Why one school district decided giving laptops to students is a terrible idea

September 28, 2014 at 7:58 am 14 comments

A really fascinating piece about all the problems that Hoboken had with their one-laptop-per-child program.  The quote listed below describes the problems with breakage and pornography.  The article goes on to describe problems with too little memory, bad educational software, wireless network overload, anti-virus expense, and teacher professional learning costs.  I firmly believe in the vision of one-laptop-per-student.  I also firmly believe that it’s crazy-expensive and hard to make work right, especially in large school districts.

We had “half a dozen kids in a day, on a regular basis, bringing laptops down, going ‘my books fell on top of it, somebody sat on it, I dropped it,’ ” said Crocamo. Screens cracked. Batteries died. Keys popped off. Viruses attacked. Crocamo found that teenagers with laptops are still… teenagers. “We bought laptops that had reinforced hard-shell cases so that we could try to offset some of the damage these kids were going to do,” said Crocamo. “I was pretty impressed with some of the damage they did anyway. Some of the laptops would come back to us completely destroyed.”

Crocamo’s time was also eaten up with theft. Despite the anti-theft tracking software he installed, some laptops were never found. Crocamo had to file police reports and even testify in court.

Hoboken school officials were also worried they couldn’t control which websites students would visit. Crocamo installed software called Net Nanny to block pornography, gaming sites and Facebook. He disabled the built-in web cameras. He even installed software to block students from undoing these controls. But Crocamo says students found forums on the Internet that showed them how to access everything.“There is no more determined hacker, so to speak, than a 12-year-old who has a computer,” said Crocamo.

via Why a New Jersey school district decided giving laptops to students is a terrible idea | The Hechinger Report.

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14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  September 28, 2014 at 8:33 am

    My dog ate my laptop!

    As Seymour Papert said, he wished the US was still a developing nation — there have been almost no such incidents around the 3+ million OLPC laptops (and the even larger number of Intel “Classmate” laptops) in the 3rd world.

    That said, there is very little actual content to be seen anywhere, regardless of the health of the laptops.

  • 2. alanone1  |  September 28, 2014 at 9:16 am

    P.S. I was struck by the conclusion: “giving laptops to students is a ‘terrible’ idea”. Bizarre!

    Wasn’t the terrible thing what the students did to the laptops?

    Or wasn’t the terrible thing that the schools and parents have so little civilization in how they have chosen to go about life that the children see anti-value, something to be destroyed, the pop-culture as a more desirable alternative?

  • 3. Mark Ahrens  |  September 28, 2014 at 9:49 am

    I think Chromebooks solve many of the problems of security and maintenance. Breakage or theft, not so much. But hey, they are cheaper to replace!

  • 4. gflint  |  September 28, 2014 at 10:58 am

    Compared to teaching students and parents responsibility, 1-1 deployment and maintenance is a piece of cake. If the students and parents do not have a vested interest in the program then it is not going to be a good experience for anyone. As for the kids hacking the computers, cool. That proves they are actually researching and learning something. They probably worked harder at that hack than they have ever worked on a math problem.

    • 5. zamanskym  |  September 28, 2014 at 11:08 am

      Add teachers to the list of people that need to buy in. Frequently programs come down from on high with little or no support.

      Personally, while I’d like all my kids to have laptops, bottom line is that if you give me a piece of chalk and a board I’ll do ok.

      Anything beyond that has to work within the class framework I’ve set up and if it isn’t it’s got to be extremely low friction.

      I’ve seen laptop/ipad/ereader programs that were anything but and thus doomed to failure before even starting.

  • 6. Catherine  |  September 28, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    I suggest the problem lies with ‘give’ and ownership. I visited a boy’s school where IPads were introduced. Parents shared costs. In 1 year one cracked screen out of 500 boys. Parents share control, governance, responsibility and costs.

  • 7. Bonnie  |  September 29, 2014 at 11:19 am

    The bigger question is – what educational advantage is there to giving out laptops or iPads? My district spent a fortune 15 years ago on Smartboards that were going to “transform learning”. Today, most teachers use them as fancy powerpoint projectors, or use them to show YouTube videos – kind of the filmstrip projectors of today. Nothing was transformed.

    I am particularly appalled by the idea of giving out iPads because they are so limiting. They are really just media consumption devices. Why are districts spending so much money on these things?

    • 8. gflint  |  September 29, 2014 at 8:19 pm

      One educational advantage is it teaches kids how to use a laptop. We live in a computer based society that requires some knowledge of computer use to succeed. It is not enough to know how to use Office and search the internet. Many assume kids know how to use a computer. As the school IT guy I can tell you most kids have no idea how to use their laptop. They look for tech help for very trivial things they could solve themselves with very little training. Only using computers in a lab situation is like only writing in an English class.

      • 9. Bonnie  |  September 30, 2014 at 6:20 am

        Consuming media on an iPad teaches kids very little about the actual mechanics of using a laptop. The file system is largely hidden, and you can’t DO very much except play games and watch videos.

        I regularly deal with students, supposed “digital natives”, who have taken digital literacy courses in school, and who are all decked out with the latest tablets and laptops. Yet when I ask them to locate a particular file in a folder, they look at me helplessly – they have never heard of files or folders. They do not know that files have formats, or that applications work with files. They do not understand the difference between their local machine and a remote server when they are surfing the Internet. Many of them do not realize there is anything on a computer EXCEPT their browser. These kids have had hardware shoved at them for years, but still understand nothing. I do not see how handing out more hardware, hardware that obscures understanding even more, is going to help.

        • 10. gflint  |  September 30, 2014 at 10:41 am

          I agree with your opinion of the iPad. Apple has convinced members of the education community that it is a great tool for education. Apple is very good at marketing. Our “digital natives” are pretty much digital idiots. The only way to get them to really learn how to use the technology is to make them use it. Technology is here to stay in a big way and no matter our opinion of it we have to get the kids educated to use it. I see it like driving a car. The only way to get better at driving is to drive.

          • 11. urkom  |  October 10, 2014 at 2:12 am

            I couldn’t agree more with both Bonnie and gflint. There are too many educators thrilled by the “App-of-the-day” craze, that not only disregard foundational knowledge, but in some cases even actively discourage its teaching. I am very worried about this trend, this admiration of the push to hide complexity and increase lock-in. Apple is the best example, the most successful, but not the only company engaged in this practice.

  • 12. Michael Cejnar  |  October 11, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Agree with Bonnie.
    Thirty years of technology and $trillions and there is scant evidence of any benefit on educational outcomes – mostly just better engagement and enjoyment – nice but only if translated to outcomes.
    Some reasons for this I can think of:

    1.Learning to use computers (for jobs) is not the same as using computers to learn. I think most of the fun educational tools have no transference to jobs and will be ancient history by then. fundamental content, however best delivered is the key.

    1a. I suspect educators saw spontaneous productivity from adults using computers in the workplace and assumed the same will happen with the new digital children in schools.

    2. Computers in schools are merely amplifiers of the school’s and student’s quality and advantage/disadvantage. Good schools and students benefit and bad schools have disastrous implementations and unmotivated students use computers to display learning with entertainment (Mark Warschauser).

    3. Education trying to compete in the fast moving fad-driven entertainment space is a big mistake. Structured quality education content takes years and large resources to make – the technology and coolness factor is long obsolete before the product is complete. That leaves organic resources like Ted and Khan, which can supplement but not fill content.

    4. Much of the use of computers is and will increasingly
    be purely for cost containment – soft textbooks, online assessment questionnaires, outsourced online content, more resource-based self-study saving on teacher time and ultimately teacherless online courses. Never mind if they improve outcomes.

  • […] then led me to do a bit of research.  I soon came across this site Computing Education Blog which looks at one particular district called Hoboken and how they think that giving laptops to […]


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