Sunday, 24 January 2010

What's in a definition? Making sense of one-to-one laptops....

I am reading Pamela Livingston's "1-to-1 Learning, Laptop Programs that Work", published by ISTE (Second Edition).
At first I found the description of a laptop as a Digital Assistant liberating - here was a meta-name for device which could be a laptop, mobile phone, i-Touch, etc. But then, reflecting a bit and looking at the original work on this by Prakash Nair, I found much more to think about.
Nair uses the term Digital Teaching Assistants for 1-to-1 laptops and considers them as being "beyond a tool" - that is, it is not a "passive" tool like a pencil or ruler, but improves its properties as a tool the more you "programme" it.
It is the "teaching" bit that started me thinking. I think a laptop can teach, perhaps, but it probably better to say that the laptop can help students to learn (emphasis on the student learning rather than implying that the laptop, an inanimate object can "teach").
That is, Digital Learning Assistant is a better definition.
I liked Livingston's list of uses that the Digital Assistant can be put to (I have settled on using her term). I list them here, split into groups of uses, so that these can be considered and challenged, if necessary.


  • Writing, reading, studying, learning, researching, organising, making assumptions, solving problems, publishing, presenting, connecting ideas, and creating new understandings.
  • Database for work and files, a sketchpad and planner for projects, a publisher for reports and papers, and a conduit for research that provides access to online resources.
  • Communications facilitator for e-mail, instant messaging and blogging.
  • Calculator and what-if analyser of data and information.
  • Digital processor for  photos and videos.
  • Facilitates children's thinking, analysing, presenting, writing, reading researching, revising, communicating, questioning, proposing, creating, surmising, and publishing.

(I paraphrase a little above - from p2)
What do you think about the list? Anything missing?

2 comments:

Pamela Livingston said...

Thanks, George, for this posting. I'm glad you like "digital assistants" and also took the time to find the original Prakash Nair piece. Many people still use the term "tool" often preceeded by "just a ..." when talking about laptops. But the possibilities are so much broader and richer than a mere tool, unless maybe they meant an entire toolbox.

George said...

Thanks, Pamela, for your comment.
Finding your book an interesting read. Courageous (foolhardy?!)leadership was certainly needed for the large projects. We have taken a much slower approach - requiring a grade at a time to have a laptop starting from the top, so that we are now down to 9th grade and up with laptops (provided by students).
Agree that "tool" as a term does not go far enough to describe the reality and the possibilities.
Continuing reading....