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 / Winter 2006 / Issue 45(originally published by Booz & Company)


From Laptops to Backpacks

Fortunately, the third trend is a rise of interest, mostly unseen outside education circles, in better “staff development,” as educators call it. And when these three trends come together, here’s what we see:

• Schoolrooms self-organize into study pods (usually of four members), and students begin working and learning in teams. Learning is more project-based, with each student taking responsibility for a particular part of that project.

• During oral and written questioning, all children answer all problems at their computers, so it isn’t just the bright kids who jump in. The teacher can see how each child is doing and provide help in real time to those students who most need it. Students take their machines home at night and do homework on them in a connected environment (this, too, is part of the Inkwell goal). For students in needy homes, this is a great equalizer.

In a survey by the Greaves Group and the Hayes Connection, titled “America’s Digital Schools 2006: A Five-Year Forecast,” 88 percent of the schools operating one-to-one programs that tracked their academic outcomes reported “moderate to significant positive results.” The survey concluded: “It appears that properly implemented ubiquitous computing solutions can help improve student achievement to a significant degree.”

Former Maine Governor Angus King (who is now chair of the Inkwell Governor’s Committee) was a pioneer in understanding the power of one-to-one. In 2002, he ordered laptops for every seventh grader in his state — about 37,000 of them. Maine is currently in its fourth year of this program. “We realized early on that this was not just about education,” Governor King said. “This is about economic development.”

Massachusetts, Michigan, and South Dakota have similar statewide one-to-one programs. Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, and another 11 states are also now moving toward statewide implementations.

One-to-one computing could produce a windfall for computer makers. That’s why they will be motivated to tackle the performance and cost improvements required to make this concept a success. There are 54 million kindergarten through 12th-grade students in the U.S. alone. At a hypothetical technology budget of $1,200 per child — which includes not only the PCs but learning devices, servers, software, network, and training — there is a potential $64 billion in the Inkwell U.S. market. Apply this formula around the world, which we are doing, and the numbers grow much larger.

But to take advantage of this boon, computer makers will have to produce machines at reasonable prices that better meet the needs of students and teachers. We have more than 30 corporate members of Inkwell so far, and we are working to establish standards for machines that are simple, durable, and accessible to children. A typical Inkwell computer can outperform business laptops in a variety of measures, from higher survival rates in the classroom to less time lost to booting and support, with a lower total cost of ownership.

Even in an age of ever-tighter education budgets, the movement toward one-to-one PCs is inevitable. The success in states like Maine and districts like Lemon Grove is so dramatic that even if some educators resist, parents and politicians will surely overrule them. In fact, the revolution is under way: The Greaves/Hayes survey found that 24 percent of all U.S. education districts are already in the process of transitioning to Inkwell’s approach. Starting in schoolrooms, the magnitude of this change may be the catalyst that ushers in the next wave of lightweight computers, which will be associated less with the airplane seat of a business traveler, and more with a student’s backpack — and ultimately with a new style of lifelong learning that emerges on this new, near-ubiquitous platform.

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