Archive for the ‘general’ Category

Joe’s Non-Netbook

A high school student at the Science Learning Academy posts his video perspective on technology in schools.

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Quote of the day

“I’m a big believer in open source, which is an ancient African phrase meaning ‘no, I will not fix your Windows computer for you.'”
Ivan Krstić

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A little piece on MLA citation and the decreasing amount of print resources.

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How to reach a real live human being at 1000 or so companies.

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Discussions about online technologies seems to linger (in my memory) around what’s bad about technology: Flaming, cyberbullying, and the loss of the human connection. All of these are valid arguments, but it’s lovely to come across a news item that points out the good news, such as this BBC News story about an American teenager who saved a British teenager’s life after chatting with him on Facebook.


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Here’s a great New York Times article on netbooks.  Excellent discussion of the coming new generation with ARM chips and Linux replacing Intel chips and Windows, with a tiny hint of the significance of this for education.

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"Clock," Darren Hester, Flickr.com

"Clock," Darren Hester, Flickr.com

I’ve been noticing a trend over the last few months. This trend has also correlated with my increasing use of the Internet. As people become more dependent on online technologies, they are also rebelling against what could become an addiction for many. It’s not enough to simply put your computer to sleep, because you will need that computer to do your work. You may need something that literally shuts off the distractions – email, Twitter, Facebook, and so on – for you.


In today’s Salon.com, Rebecca Traister writes:

Look, I am not proud. But I bet I am not alone in my near frantic desire to be released — for very brief periods, always with an escape hatch — from the tyranny of my own wandering attention. I may not have known it, but for some time, I have wanted something forceful, computerized and beyond the realms of my own self-determination to come and muffle the beeping, buzzing, ringing, flashing distractions of our technological age so I can get some goddamn work done.

Two programs shut off email and networking for you. The first, Freedom, is a one-year-old program you can download (sorry, Macs only) that will shut off your online access for anywhere between 5 minutes and 8 hours. The other program is a Google Lab called “Email Addict” that will allow you to choose to freeze your browser screen for 15 minutes so that you can no longer write any emails for that period of time. 

This makes me wonder if we’ve reached a point of saturation in our dash to become a digital society. At what point are we becoming too distracted by technologies that were once time-savers?

UPDATE: I tried Freedom a few times over the last few days, while working on a paper for class (I didn’t want to be distracted by emails and browsing). It worked beautifully, and I’m a new convert to this charming new piece of software.

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Maine–the first and only state to provide laptops to all of its public middle school students–has announced that it will now expand the program, providing laptops to all public school students in grades 7-12 throughout the state.  The laptops are being provided by Apple on a 4-year lease at $242 per year.

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OLPC Overview

Here’s a nice independent overview of the history and status of the One Laptop Per Child program, developed by the editors at OLPC News.  Main conclusion:  that the influence of the OLPC project has outpaced its impact.  Though far fewer laptops have been sold by this date than planned, the project has helped give impetus to the much broader efforts to develop and sell netbooks, which, over time, may become the majority of computers sold.

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In an important article in the current issue of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Douglas Harris makes the common-sense argument that, in order to understand the potential value of educational  interventions, we need consider not only their effect sizes, but more importantly their “cost-effectiveness ratio” (CER),  i.e., how much effect size in desired outcomes is achieved per unit of cost.  Though the basic point he makes is so evident to be almost trivial, the article analyzes in depth many of the complications with determining CER, such as how to account for benefits that may occur long in the future, benefits that might extend beyond the bounds of higher test score outcomes, or costs that are born by a wide variety of individuals and groups.  Definitely worth a read.

The article reinforced in my mind why the CER of educational technology programs, and, especially, one-to-one laptop programs, is likely high.  Here are a few reasons:

(1) We frequently think about the money spent in these programs, but we less frequently think about the money saved.  For example, currently, most schools have dedicated space for computer laboratories.  If such labs are cut back or eliminated, we can save on building space, supervision, equipment, etc.  In addition, as more textbooks and other materials are ported to less-expensive electronic realms, we can also save on the purchase of educational materials.

(2) The cost of one-to-one laptop programs is falling dramatically and can be expected to fall further in coming years.  Thus any plans for such programs in the future must take into account how the costs are falling.  In particular, I expect the emergence of inexpensive ARM-based laptops in coming years that will sharply cut the price of purchasing or insuring laptops.  These laptops will also use free online software (such as Google Docs), thus reducing both software costs and technical support costs.

(3) I believe that the long-term impact of laptops on academic achievement is underestimated.  Most studies of laptop use take place only in the initial year or two of implementation.  As students and teachers get used to using laptops, the impact on academic achievement should be higher.  This is particularly so if laptops can be brought home, since we know that the long-term effects of access to a home computer on academic achievement are substantial.

(4) The benefits of laptop programs extend far beyond effects on standardized test scores and include preparing our youth for the types of employment and civic involvement required in the future.  Though these are difficult to measure, their inclusion increases the CER of technology interventions.

(5) Finally, though laptop programs are expensive, other interventions that bring about positive effects, such as universal pre-K, after-school instruction, and smaller class size are even more expensive.  This is not to suggest that those interventions are not also needed, but just to point out that the CER of laptop programs might be comparatively high.

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