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Maybe others have done it, but I was fascinated to read on AOL news this morning that Vail Unified School District in Arizona is converting its high school to no textbooks, all laptops, 100% wireless.
Tom Peters posted this on 07/11/05.
Fantastic - that may be a big taxpayer savings too - textbooks for $50-100 was always one of my least favorite subjects - especially if their lifespan was 1 quarter/semester!
Posted by Sean at July 11, 2005 12:58 PM
There's a certain discipline that comes with reading books which is good for children to learn. This is not to diminish that magical search button; only to suggest that both have benefits.
Posted by Noel Guinane at July 11, 2005 1:11 PM
A horrible idea. To think that they are depriving their kids of the joy of perusing libraries and book stores...the joy of reading a book on the beach, in the bathtub...the damage they may be causing by asking kids to sit in front of tiny monitors all day... It turns reading into a video game.
Awful. Simply awful. Walt Whitman and Charles Dickens must be turning in their graves...
Posted by Carlos N Velez at July 11, 2005 1:31 PM
Hi Tom, I am really keen to know your views on the rold of international agencies such as the World Bank and the IMF in the new world order
Posted by GJ at July 11, 2005 2:19 PM
This has been done already in a couple of districts with mixed results:
and and here:
There are also state-wide projects in Vermont and Michigan.
Posted by Jay Bryant at July 11, 2005 2:41 PM
i agree that this is not a good thing, this is a terrible thing. how this could be a good thing is beyond me. maybe we could eliminate books and reading altogether and stare at videos, TVâ€™s and video games all day until we all become fat slathering morons of which riding a bike and reading a book in a hammock are things you only do when you are an old geezer like me at 36. I say, you have a choice, and this school district is limiting choices. Lame, absolutely and stunningly lame and the chumps in this school district should be embarrassed.
Posted by sam at July 11, 2005 2:45 PM
Does this mean American kids no longer learn to write with pen and paper?
A reader from Europe
Posted by Stephan at July 11, 2005 2:51 PM
Hope kids still work their math and science problems in paper!! One thing I see in the States is too much emphasis on presentation of math and science problems - high school kids and undergrads spend long hours 'typing' out the solutions on the computer. That time could be used to solve a couple of more problems!! A very good presentation definitely is a valuable tool, but not necessarily in engineering and the sciences..where the standard is 'good enough'.
Posted by fullymubbed at July 11, 2005 3:11 PM
Seems like such a misguided radical continuation of the YES CUT MORE TREES AND DEFOLIATE THE ECOSYSTEMS because I'm biased - I must have hardcopy books!
I vote 1000% for as much forest preservation as possible - this clearly is a step in the right direction - parents/kids/adults can pay lower tax for electronic means - then come out of pocket themselves in addtion for hardcopies if they so chose ...
Posted by Sean at July 11, 2005 3:14 PM
It sure does lighten the load on the kids and with search tools such as Copernicus and Google Desktop, kids will be able to find stuff easily. With better analytics, dynamic relationships could be built between related topics across subjects (Example: A reference to a Fourier series in Nuclear Physics could easily be linked to the related Calculus chapter in the Math textbook).
But this also means, the kids are going to be exposed to radiations from the computers that in the long term could prove detrimental. Laptops have been proven to cause sterility if placed on the lap for long durations. The stress on the eyes is another factor to consider.
I love gadgets, but till technology improves and provides safeguards, and the industry can guarantee the devices are harmless, we must refrain from mainstreaming the devices into our lives.
Posted by Bala at July 11, 2005 4:59 PM
Interesting. Recent work shows that 1/3 face to face, 1/3 computer assisted classroom and 1/3 experential learning is optimal, so I see the wireless technology as stewarding the learning process.
The textbooks can now be visual, audio and kinesthetic learning devises - suitable for all learning types; not just a visual medium. Sound and movement opportunties for book, community readings and discussions, a radical evolution.
Learning needs to come alive, that is the goal, teaching is the mechanism and the computer is a faciliator.
I like it.
Posted by Wendy at July 11, 2005 5:37 PM
The jury is out.
Time will tell how students learn when PC's are in and books are banned.
Of course, the situation would be far better if the students were issued an Apple computer.
Posted by erick Blackwelder at July 11, 2005 9:05 PM
I have mixed feelings. In the long run, this is probably a good idea, but in the near term, I am concerned that there are a lot of children who will be negatively impacted.
Posted by Troy Worman at July 11, 2005 11:14 PM
Erick, you mean they're not? Preposterous!
Posted by Noel Guinane at July 12, 2005 2:58 AM
I wonder how technology will address the different learning styles of students.
We all heard people who preach reading as the best method to learn... that we should train (read:force) our children to ready, and that they'll thank us in the future.
But the fact of the matter is, everybody is different. And this includes learning styles.
For one thing, I'm sure a PC can flex more than a book.
Posted by Dennis Balajadia at July 12, 2005 5:32 AM
Dennis, you're right. Everybody is different which is why it is never a good idea to mandate only one method of learning.
Posted by Noel Guinane at July 12, 2005 6:02 AM
What do u think of this?
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is developing a laptop computer that it plans to sell for $100 each to government agencies that will distribute them to schoolchildren.
Nicholas Negroponte, chairman and co-founder of the MIT Media Lab, says many countries lack the means to offer children enough education to realize their full potential. However, as Negroponte envisions it, the combination of providing laptops to all children, broadband connections for the towns and villages those children live in, and a school syllabus for the use of digital materials will improve not only the education the children receive but also their future prospects.
Discussions with various governments for pilot projects are under way, Negroponte says. MIT has asked China to order 3 million machines, and Brazil to order 1 million laptops. He hopes to have working units available for demonstration this November, in time for the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis.
Negroponte's goal is to produce between 100 million and 200 million laptops in the first year. The total worldwide PC market in 2004 was 172 million, according to a recent report from IDC (a sister company to CIO's publisher).
The machines would be sold in bulk directly to government ministries for use in schools. Negroponte is convinced that with a simplified sales model and some re-engineering of the device itself, the $100 price point can be realized.
About half the price of a current laptop computer comprises marketing, sales, distribution and profit, he says. Of the remaining costs, the display panel and backlight account for roughly half while the rest covers, according to Negroponte, "an absolutely obese, overweight and unreliable operating system."
The low-cost laptop will use a display system that costs less than $25 and will run Linux, he says. The first-generation machine will use a 500MHz processor from AMD, and will have a wireless LAN connection and 1GB of storage in place of a hard-disk drive. The machines will automatically connect with others, forming a peer-to-peer network for communications and Internet connection sharing.
Posted by K.Sriram (India) at July 12, 2005 6:12 AM
I have mixed feelings as well. With the exception of blog content, I still print everything of in order to read it effectively. Writing for the web is very different than writing an article or book. I am sure this is a generational thing where kids today are much more at ease with this type of communication. I suppose this argument is very close to the introduction to calculators to the math class where skeptics cried that children would not learn to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Of course, that actually has come true. Our public schools are not teaching the basics but I suppose if you always have a calculator then why learn to do it on paper. Who actually needs to read To Kill a Mockingbird when for $1.50 you can pretty much get the basics from cliff notes or www.shortcutstolearning.com. Considering that the U.S. continues to slide in all educational comparisons to the rest of the world, then heck donâ€™t just stand there do something. So they did. Only time will tell how effective this decision will be.
Posted by RTodd at July 12, 2005 6:43 AM
Any educational innovation can have great benefits if properly implemented with clear educational goals and guidelines. Too often technology is seen as the solution -- an end -- "we gave them all computers, what more do you want?" attitude -- instead of what it is, a tool. Giving every child a computer is no more education than giving every child a library card. Some kids will make great use of it on their own but most need guidance, direction and INSPIRATION! to open up the world of learning. For that we need great teachers and always will. Making great teachers available to every child is the real challenge.
Posted by Kirk at July 12, 2005 7:12 AM
Everyone interested in this topic would do best by reading a book called "The Flickering Mind" by Todd Oppenheimer. Look it up on Amazon... a fascinating and apropos read.
Posted by Lee H. Igel at July 12, 2005 7:27 AM
Kirk, you make a good point. I'm particularly not sending one of my children to a local high school next year whose primary claim to fame is that they have tons of computers. That's great. The only problem is that all they use them for is the internet and basic word processing. It is the quality of the teachers that will always matter more than the number of computers a school has.
Posted by Noel Guinane at July 12, 2005 8:11 AM
Great comments. I have mixed feelings, too. But in general I'm in favor of radical experiments. I love the tactile feel of books; but I'm 62 (42 & 32, same deal?). I think there is obviously a new generation arriving--and I am not, frankly, upset if they leave book/paper/print world behind. Anything is possible.
We all work with icons more than we would have imaged in pre-Mac world. Maybe our cursive writuing (right term?) will disappear. That would upset me, too; but I'm not at all sure I'm relevant.
On a somewhat related note, I attended a computer privacy seminar this weekend. We are rightfully worried about privacy issues, including the woes of identity theft. But I also added thet this new generation (not present ... big problem) probably views privacy differently; they don't expect it. Hey, you and I want our credit cards, right? That's by far the worst breach of privacy in recent times. In the truly old days, a person in trouble could readily "move West," become a new person; no more!
(Re the main subject; I'm mostly worried the teachers won't be up to it.)
Posted by tom peters at July 12, 2005 9:55 AM
Wendy - excellent post!
Before laptops, there were experimental charter schools billed as
"Schools of Tomorrow" immersed in computers and networking.
Results were and have been mixed.
Perhaps of interest:
Bill Joy's recent article "The Dream of a Lifetime"
- the persistent "dream" of a machine that can work with us, leverage our abilities,
enhance our talents, help us to learn - making computers truly personal.
Without realizing this dream, will kids reduce to media-savy Googlites ?
Posted by Michael J at July 12, 2005 10:38 AM
Books and paper to be replaced by plastic and metal and you call that wow. i dont think so. its sad enough that its happening, what makes it worse is that you guys are endorsing it.
Posted by devilatwork.blogspot.com at July 12, 2005 11:13 AM
Tom, you've got one of the hottest blogs on the net. What you've got to say is relevant and we'd like to hear more of it.
Posted by Noel Guinane at July 12, 2005 11:38 AM
some kids are more kinesthetic learners, writing, holding a book, using the hands are deprived when everything goes online, a blend of technologies ensures all students have the best possible learning environment.
visual learners will excel.
having these tools rocks, and is definitely a step in the right direction, or is that the left..
Posted by kurt at July 12, 2005 1:37 PM
I never read my text books until I got to college anyway. The only real worry I have about laptops for students is the fact that kids LOSE things--all the time! I remember how upset my parents were when I lost a schoolbook (Actually, I always fell back on the old kid's excuse that "somebody STOLE my math book!" Right.). I can imagine parents today being billed for the replacement laptop! And in this case, somebody probably DID steal it.
Posted by Mike at July 12, 2005 1:44 PM
the laptop or textbooks are just tools towards a common end. finally, it would depend on the teachers & the quality of teaching.
however i guess the study content ought to be more vivid and interesting to look at or browse in a computer, provided a good study package is loaded.
Posted by anindo at July 12, 2005 2:30 PM
This is the dumbest idea every thought of.. I'm sorry to use strong language, but I am soooo biased!
I believe in using electronic means to get information. But the thing is..
When you use electronic means, you already know 'what' you're looking for. If you come across something else, it's a distraction.
A book on the other hand, is a treat, You read it from end to end, or pick up something in the middle and read that, come back, book mark it, scratch in the corner, make dog-ears, play hangman , and generally have fun with. You never know what you're gonna learn, and why.. you just do.. because people you trust tell you to, and it's fun! Which is the point of school..
Posted by Arun Sadhashivan at July 12, 2005 3:17 PM
A system is only as productive as it's primary constraint.
Ubiquitious laptops will have ZERO IMPACT in a "no child left behind" (read: teaches to the test) school.
Posted by Jason Kerr at July 12, 2005 8:11 PM
Great discussion - I share the hopes/concerns of such endeavors but I applaud the school for their willingness to experiment. It is not often done in our educational environments these days.
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
George Bernard Shaw
Give me more unreasonable schools. -Walter
Posted by walter white at July 13, 2005 3:55 PM
I think the idea and principle behind this decision is fantastic: Get rid of textbooks. Amen! I'm a teacher and I think textbooks suck. They suck the life out of a subject, add platitudes and distortions, and render even the most fascinating subjects boring and banal.
However, there is a BIG difference between eliminating TEXTbooks and eliminating books in general. Books are fantastic. I agree with previous comments- browsing in libraries and reading books is one of the great pleasures of education.
By all means, lets get rid of the accursed textbooks. But lets replace them with a wide range of authentic materials:
laptops & the internet, yes!
libraries and books, yes!
videos, books on tape, workshops, and tools, yes!
guest speakers and engaging projects, yes!
Posted by AJ Hoge at July 14, 2005 3:03 AM
Fascinating discussion .... I miss my daily TP fix when away for a few days!!!
I wrote an article about progress called "No Boundaries" - happy to share it with anyone remotely interested. Just let me know - firstname.lastname@example.org
Part of the article had this paragraph;
'We are now in an environment where a quality broadsheet newspaper can be produced in the spare bedroom of anyone skilled enough to use a computer. Yes, of course, the paper then needs printing â€¦.. But wait â€¦â€¦. does it actually need to be printed?!!!! ..Why not have virtual readers only. Old language â€œread the paperâ€ new language â€œread the screen.â€
I guess my view on this discussion is pragmatic.
I love picking up a book - feeling it - reading it and certainly don't want to take my lap top on holiday to read a novel!!
Having said that the application of IT in educations is actually no more than capitalising on the current 'psyche' of kids - it seems to me they are already genetically programmed to understand the keyboard from birth!!!
I see no problem or difficulty in retaining books and at the same time making the most of the wonderful gift of information at our finger tips.
Yep â€¦. Pragmatism wins it for me :-)
Posted by Trevor Gay at July 14, 2005 3:51 AM
It seems that many contributors to this discussion are confusing the joy of reading with the functionality of study. We're talking about textbooks here, not classical literature. Students are presented with short passages (a chapter or two) each session, whether it is for in-school coursework, homework, or revision.
Elementary school children strap 30 lbs on their backs each day to bring their books back and forth to school. Talk about the potential for physical strain!
Children who are avid readers of books are so because their parents instilled reading from a young age and usually have a good library of books at home. They are not readers because they were issued textbooks at school. They will continue to read for pleasure.
One good thing...parent's will no longer have to tolerate the excuse "Oh, I can't do my history homework, I left my textbook at school."
It will be interesting to see future studies on performance in this and other schools going this route.
Posted by Tom O'Leary at July 14, 2005 4:27 AM
I don't know Tom. I burned my eyes out working on the computer for hours every day, not literally, but enough to cause me to need glasses. Children's eyes are still developing and encouraging them to stare at a computer screen for hours each day can't be good for them. All my kids have Gameboys etc. and we don't let them stare at their screens all day, and not only because they're not learning much playing endless games of Mario Brothers. Little exercise in the woods is a lot better for them. Or reading a book.
Also, what about English literature or any other culture's literature? As bad as reading Shakespeare et al may be, I'd prefer my kids did it in hard copy than on a laptop. If kids really don't want to do their homework, they'll just 'forget' to bring their laptop home and as Mike posted above, that'll be a hell of a bigger bill for parents to pay if it's stolen which is not unlikely since a laptop has a higher resale value than academic textbooks do.
Not saying it has to be all books, but don't think it's a good idea for it to be all computer screens either. I'd prefer a balance of both, even in school.
Posted by Noel Guinane at July 14, 2005 8:03 AM
Noel, I think that you might be misinterpreting the intended use of computers in this and other schools. They will not be providing electronic versions of the classics and other supplemental materials to the curriculum, just the textbooks. They are not paperless environments...not yet anyway!
As an appreciator of the aethetics of a good book, a comfortable chair and a warm fire; I do regrettably believe that we will see a further decline in paper products in the future, not only in schools. Environmentally, this might not be a bad thing. Although the effects of electronic emmissions on the environment isn't great either.
Ideally, schools will have all electronic resources (textbooks, research tools, student accounts) available on a central server so that students won't need to transport the laptop back and forth, just log in from home or wherever they are going to be doing their homework or accessing their materials. That would take care of the "missing laptop" scenario.
They could even provide on-site support for students and discussion boards for group study or e-facilitation on topical areas.
I really don't believe that it's a bad thing. But for my own sake and for the sake of my children, I do hope that good 'ole fashion books stick around for a while more!
I spend far too much time in front of the computer as it is!
Posted by Tom O'Leary at July 14, 2005 8:13 PM
Me too and at the moment most of it is caused by blogging!
I might be misinterpreting the school's use of computers. Hope I am though not just from a nostalgic love of books. I agree that lugging all those heavy textbooks back and forth to school can be physically straining, but not as damaging to a child's health as staring for hours each day at a computer screen.
I think they probably will be giving the kids laptops and they probably will be carting them to and from school, or 'forgetting' them when it suits. Though it's likely various e-facilitation options may eventually be introduced, I don't give my 6 year old, or my 8 year old, or my 10 year old, not even my almost 12 year old, their own computer so I wouldn't be happy as a parent having them come in from school and mediating disputes between the four of them competing to take over our home computer to log on and do their homework.
However, what matters more than whether kids learn all on computers or all through books or even through a balance of both is the quality of the material they are taught and the quality of the teachers teaching it to them. While I think most of what a child learns takes place in their home, what and how they're taught in school is important. Handing kids computers won't obscure or diminish the importance of what it is they're being taught or who it is teaching it to them.
Posted by Noel Guinane at July 15, 2005 6:02 AM
Amen Noel! Unfortunately, much of our focus these days is on efficiency rather than effectiveness. Do we really need to speed up more? I wrote and tore up an article back in 1995 titled "Where are we going, and why do we want to get there so quickly?" Everything in life is cyclical, and as a result, we are starting to see more and more people returning to the countryside after years of bustle in the city. Perhaps one day, families will eat breakfast and dinner together again, even several times a week, and engage a bit more.
It will be an interesting study. Perhaps we should buy stock in optical products companies servicing this school district and others doing the same?!
Posted by Tom O'Leary at July 15, 2005 2:50 PM
And insurance companies writing laptop replacement policies!
Posted by Noel Guinane at July 15, 2005 3:53 PM
Er, that's "and definitely not insurance companies writing laptop insurance policies!"
Posted by Noel Guinane at July 15, 2005 3:55 PM
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