Magazine article Technology & Learning

Empowered Learning with Personal Technology: From David Warlick's Upcoming Book, the Days & Nights of My Dazzling Education

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Empowered Learning with Personal Technology: From David Warlick's Upcoming Book, the Days & Nights of My Dazzling Education

Article excerpt

At the end of the last century, our greatest matter of contention, besides PC vs. Apple, was whether computers should be in labs or classrooms. My feeling was that, "If both settings offered advantages for learning, then why not both?" But I was only a consultant and was not in the real world.

The solution first appeared to me when A1 Rogers, the father of FrEdWriter and FrEdMail, introduced me to Greg Buttler. I knew Greg as the author of FrEdBase, an educational database program for Apple IIs, but I was not aware of his work with schools in Australia where each student had her own laptop computer.

Greg was branching out to America and asked if I would like to visit one of his schools. Within weeks, we were sitting in a middle school classroom in Beaufort, South Carolina. Greg's model was simple. Each student had a Toshiba laptop running little more than Microsoft Office. Students did most of the work, solving assigned problems and often using the tool of their choice: Word, Excel, Access, or PowerPoint. Greg had developed some astonishingly innovative education hacks for the Office suite.

I noticed the noise level first. It seemed that nearly everyone was talking, yet the classroom door sat wide open. The scene was more like an open office workspace than a classroom. The murmur rose from five conference-style tables, around each of which sat four or five students engaged in the work of learning. Periodically, a student would leave one table and move to another. The teacher was busy, though she wasn't really teaching.

I had so many questions I didn't know where to start, so I pulled out a chair and sat with one of the teams. One obvious component of their process was delegation. Each student seemed in charge of some aspect, yet they all contributed to the conversation.

One of our barriers to reaching the educational potential of computers was that most teachers were ill-prepared to use or teach technology. Constantly seeking the secrets of successful teachers, I asked, "If you have a question about Excel, is your teacher able to help you?"

The answer was a snicker. "No!" Another student continued, "If we need help with Excel, we call him," pointing to a student at another table, "or her," pointing toward another. …

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