We had a faculty meeting today. During the meeting, it came up that kids were using the photocopier outside our technology department office inappropriately during evening study hall. As a consequence, the room will be locked at 3pm, and be unavailable for student use during the evenings.
Immediately, we got into a discussion of how students will get access to the library to print and photocopy as needed during evening study hall.
I said, “We know that our paper budget is skyrocketing, and a lot of it is students printing things they don’t need. How about we require all digitally-generated paperwork from students to be submitted by e-mail?”
Instant outcry! “Oh, no. We don’t have sufficient access,” said one teacher. “I can’t get at my e-mail reliably,” said another. Loud chorus of agreement, and I was talked down. Given that I was already on the floor, this was pretty low indeed.
Last week, I attended a meeting of our technology committee. During that meeting, I said, “If we want to be a school where technology is integrated into every class, we have to put laptops into the hands of every teacher. We can’t expect them to go to a faculty workroom to log in, check their e-mail, manage their workload, and plan their digital lessons there. They need a computer that they can work with, wherever they happen to be and whatever they need to be doing at that moment.”
I was shouted down gently redirected from my ax-grinding.
And I get the reason for not giving teachers laptops. It’s money, money, money. To provide a powerful machine to every teacher at school is a $65,000+ expense. And you can’t get some machines for some teachers, and others for others, so that math teachers get machines that run one kind of software and English and History teachers just get basic word processing, etc., because then you’re setting up envy and nastiness and unprofessional behavior and all that. So to put a line-item into the budget for over $65,000 that you’ll have to renew every three to five years is daunting. Really daunting. You could hire three new teachers for that (around here, at least — I know that’s not the industry standard, or even the average, haha).
But Wow. Just WOW.
More than 50% of our student body have laptops. Yet fewer than 15% of our teachers do, and mostly those machines are privately purchased (including mine) and tolerated on the school network.
And it’s dumb.
Everyone I know who bought a computer learned how to use it by fiddling around with it, particularly the Apple/Mac users. They bought it to write college papers and used it to start a business (that was me). They bought it to keep a mailing list and used it to start a fundraising campaign that raised millions of dollars (that was my mother). They bought it get to the Internet and turned it into a server for their political activist organization’s website, mailing lists, and campaign organization.
The techno-savvy at this school have been pushing for this ONE, SPECIFIC CHANGE at this school for over ten years. We know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that extraordinary things are possible when you empower people with computers — they find new programs, they learn new skills, they teach those skills to others, they start businesses, they bring in revenue, they communicate more easily, and more. It doesn’t matter if you’re a teacher or not — having your own computer transforms your life.
We have resisted this one change at this school — at the level of individual teacher, department, administrators, and board — for a decade. And yet it is the ONLY change that will do what we say we want: integrate the use and teaching of technology into every classroom in school. And the result? Our teachers say in faculty meetings, “Oh, no… I couldn’t possibly accept student work by e-mail. I can’t get to my e-mail.”
Said Bruce Sterling, “The future is here; it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”