Amid the fast changing world of educational technology, a new and exciting vision is emerging; one that ultimately has the potential to transform teaching and learning. What is that vision? At the highest level it is one of ubiquitous student access to the tools and resources of learning.


Just exactly how does ubiquitous access transform teaching and learning? The way technology always does…by putting more control in the hands of the end user; in this case, the student. Traditional print and broadcast media has been disrupted by end user access to hundreds of thousands of alternative news and direct publishing sources available on the web.

The traditional music industry paradigm is being shifted by peer to peer web distribution of content. Banks and financial institutions, manufacturing, science, text book manufacturing, global trade, traditional telephone systems, medicine, ticketing, shopping, etc.; have all tasted a wave of technology change that has transformed business models that succeeded for decades.

What is behind all truly transformative and disruptive technologies?

User control…user access.


Schools have been slow to feel the effects of technology. Over the past 15 years they have worked diligently to build technology infrastructures where none existed and to push the student per computer ratio from 16-1 in 1995, to 4-1 in 2002. The number of computers in the schools has stalled at the 4-1 mark; not because this ratio is optimum for student learning; but because of finances.

So why dream a dream of ubiquitous access if it is not financially viable?

Because in the last three years there have been dramatic changes in technology itself. Changes that create the environment for the dream, the vision of ubiquitous access, to become reality.

Just what are these changes?

First, thanks to visionary leaders like Nicholas Negroponte, who believes that every child on earth should have a laptop and access to the Internet, (OLPC Project) a new generation of inexpensive, portable, wireless notebooks and laptops have been developed. These devices ranging $200-$500 per device are ‘game changers’. We can purchase 2 or 3 of these for every one of the old style, full blown desktop computers.


Second, changes in “virtualization” technologies that have taken place in the last 3 years, allow these inexpensive devices to do almost anything their expensive, full blown desktop predecessors can do. By connecting either by traditional Ethernet cable or wirelessly to a ‘virtualized’ network, students have access to educational applications running on servers that are not physically present on their notebook, laptop, or for that matter, a full blown desktop computer that they may be using.

Think about that. No matter where the student is, no matter what device they are using, if they can access the Internet, they can access their school network, it’s educational applications, and all their files.

These two developments, combined with the spectacular plethora of educational software, tools, and resources create the foundation for “barrier free”, ubiquitous, access to learning.


How this will transform teaching and learning is anybodies’ guess; but one thing is for sure, smaller portable devices in the hands of all students, virtualized to provide access to the best educational resources, will create a user empowered, learning environment that sets the scene…

… for a new school paradigm to emerge.



10 thoughts on “Vision

  1. Im currently in an Educational Technology class, and we recently had a discussion about 1-to-1 computing and how beneficial it really is. I expected to hear that students mistreated their laptops and that they didn’t show any increased benefit from regular classroom instruction. However, I was surprised to find that the opposite is true. I was also glad to see that you had blogged about the subject. I just wonder about those students who do not have access to the internet at home. Coming from a community that has a high level of students living in poverty, I often encountered teachers who shyed away from using online methods of teaching because of the lack of universal internet access. I also liked your analogy of the school paradigm changing along with the paradigms of other industries. In my class, we’ve also been discussing wikitexts, something that is soon going to revolutionize the publishing industry. It only makes sense that other industries, such as education, change along with the times.

    On a side note, I love the picture of the schoolhouse. I attended elementary school in a two room schoolhouse, and just thinking about it puts a smile on my face.

  2. Ashley,
    I didn’t want to “overload” this post with information; so I didn’t include an essential part of the ‘ubiquitous computing’ equation…Internet access.

    We can provide devices for all; but we also need to provide Internet access for all. There are some exciting things happening in this area that have the potential to change the connection paradigm. One is “WiMax”. It is a wireless technology that will push high speed access for miles. Research from the telecom industry indicates that 85% of all students in the US live within a mile of a school building. Once this technology matures, schools can use it to provide access to their students.

    The other technology is the mesh connection that the XO offers.

    I think we’re close to having all the elements in place.


  3. Well said! I would love to get to a one to one model in my daughters district and I will continue the push. Not making a lot of headway so far, I guess I’ll just have to keep on pushing!

  4. I agree with the technological changes and their impact but I watch schools who have one to ones fight the empowerment of students tooth and nail- often because of the pressure created by small groups of vocal parents.

    If we’re really going to have this type of change, there is going to have to be some serious conversation about goals, what freedom students should have, what is acceptable risk, and how we make both students and teachers feel safe enough to try these new possibilities.

    We’ve had a one to one since 2001 and I’ve seen a lot of good and lot of problems because people weren’t all on the same page or even in the same book in some cases. I think to do it right, you’ve got to have a program that brings in the community and keeps it involved long term. You’ve got to show real value and keep showing it beyond the honey moon period.

    On a technical note, at the college I’m at they’ve got some amazing little flash memory thin client notebooks that I think should be the wave of the future with school one to ones. Cheap, light and easy to replace. They would solve huge numbers of problems with backups, software updates etc. This would all be predicated on really good community wireless.

  5. Tom,
    I agree with the need to deal with the issues of empowerment and pedagogy. There are so many ways to describe the vision. One is a high altitude view of things from a purely technical perspective…that’s what I did here.

    We could also write one from a perspective of what we envision kids doing with this wireless, mobile infrastructure; but that is for another day.

    My feeling is that educators and “vocal parents” will argue forever about what is the right approach.

    However, over time technology will disrupt things in schools just as it has in other industries. It’s difficult to hold back the tide. There are plenty of people in public education doing their best to block and blunt the impact of technology; but ubiquitous computing will change that.


  6. Hi Pete,
    Once again, a great post.

    Our school recently ‘closed’ the main computer lab due to student vandalism.

    My theory on the whys of this has to do with how it is used (but that is another story 🙂 )

    Actually, maybe not. Why do many schools still have computer labs as opposed to computers in the classroom? Why do many teachers still use technology exclusively for word processing or entertainment?

    All kinds of reasons – resistance to change in education, way too much change happening in a short period of time, and more…

    On another note, on top of all of the advances you mentioned above I would love to see more schools switching to edubuntu

    The savings that could be culled from using opensource servers and operation systems, not to mention programs, could be directed toward pd and hardware.

  7. Perhaps the reason for having computer labs is because not all classroom teachers feel comfortable with their own knowledge or with monitoring what students are doing on the machines.

    There are so many creative ways to integrate the technology into all areas of the curriculum. Having taught in the lab with classes on rotary, I know that it is possible to have students make very productive use of the software and internet to complete projects that relate to the topics being covered in the regular classroom.

    At this point in time, the majority of students are more knowledgeable about the technology than many teachers which can seem threatening! If a lab is staffed by a teacher willing to collaborate with the classroom teacher, do the planning and integrating into the selected topic, it is probably the most efficient use of computers until all classroom teachers feel confident to go beyond the game software and delve into the full spectrum of possibilities for their program.

  8. Carolyn,
    This computer lab model has been in place for several decades and I don’t disagree with your comment which describes its functionality as a ‘transitional’ way to implement technology until the teachers are ready to take the next step. There are many problems with the lab approach to technology, the primary one being that if All or Most of the teachers want to use it, they can’t.

    However, my post is about a vision where every child has a computer and access to instructional resources. In essence, every classroom is a lab.

    In this scenario, your function, as an integrator/change agent, would stay the same; but you would move around the building, working with teachers where ever they need you.


    ps. The vision extends beyond the school to the home and to situations where students may be involved in learning…even without a teacher.

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