internet-ready gizmos.
In secondary schools, the vast majority of students have a device with which they can access the web. This is not only true in West Vancouver — close to 80% of teenagers in Canada have a cellphone, and many others have a similar device with Internet capabilities. So, this is clearly a growing trend. While it is true some devices work better than others to access information, no longer are students limited to time in a computer lab, or having to rush home to their computer in order to engage digitally with content and the community.
Often, my advice to students and parents regarding technology is, “If you are paying (for your child) to have a cellphone and can’t afford a computer, you should look at making a different choice.” It might seem harsh but, in terms of learning, a netbook or tablet computer has greater potential. Access to the district’s wireless networks are less of a problem, and there are simply more functions that can be performed on a computer than can be done on a cellphone.
There are also certain devices that are more appropriate for certain ages, and tasks, than others. At the rate devices evolve, we hardly have “the answer” about which tool would be more appropriate, but we are encouraging students to have a netbook or similar device beginning at the Grade 4 level. Before and up to that level, then a slate (perhaps to be shared with others) seems to be more appropriate.
In the next few years, I think there will be a ramping up of personally owned devices in schools, as well as more of a consensus on what the “right” devices are for certain ages. I suspect, in about 10 years from now, all students will have a similar gizmo they will bring to class, and a series of digital learning support tools. In the context of today, if students had a netbook and then other digital tools like iPods, cellphones and cameras (as necessary) available to them this would be a digitally rich class.
And so it goes. We are solving the information challenge by promoting Internet access and encouraging the use of various devices, and then we will have a new challenge with the range of devices in the classroom.