As an increasing number of school systems weigh the benefits and potential drawbacks of one-to-one computing initiatives, a fledgling consortium of educators and private-sector executives is working to create a list of minimum specifications for educators to consider as they shop for next-generation classroom devices.
Hoping to accelerate the adoption and deployment of age-appropriate, one-to-one computing devices in K-12 schools, the members of Project Inkwell say a longstanding disconnect between the education community and technology manufacturers has put schools in the difficult position of taking solutions designed for the business world and adapting them to meet the unique needs of students.
While creating a list of desired specs that hardware and software manufactures can consult as they design one-to-one devices for use in schools, Inkwell CEO Bruce Wilcox and his colleagues also aim to help educators determine those approaches worth replicating in their classrooms.
In failing to develop an effective one-to-one model that can be successfully replicated and sustained across multiple districts, Wilcox says, schools have fallen short of technology’s promise to prepare students for success in the new global economy.
It’s a reality that has frustrated Darryl LaGace, director of information services for the Lemon Grove School District in California, for years. “There is just something wrong with taking a business-built device and putting it in the hands of a seventh-grader,” explained LaGace, an Inkwell member, who says he believes in the value of one-to-one computing, but has been disappointed by his and other districts’ inability to sustain ambitious technology projects over a long period of time.
As if the short-term cost of purchasing new technology weren’t prohibitive enough, LaGace says, long-term expenses associated with repairing, upgrading, and maintaining one-to-one devices can doom a project before it even gets off the ground. The problem, he added, is especially acute in school settings, where educators have to account for the inevitable banging, kicking, and dropping of precious technology components, especially when students get to take to devices home each night.
Firm in his belief that the best technology for schools is technology designed with schools in mind, LaGace recently partnered with a local computer manufacturer–DT Research Inc. of Milpitas, Calif.–to create a customized, mobile computing device with a break-resistant screen and casing for use in a pilot program in his district. This year, he says, more than 200 of the devices have been deployed throughout the school system.
It’s that kind of ingenuity and thinking that Wilcox encourages through Inkwell.
What the project really is about, says LaGace, is giving “school districts a voice” to tell hardware and software manufacturers about their experiences–not to mention cutting down on the amount of time and headaches administrators experience when trying to choose the right solutions for use in their schools.
“It would be much easier to say, ‘I want an Inkwell device,’ rather typing up 25 pages of specs,” said Craig Bartholomew, general manager of the education products group at Microsoft Corp., an Inkwell member.
The project also plans to host an online library where educators and other stakeholders can turn for guidance as they seek to emulate the successes and avoid the failures of other one-to-one computing initiatives across the country.
Rather than force teachers to adjust technology to the contours of existing learning environments, Inkwell’s members–who include educators as well as executives at leading technology corporations, such as Intel, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and Red Hat–seek eventually to design a rugged, one-to-one computing solution that’s easier on school budgets and built specifically with the needs of students, not businesspeople, in mind.
Though Wilcox admits it will be some time before an Inkwell-designed device finds its way into classrooms, he says the organization plans to spend the next several months laying the groundwork, building a market, and generating interest in the concept.
The project, which launched in 2003, expects to release minimal technical specifications for effective one-to-one initiatives in six to nine months, with prototype products to follow in 18 months and commercial solutions in two years, Wilcox estimates.
According to Michael Jay, co-founder of the Project Inkwell Center for One-to-One Computing and head of educational technology consulting firm Educational Systemics, the goal of Inkwell is not simply “to create a device,” but to help foster a set of standards that schools can adapt to their own unique needs and circumstances.
“It’s really about understanding that what’s out there today and what we have isn’t necessarily the right thing for schools,” said LaGace.