Laptop usage gives preview of school-wide distribution

The upper school library will be equipped with laptops available for check out next year in a move to transition towards an eventual distribution of a laptop for each student within the next two to three years. Middle school students, who have on the whole been exposed to more advanced technology at younger ages than upper school students (a current senior would have been about 13 when the iPod came out, an eighth grader about nine), seem more prone to turn to their laptops in school.  About 14 students at the Middle School have permission to use them in classes.

“I think that widespread use of laptops is inevitable as we progress into the future and most work will be turned in electronically,” eighth grade Dean Kate Benton said. 

Students at the Middle School have to sign the student laptop contract, ensuring that it will not be a distraction and that it must be for school use. It also states that the school is not responsible for the laptop, which also cannot connect to the school network. 

So far, according to Benton, it’s been a good experiment.

“We have not really encountered any problems at the Middle School on the small scale that the laptops are being used, except for one case of misuse which resulted in loss of privilege,” Benton said.

The Upper School’s version of the laptop experiment will involve school-owned laptops to be used when the tech center is crowded.  The laptops will be checked out at the librarian’s desk at which point the student will be provided with a battery pack so the computer can run.

The goal is that eventually, all students, Upper and Middle School, will have access to this technology all the time.

“For the last couple years, the Educational Technology Committee has been examining the problem on both campuses of not enough computers accessible to students during the school day,” math teacher and committee member Jeff Snapp said. “As we move forward with our research, we are assuming the hardware will be a convertible tablet PC, not a traditional laptop computer.”

The tablets, each costing between $2,000 and $3,000, would be equipped to log on to the school network and the Internet. Snapp explained that solutions like having laptops available for checkout in the library, “provides only a short-term solution and are very expensive in comparison to its benefit, and none of them address the issue of incompatibility between home and school computers.”

The current thinking of the committee, subject to change, is that upper school students would receive tablets beginning 2009 or 2010, and middle school students would receive them a year or two after that.  The campuses would be wireless at this point. However, Benton notes some issues she’s seen at the Middle School where students have shown more eagerness to use the technology laptops provide.

“Students often start using them, but the enthusiasm quickly wanes.”

Of more than a dozen students with laptop contracts, “on any given day, there are rarely more than two students using a laptop at school.” Some problems she is wary of at the Middle School are hacking of laptops, theft and misplacement.

“All the same problems that happen with backpacks, but on a much more expensive and wide-reaching scale.” 

Snapp agrees these issues are of heightened concern with the younger students on the Middle School campus.

“This is a big proposition, and not one we are taking lightly,” Snapp said. 

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