At least part of the old student song will be realized at Vail Unified School district's new Empire High School. At $850 dollars a head, each student will receive a laptop computer in place of the typical textbooks. I can't help feeling this is an exciting step in the right direction. I realize that technology by itself does not make education better, and I know that computers can't substitute for good teachers.
But I believe that issuing a laptop to every student can create a new, more effective educational platform; one that improves students' ability to access, store, organize and retireve information.
In the 1800's, when penmanship was still a gateway skill to an entry level office job, the "Pen and Paper" platform was a good basis for education. But while the world of work has clearly moved on -- and electronic communication has become the common currency of business -- elementary and high school students are still stuck putting pen to paper. Commerce has long since moved on -- even the local video store uses computers to run the shop. But our schools remain in the pen and paper age. True, most schools now have computer labs where students can get an occasional dose of technology, and many students have powerful computing resources at home, But while a student is in the classroom, the lowest common denominator is still pen and paper. And that lowest common denominator limits the educational resources teachers and students can draw upon.
Clearly, "Pen and Paper U", with its combination of teacher, blackboard (or LCD projector), textbook and paper notebook has no advantage over "Laptop U's" teacher, LCD projector, laptop, and paper notebook. Everything "Pen and Paper U" can do, "Laptop U" can do better. But students and teachers at "Laptop U" can do many things the "Pen and Paper" crowd cannot. For example:
- electronic assignment posting and submission
- multimedia document exchange
- immediate, online access to all class materials
- "in classoom" research capability
- indexed video and audio capture of the classroom experience
- electronic "sidebars"
But beyond any additional communication or information presentation capabilities, the most important change at "Laptop U" is the dramatic improvement in a student's ability to remember and recall. Students who use ubiquitous computing devices as an integral part of their educational experience can naturally amass a personal archive of digital assets that document their educational journey.
When that archive is combined with powerful indexing and search techniques, the result is nothing short of the augmentation of memory.
Students educated at "Laptop U'" can recall, with perfect fidelity, every word of their favorite professor's lectures. How many of us educated at "Pen and Paper U" can say the same? In place of a garage full of carboard boxes stuffed with yellowing notebooks and old textbooks, the students of "Laptop U" have a dynamic personal digital archive they can access with perfect fidelity.
So good luck to the students and teachers that are part of Empire High's new experiment, as well as the many colleges and universities that have taken similar steps already. With a technology platform in place, the next step is developing the teaching methods, curriculum and content that make the most out of this new investment.