Advice for Maine:
December 3, 2001 8:23 PM   Subscribe

Advice for Maine: Piss poor education technology planning yields piss poor results. Is anyone aware of a large scale "computer per student" education initiative that has worked well? Teachers still need better wages don't they? (more inside)
posted by machaus (16 comments total)
Aside from religious babble over computer platforms, the key issue for me is whether these massive implementations make sense... Is this technology for technology's sake?
posted by machaus at 8:24 PM on December 3, 2001

Do private school kids get in on this? Anyone know? Do students own the computers are do they have to give them back after so many years?

Not a bad idea, if someone can teach it... but that's been said before.
posted by geoff. at 8:29 PM on December 3, 2001

How about reading books made of paper, and saving the technology for after school, or just later in high school? Big, huge waste of time.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:32 PM on December 3, 2001

Actually, Paris, I think it's a good idea. The earlier students get started using technology (I started typing assignments in the fifth grade), the better adapted they will be to use and take advantage of the things new technology can do.

On the other hand, all the computers in the world are useless without good teachers and a positive environment. We've learned that in Oregon, too.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 8:49 PM on December 3, 2001

Teachers need both good rewards and good tools.
posted by applesurf at 9:03 PM on December 3, 2001

I remember being part of an experimental program in Georgia that would give one AP class per school a chance for its students to receive laptops for the year. The problem was that my school was the kind where people would even steal your graphing calculator if you left it lying around (likewise a school program). The problem was that it was a delicate, expensive piece of equipment that you had to lug to school everyday along with all of your other stuff. After a while it got to be too much of a hassle and everyone just left their laptops at home.

The program just seemed like window dressing to show how great our school was even though in some subjects there weren't enough textbooks to go around.
posted by Alison at 9:26 PM on December 3, 2001

Speaking as someone who lives in Maine, I'd say that, at least for my state, the answer to the question "Is this technology for technology's sake" is no - its technology for survival's sake.

This is Gov. King's pet project, and he has a very simple dream. He wants to make the people of Maine "the most technologically literate people in the world" link to speech. There was, as you can imagine, a huge debate in the Legislature about all this (one of the key arguments against was that 7th graders were "too irresponsible" to be given the computers) and the original plan was rejected.

At that point (spring 2000), Guilford of Maine, a textile company, decided they would stage a test - they supplied all the 8th grade students in the very small, very rural town of Guilford with iBooks - about 150 in all - and said "we'll see what happens". The results (also here) surprised almost everyone ... except Gov. King.

For a state where the bulk of the jobs come from lumber, fishing, and tourism, I frankly can't think of a better move. Having grown up in one of these tiny towns (there were 14 students in my Senior class), there is simply no way that small school districts could afford this kind of technology without state help - and without the early access to technology (many of these towns are so small they don't even have a public library where kids could use a PC), students growing up in those communities are going to be at a tremendous disadvantage.

The goal is two-fold ... first, to give students access to the tools they need to get out of impoverished circumstances, and second (and perhaps more importantly) build a strong, tech-savvy workforce to help attract more industry to the state to provide better jobs, better wages, etc., which will replace the industries (like shoes) that are dying out, thus (hopefully) preventing whole communities from vanishing and the best and the brightest of Maine kids from being forced to move away in order to get fulfilling employment.

Here's a great link to a Q&A Gov. King did with the Washington Post that answers some of the most Frequently Asked Questions (like geoff.'s questions about private schools, etc.). There are also a good variety of links outlining the different sides of the debate at the bottom of this page.

Will it work? I think - based on the results of the Guilford Experiment - that the kids who need it the most will benefit the most. Will there be some bugs at the start?Sure. But, at least for my state, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.
posted by anastasiav at 9:44 PM on December 3, 2001

About better wages for teachers, Delaware has a program where teachers can take classes on technology and earn an introductory certificate, and an advanced certificate on technology. There is no charge to the teachers for taking the classes, and they earn a higher salary after receiving the certificates.

I've taught in the educational technology certificate program, and the focus was on making certain that the teachers were walking out the door armed with ideas on how to incorporate technology in their classrooms, and on how their jobs could be made easier by technology. The certification program has received national recognition. Giving teachers the knowledge to go with the tools is an important step, and rewarding them with a higher salary for making the effort can make a difference.

Some of the teachers in the program were very technologically illiterate to begin with, but all of them were very motivated to learn - especially when we focused upon how they would integrate what they were learning into their classrooms, and daily schedules.
posted by bragadocchio at 11:45 PM on December 3, 2001

The question is one of balance. If rolling out a computer network for student and teacher use comes at the cost of poorer education or instead of improving currently poor levels of education, then, of course, this is a stupid step. Is that the case here? How does Maine rate ecucation-wise, teachers, students, school facilities, etc.? Then you can better pose the question about the validity of this project.

Rolling out a computer network at schools is not automatically a stupid decision per se.
posted by mmarcos at 2:43 AM on December 4, 2001

One parent noted that the kids have been able to share homework with one another...

That is just a retarded comment.
posted by ookamaka at 3:04 AM on December 4, 2001

One parent noted that the kids have been able to share homework with one another...

That is just a retarded comment.
posted by ookamaka at 3:04 AM on December 4, 2001

And my double post is retarded as well...
posted by ookamaka at 3:05 AM on December 4, 2001

< ithe earlier students get started using technology (i started typing assignments in the fifth grade), the better adapted they will be to use and take advantage of the things new technology can do./i>

No, not the "earlier." School time is precious. Learning basic, skills, and not so basic skills, like reading, math, and critical thinking is way more important than technology. Technology is used by school districts to impress; its politics, not learning. Similarly, I'm against teaching remote control use in school as well.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:30 AM on December 4, 2001

I'm a Mainer as well, but my reaction is a bit different than anastasiav's. I think most schools, and certainly my 14 year old son's, are poorly equipped to implement the plan. My son's school has broadband, but most teachers don't even bother to use their email accounts. More than a few Maine schools need roofs, textbooks, and other basics.

I think what schoolage kids need is access to computers, not necessarily laptops, and not necessarily 1 per middle-school child. And they really need Internet access, at school and home, too. Lots of Mainers reside in areas that are poorly served by dialup Internet access. King talks about Internet access in Maine, and neglects to mention how many Mainers can't afford dialup or highspeed access. Spend the money making each school a point-of-presence, and get businesses involved donating equipment to families that need it. The computer tech programs in the 2 year colleges can help deploy them.

The support cost for this program will likely be far higher than anticipated. The bit I saw on the news this morning showed laptops being put away in a cupboard after use. If they're going to stay in the school, laptops are a very expensive and high maintenance choice.

If they travel home with kids, they are a target for theft, loss, etc. And what about when a child's parent, or other household member, uses the laptop to surf for porn. When it goes back to school, and is found, what happens then? How many copies of Quake, AOL, cometcursor, etc., will be loaded? Who is responsible for enforcing licensing ? Are the kids who are most likely to learn by experimenting also most likely to lose computer privileges for doing so?

Educate Maine children better? Yes. Start by persuading principals to require all teaching staff to use email, and achieve basic computer literacy. Many schools have old computers, or not very many. Get a working, competent, Internet enabled computer in every classroom, and be prepared to support it, and to replace it often.

By the way, when I emailed Gov. King about his plan, I got absolutely no response.
posted by theora55 at 4:19 PM on December 4, 2001

Rural Mainers on MeFi? Oh my. I hung around the governor one afternoon in August 2000 when I got hired to write and photograph a web page about his visit to a computer software company on our island. He told them he regretted ever using the word 'laptop' for his proposal, because it immediately brought images like titanium Powerbooks (not his exact phrase) to mind. Instead, he meant a simple box costing maybe $500 that would, as anastasiav notes, just let kids in the middle of nowhere connect online and find out there's a big world out there on the other side of the Pine Tree Curtain.

It's a fascinating coin, the two sides of this question (against and against the against), but as time passes -- and as someone who got taught by educational filmstrips (the technology of the future back then), and just escaped learning Basic -- I've come down more on the side of 'high-tech heretic' Clifford Stoll.

Students need knowledge of basic skills, much more than information, as Paris says. They need to talk to each other, not screens. (In class, that is. At home they could learn a lot hanging out here on MeFi with the rest of us.) Too many schools, also, could use many more basic things (heat, roofs, textbooks, better paid teachers) before they spend thousands for computers that are too soon obsolete.
posted by LeLiLo at 1:52 AM on December 5, 2001

Fool's gold? Here's another detailed against computers for students report from the Alliance for Childhood, with PDF downloads, etc. Dated September 2000. The report also is summarized here.
posted by LeLiLo at 5:22 PM on December 5, 2001

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