So I Bought A Netbook

April 17, 2009

HP Mini 1033cl

HP Mini 1033cl

…but it’s not for me.

My wife, Jennifer, is a high school (and part time college) English teacher in a school district that frankly could do a much better job prioritizing integration of technology into the learning process. She now, like the other high school teachers, has one desktop PC in her classroom with a projector, but that’s frankly not enough.

For teachers to really begin to morph their classrooms into 21st century learning environments, adopting relevant and engaging methodologies using the tools of digital natives, they need to have anytime, anywhere access to technology. For Jennifer, portability is important since she teaches and works on lesson planning several times a day, from several different locations.

I’ve closely watched the emergence of the netbook form factor for the past year or so, intrigued by the possibilities for affordable 1:1 computing in public schools. In my family Macintosh is the platform of choice, and we’re waiting as patiently as we can for Apple to hopefully introduce a netbook or tablet of their own. In the meantime, existing netbook prices continue to creep downward while performance and functionality inches forward. So with no announcement from Apple in sight, I decided to go ahead and bite when I received a Twitter message this week that Buy.com was offering factory reconditioned HP Mini 1033cl netbooks for $279.99 with free shipping.

While not the top of the line in this form factor, the Mini 1033 sports a 10″ screen, 1.6 Ghz Atom N270 processor, 60 GB hard drive, 1 GB RAM, and Windows XP (although I may try my hand at installing Mac OS X Leopard like this). With a keyboard regarded as one of the best among netbooks, this is quite the buy for less than $300.

Starting Monday evening, for less than the cost of a month’s groceries, my wife will have purse-sized computer capable of doing everything she needs, and maybe she can go from carrying several flash drives to one. I’m also netbook shopping for my middle school daughter so I’m most curious how our first foray into the ultra-portable market plays out, while holding my breath for an Apple solution sooner rather than later.

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Essential Questions

February 17, 2009

Last week at the Oklahoma Technology Association’s 2009 Learning Technology Conference, I presented a session titled, “Social Networking and the Learning Process.”  What was originally intended to be a showcase of how my wife and another literature teacher at Bartlesville High School use social media tools to engage students morphed into an altogether different format when my two teachers were told by their school that there wasn’t money for them to attend and present at a state technology conference (I’ll share my dismay and disgust another time).  

Instead, I spent twenty minutes or so establishing a sort of “baseline” for what the terms social networking, social media, and Web 2.0 meant, and talked about how integrated and relevant these are to the lives to today’s students.  Then it got cool…

As I froze Keynote on my laptop (and if you do much presenting, Keynote will change your life–get a Mac and use Keynote!) we began a roundtable discussion of the advantages and challenges of using social media and their related “means of access” in the classroom. My view from the front of the room was spectacular!   Half the room sat on the edge of their seats, many earnestly contributing to the discussion.  The other half sat grim-faced, many with arms folded and brimming with dissent.  It didn’t take long for the discussion to get around to issues of policy: Content filtering, cell phones in the classroom, etc.  

A perfect shift, because here’s what I’ve come to understand more clearly in recent months…

1.  There are great discussions happening at conferences, board meetings, PLC team meetings, PTA groups, etc. regarding how to engage students “where they are” using the “native tools of digital natives.”  Great minds with great ideas, such as Will Richardson, Wesley Fryer, and Dawn Danker, who gave compelling cases at the same OTA conference, do a much better job than I can.  

2.  Far too often, and I can’t emphasize this enough, the steel will of technology directors or network administrators who don’t understand their role in the mission of a school district, overrides the needs of learners and facilitators.  Fear, uncertainty, and doubt drive irresponsible mindsets that default to “block and deny” in the interest of protecting the precious network and those using it. This invariably results in vast sums of money spent building a technology infrastructure that serves its own interests ahead of the central mission of its existence, facilitating learning. 

Thusly, I have a keen interest in the attitudes and logic that form this sort of dangerous perspective.  How do we as technology directors and school leaders get so disconnected from our core purpose?  I hazard that much of the problem relates to what we allow to filter or distort our view.  Eric Hileman, the Instructional Technology Director at the Oklahoma State Department of Education, uses the phrase, “the lens through which you look at it,” which appeals to me as a photographer.  While I don’t have all the answers, and can’t account for all of those lenses, I am certain of this:

We won’t have the answers we’re looking for until we start asking the right questions, and that’s what excited me about the discussion in Ballroom B that Wednesday afternoon in Oklahoma City.  One after another, teachers, administrators, and even tech directors began asking meaningful questions–questions that moved issues of education technology policy back into the realm of learning where they belong.  

Instead of asking, “Why are all of these sites blocked by our district’s content filter?” …we asked, “How can we capture back the teaching moment, and help students understand how to be effective and responsible participants in cybersphere?”

Instead of, “Why can’t we use cell phones in the classroom?” …we asked, “How can we include the use of mobile Internet access tools in a way that makes learning more authentic, relevant, and productive while teaching students how to use them responsibly and safely?”

 

What other essential questions should we be asking as we seek to transform schools into effective 21st century learning environments?


 

“Once you have learned how to ask relevant and appropriate questions, you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.”

Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner
Teaching as a Subversive Activity