Shall we burn non-believers at the stake? Non-believers are anyone that persists in holding onto desktop/laptop computers as a viable learning tool, along with computer labs and laptop carts.

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In a delightful post, Doug Woods expounds on the sledgehammer as an Information Communications Technology (ICT) Innovation Tool:

What I want to suggest is that we can use the sledgehammer to break up all the ICT suites that we find in schools. Those rows and rows of desks filling a room with large desktop computers can hardly be regarded as the cutting edge of ICT. Indeed, if we were to have a classroom with rows of desks, we would hardly be regarded as an innovative educationalist so why do we tolerate such an arrangement for ICT? ICT suites…represent a past and dying approach to ICT in education.

Ah, this has been one of the frightening thoughts going around in my head since I did the budget analysis of iPads for every student vs re-equipping schools with computer labs. Why is it frightening? I want to you to step back and ask yourself:

  • If schools do away with computer labs, how will they learn to use technology applications:Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TA:TEKS)?
  • If schools do away with computer labs, what will happen to the teachers in those labs who are the standard-bearers for learning technology?
  • If schools do away with computer labs, what will happen to the idea that learning technology means using a computer?
  • If schools do away with computer labs, will students and staff accept what replaces them, never having experienced the power of a desktop or laptop computer for creativity and collaboration?

Quite heady stuff, isn’t it? When I look back on Leading for Learning chapter summaries I’ve imposed on myself as a way to “Schlechty-fy myself” I stumble across this reflection:

…is it possible to compare bringing netbooks as more efficient avenues of reforming schools’ access to technology, and iPads as a way of repurposing and reimagining schools where computers are not central to our vision of schooling?

It comes in response to Philip Schlechty’s assertion that…

The transformation of our schools will require leaders who are prepared to repurpose and reimagine schools rather than simply reform them…without transformation, about all that can be expected from school applications of new developments in the IT world is the digitization of past practices.

Pretty strong stuff, eh? As I reflect on the juxtaposition of ending efficiency in today’s schools in favor of transforming them, achieving new efficiencies that don’t just digitize the past, it’s clear that school computer labs must go…but what replaces them and how is that transition accomplished?

Both the iPad and Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiatives signal the end of computer labs and computers. Consider Scott Meech’s point below:

True BYOT will never be a solution for schools that continue to focus on standardization of hardware and applications…Let’s face it, human beings tend to take better care of something they own versus something they rent. It is time to give our students ownership over their learning through the use of their own devices.
Source: Scott Meech, The Future of Ed-Tech is Bring Your Own Device

In the past, the challenge to school-based system was the death of Integrated Learning Systems (ILSs), those monoliths of drill-n-kill, tutorial software. There simply wasn’t enough time in the school week to cycle students who “needed” drill-n-practice magic bullet solution through the labs AND teach technology-based collaboration and creativity approaches. I’m sure if we were to reflect long enough, we’d find that there are many other “magic bullet solutions” that have been discharged and fallen by the wayside.

Computer labs may be another casualty in a long list of technologies. But, if so, does that mean that our ISTE National Education Technology Standards for Students, teachers, as well as revised Technology Applications:TEKS, need to be revised yet again? I don’t know…it will take a review of those with this transformation in mind:

  • Imagine a school without computer labs.
  • Imagine a school where “technology integration” is no longer an alternate reality, separate but equal in theory though not practice, to today’s schools.
  • Imagine a school where computer teachers no longer exist, but rather, teaching and learning occurs across content areas, using technology when appropriate.
  • Imagine a school where classroom teachers know when technology use is appropriate, as well as what technology is appropriate.
  • Imagine a school where “what technology is appropriate” simply refers to an app rather than a physical piece of hardware.
  • Imagine a school where every child has their own iPad or tablet.
  • Imagine a school where every teacher and staff member relies–not on a desktop computer or laptop for their daily tasks of grading, attendance, word processing, crafting parent updates–on an iPad or tablet device.

I don’t know, perhaps this is already common, something that already you are experiencing in YOUR alternate reality. But, having just come from a large urban school district, the vision is still very much computer-based. The reasons why are legion, but only 4 come to mind in this blog entry (smile):

  1. Centralized management of technology hardware is a requirement for new solutions that find their way into the classroom.
  2. Technologies that manage technology (e.g. Active Directory, ZenWorks) have been developed over 20+ years.
  3. Technology Departments are comfortable supporting desktop/laptops.
  4. Education administrators are comfortable ordering equipment to replace old obsolete equipment.

Will you be the first to NOT buy computer lab replacements in your schools, instead opting for iPads and/or tablet solutions? And, does your school need to be a learning organization rather than school as factory before such an approach is attempted?