A computer in every backpack:
Solving the access challenge
Little of what you find on this site is concerned with "hardware". We focus most of our attention on software tools and activities (tactics). However, the practicality of engagement in activities using specific tools can depend on hardware issues. The cost of computers, the capabilities of specific computers, and whether computers have convenient and low cost access to the Internet may determine whether a given teacher has the opportunity to actually apply strategies gleaned from other parts of this resource. A teacher may think very differently about a recommendation if she is in a situation in which she must take her class to a computer lab to offer students access to computers and the Internet in comparison to a situation in which each student has a computer in his or her backpack
We have tracked statistics concerned with access to technology for many years as part of the writing projects we have completed. It is interesting to note that some variables that were cited 10 or so years ago are no longer mentioned. At one time, whether or not Internet access was available in the school was meaningful. Now we pretty much assume that schools have access. We remember when the ratio of students to computers was at least 10:1. Now, you may hear educators talking about 1:1 initiatives. Some are exploring the economy and effectiveness of providing each student a computer and perhaps even allowing the student to take this computer home. So our comments in this section concern what is sometimes called 1:1 computing (one computer for each student) or perhaps "ubiquitous" computing. Ubiquitous - available everywhere - may be the most extreme vocabulary word we have used on this site.
So, we are describing situations in which each student has a computer and can take this computer from location to location. It might be especially important that a student can take the computer home. Home is the location in which the learner really has the most freedom to do creative things and it is the location in which opportunities are most variable. For students with access, home is also the location from which they spend most time online. We are not making any claims regarding the productivity of this time, but simply the time spent at home exceeds time spent online at school.
We have also written about equity issues for years. During this time span, schools have made great strides in equalizing technology access among schools. Variables such as the computer to student ratio have become fairly similar in schools with few and many students enrolled in programs providing free or reduced cost lunch; i.e., the common way to operationalize school differences in parental income. However, income level still makes a large difference outside of the school. Situations in which students are provided a computer would allow ubiquitous access in school and at home. What such initiatives would not totally solve and what is necessary for many of the opportunities we describe here is Internet access. In 2004, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration published a major summary "A Nation Online" based on census data reporting that eighty-five percent of families with incomes in excess of $75,000 have Internet access. In contrast, 38% of families with incomes less than $25,000 have access. Data reported in 2008 for the low income group was nearly identical (NTIA, 2008). These data combine dial-up and broadband access and may somewhat overestimate the practicality of doing some things we describe because dial-up would be so slow.
Data from NTIA, 2008
Still, having a computer in your backpack, whether or not you could connect to the Internet at home, would be something that schools could provide and would be a significant toward offering equal opportunity.
Our XO purchased as part of a buy one, donate one initiative. The One Laptop Per Child Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing children educational resources. The OLPC wiki is also a great resource concerning this project.
The OLPC project continues mostly as a way to reach children in other countries. U.S. schools have moved toward chromebooks (computers relying on the Chrome OS and online services), tablets, and laptops of various types.