Important Ed Tech Book Reviews

 From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

 Vol 11|No 7|April|2002

Is Sharing
Out of the Question?

By Jamie McKenzie
About the Author

In some schools that have tried laptop programs requiring all students to buy laptops, the search is on for the next best thing.

What's next?

Some schools are looking at their belief statements about cooperative learning and they are challenging the value and wisdom of buying a laptop for each student.

Some of these early laptop schools may move forward to the strategic sharing of resources.

If laptop computers might be used less than 25% of the time1, why not move them about?

Why not buy one for every 4-5 students and then move them about, encouraging sharing by pairs and trios?

Why buy a computer for each student and let it sit idle most of the time?

Can we schedule strategically to optimize use, reduce cost, minimize waste and reserve funds for program and professional development?

Some independent schools are even using as a marketing advantage the fact that they supply (and share) computers instead of requiring parents to buy them.

Sharing and collegiality may be the wave of the future.

Many business and educational studies stress the value of team problem-solving skills.2 We look for teams of students to work together rather than operating in a solitary fashion.

The Engaged Learning model advocated by Barbara Means and others, suggest four main elements, one of which is teaming:

Students will be . . .
  • Responsible for their learning
  • Energized by their study
  • Collaborative
  • Strategic

Strangely, when each member of a team possesses a laptop, the challenge of collaborating can be hindered rather than enhanced. Separate ownership can work against dialogue and synchronous exploration.

During a recent workshop with an independent school looking at the impact of different intensity levels of equipment, many teams reported that interpretive tasks often moved more smoothly and effectively when team members shared screens and laptops. (See workshop materials at

These photographs of students sharing data and information speak eloquently of the advantages of programs built around pairs and trios.

One advantage is economic. We can double or triple the impact of our equipment budget by reaching more students with fewer computers. We can also reserve funds normally devoted to purchasing equipment to generally underfunded elements such as professional development, program development and technical support.

Another major advantage is standardization and maintenance of equipment to work effectively on the school network. When equipment belongs to the school, various kinds of games, instant messaging and other distractions can be pretty much eliminated. Reliability can be enhanced by providing an ongoing, systematic maintenance program.

If we plan strategically, moving laptop carts about to where they can do the most good, we can provide a mixture of experiences. Sometimes we can have enough laptops on hand so that each student may work on an essay or poem on a single, personal laptop. At other times, students may team to consider an important, problem, challenge or issue.

With proper planning, we can overcome the typical short battery life of laptops by providing extra batteries and charging facilities as part of the laptop carts, a real challenge to overcome when each student has their own laptop. Wireless too often becomes wired.

Sharing equipment is not new in schools. We have shared microscopes and balances in science labs. We have even taken turns using saws and drills and parallel bars.

There may be plenty of times when it is desirable for each student to work on a personal laptop, but that opportunity can be made available when and if it becomes desirable.

When we move computers about, we can enjoy the benefits of just in time equipment. It is an approach that conserves resources rather than squandering them. It is judicious and prudent.

When we make families buy computers for every child just in case students might need them from time to time, we run the risk of over equipping our classrooms. There are at least two troubling consequences. Teachers might feel some pressure to make frequent use of these tools even when they should be closed and idle. On the other hand, the laptops may remain idle so much of the time that it will be hard to justify the large investment.

Why not gradually increase the number of laptops in a school as readiness and program needs develop? Maintain records of use. If high levels of use justify the purchase of additional units, so be it.

No laptop before its (it's) time!

1. Data from the Beaufort County Year Three Study showed that many students owning their own laptops reported using them infrequently.

How Much Students Used Computers for School Work "At School" in 1998/99 - from Table 6 of Year 3 Evaluation Report
Response How Often First Year Students Were Using Computer at School for School Work How Often Second Year Students Were Using Computer at School for School Work How Often Third Year Students Were Using Computer at School for School Work
A lot

2. National Alliance of Business. (2000, June). Executive summary. Building America's 21st century workforce.

The 21st Century Workforce Commission believes that: The current and future health of America’s 21st Century Economy depends directly on how broadly and deeply Americans reach a new level of literacy -- "21st Century Literacy" – that includes strong academic skills, thinking, reasoning, teamwork skills, and proficiency in using technology.

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Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie.

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