I feel I need to respond to a recent article by Jamie McKenzie, “Over-Equipped? Is it possible to have too many laptops?” His argument is that “It turns out that one-on-one is perfect for some activities but not the best choice for other learning activities.” I would have thought this would be obvious to any teacher, but I don't see the connection between the tools one chooses to complete a learning task, and personal ownership of a laptop or netbook. Sometimes pen and paper is quicker and more efficient than using a computer but we don't tell kids they have to share one exercise book or pen between two students.
He also cites an article from the New York Times that states that giving out netbooks to teenagers from poor neighbourhoods actually lowers writing and maths test scores because kids spend their time playing games on the devices. You can manipulate data to suit editorial comment at any time but I imagine the lower test scores are a result of student's disinterest in the school system in general. Kids see that authentic learning is taking place outside of schools rather than within them. The kids are saying, “I don't care about what the tests measure because it is not going to get me a job anyway". As I have stated previously, handing out netbooks doesn't change much in schools. Technology management is about people. It is change management. Teachers need support in learning how to use tools effectively. If they don't have this support, they can't make use of the a laptop's potential to support new types of learning that engages students. Good teachers, quickly learn how to use computers well in their classrooms to engage students. Just like they probably used blackboards well to engage students. Bad teachers don't do this. Invest in teachers and you invest in students.
Netbooks are getting cheaper all the time and soon students will all have something like an iPad in their bag whether teachers like it or not. So why can't each child have a netbook? How would you feel if you started work at a new company and you were told you had to share a computer with another worker? If you really believe that it is best if kids share computers, demonstrate your support for the concept by giving your laptop away and sharing a computer with the teacher in the next classroom. Go on. I dare you.