Today on our SCASL-listserv, a fellow teacher-librarian asked about how schools are dealing with students who bring their own laptops to school. The posted question also inquired about how schools are using webcams, with the follow up statement “couldn’t they be used to help our homebound students.” Of course we had quite a few respond, and it was divided relatively 50/50 on good vs. bad reasons to allow the laptops. No one, however, addressed the posed supposition about the benefit of webcams in school. I sat on this all day today (though I did individually reply to a couple of people about what I knew about my former district, and the value of the concept. But I wanted to see how others would respond. The following is my posted reply after seeing everything from kneejerk reactions (almost denial) that student owned laptops have a place in our schools, to some obviously very accepting and most welcome to the idea. I shared 3 issues in my response, and they are as follows:
1) More and more districts are looking into wireless as a more feasible means of providing access in their building(s) and district offices, and removing the costs associated with wiring. It is becoming the norm for more and more wireless places, and this is no different for schools. A school or district can go wireless with secure networks, and all one has to know is the password to gain access. The IT hardware folks can lock down a wireless network and make it secure in a relatively easy manner. Even the routers and such you buy at Best Buy and other electronics stores can easily be secured. I predict that in probably 7, but more likely 5 years, there will be more wireless workstations than not. You almost cannot buy a laptop anymore that does not come equipped with wireless capability, and many laptops are also coming equipped with an internal webcam, which brings me to my 2nd thought.
2) This initial thread also asked about the use of webcams in schools. Brian Crosby (author of the blog Learning is Messy and recipient of NUMEROUS awards) out of a school district in Nevada was able to completely and efficiently serve the needs of a former student diagnosed with Leukemia who b/c of her illness had to stay at home. Brian arranged for the student to have a webcam and for his classroom to have a webcam, and through a program called skype, involved this little girl in the everyday activities that took place in his class. This gained him national attention and notoriety, and caused many educators to rethink what possibilities a webcam can bring into a school. Most shockingly, this was not recently, but I want to say 2 years ago. I personally use a webcam and skype to talk to other school librarians around the nation, and would like to explore bring guest speakers into my library program in an effort to show that our world is truly global today, and students can gain insight and perspective from folks they might never have had the opportunity to see, hear and interact with before. Carolyn Foote of Austin, Texas recently had an article in School Library Journal about hosting an author at her school using Skype and a webcam, and I have participated frequently in conferences from around the world I might never have had the opportunity to participate in, all b/c a friend (Lisa Parisi) who had a webcam found a way to include me in the session (using Skype and Ustream as the vehicle to transport me there.) These 21st century tools are here, and we must embrace them. I promise our students have.
3rd) and last, more and more students are going to be bringing their laptops into our schools. There is no denying it, and with the difficulty (especially in SC) with budgeting for Technology, why not embrace this concept and allow the students who have the capability to provide their own means to connect at school? With them bringing their own, and students without access using the schools resources, we would definitely come closer to a 1:1 program for providing computer access, and maybe join our counterparts from around the world in global projects and 21st century learning.
Yes, it does open up a can of worms, and yes, the higher ups will have to develop guidelines and policies. There are already schools in our state that allow students to bring their own laptops to school, and it is ludicrous to deny them when they have the means. Let’s not bemoan this, but rather celebrate it. We as school librarians can be a part of the solution instead of the problem by assisting our building level admin with policies and procedures to accommodate this growing trend. It is not going away.
I wish I had included one more thought. As we prepare students for college, it is
practically inconceivable that anyone would send their child to study at a post high school institution with out a computer of some kind. I read somewhere earlier this year that nearly 87% of entering college freshman bring either a personal desktop or laptop computer with them, and identify it as a critical tool for their success. In my opinion, it is inevitable that this will trickle down to our k12 schools. It is a futile battle to try and keep them out. We cannot hold back the flood of 21st Century Learning.