The Argument for Take-Home Tech in Schools

With more and more technology becoming not just portable, but affordable, the nation’s school systems have been adopting and embracing take-home tech, making tablets and other devices available for students. Not just for after school and weekends, but for summer learning, too.

Pilot programs for take-home tech have been tested since the 1990s, but are only now just becoming more common. Back in those days, laptops could be rented for a hefty fee of $2500, with low-income families having the opportunity to apply for a scholarship that they may or may not have gotten. Now, pricing starts closer to $50 annually, though with the help of funding and non-profits, that number can get down to zero. Some school districts have even bought and distributed filtered wireless hot spots via the EveryoneON initiative, providing wireless access for students who may not otherwise have it.

In New York, The LAMP (Learning About Multimedia Project) has successfully integrated technology in schools and afterschool programs since 2007, with a focus on underserved communities. In that time they’ve served over 3,000 students. They have also worked closely with Mayor de Blasio in keeping tech in schools, by being vocal and helping lift the cell phone ban. The LAMP’s Emily Long has also written about Bring Your Own Technology, or BYOT, supporting and encouraging students to not only bring tech home, but to bring it to the classroom as well. With educational tech tools, it’s a two-way street.

The executive director of The LAMP, D.C. Vito, believes that on top of issuing take-home technology to students, “There also needs to be training provided in areas like media literacy and healthy digital relationships; otherwise, it is the equivalent of giving car keys to an unlicensed driver. We want to see more of this education taking place in all schools—even without school-issued devices, youth are still spending around 13 hours of their day with media."

Mike Daugherty, Director of Technology & Information Systems at Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools in Ohio, sends out 1500 Chromebooks a night with students grades 3 through 12. Daugherty (who also runs his own EdTech website, called More Than A Tech) says, “Our students in grades 6-12 are even keeping the device at home over the summer. We felt like sending the device home really helped to extend the walls of the classroom.”

Just how are the devices being used outside of the classroom? “Teachers know that their students have a district-provided Chromebook so they know exactly what it can access,” says Daugherty. “They can assign videos, lessons and activities with confidence that their students have the tools needed to complete them. When every student has a device in their hand, teachers can really begin to personalize their learning environment. For example, if the class is studying photosynthesis and several students are struggling to understand the concept, they have the entire Internet at their fingertips. They can search out videos, animations or other resources that explain the concept in a way they can understand. When they go home, they can continue their learning. No more fighting over the sole household computer. No more re-reading the same worksheet fifty times trying to figure out what it means.”

Daugherty believes their model can be replicated elsewhere. “We charge parents $50 per year as part of the program. In return, the student gets the Chromebook and can take it home on a regular basis. A typical Chromebook runs about $300 and we expect a 5-year life cycle out of them. The parent is helping to offset the cost of the device over a five year period, but their student gets a district-supported Chromebook and a 21st Century education. From our perspective, asking the parents to contribute gives them a little ‘stake in the game’ so we find that students take better care of the device.” In addition to helping with out-of-classroom learning and homework, take-home tech can come in handy on snow days, keeping students connected and learning during a big storm.

Don’t be surprised if this idea wipes out textbooks. According to Getting Smart, school districts can pay for take home tech “by ditching heavy, expensive and quickly out-of-date textbooks…[and] adopting widely available and comprehensive open education resources.”

Textbooks also have a finite amount of information, offering less to the student and in a less engaging way. Daugherty says ”The flaw with a traditional textbook is that the information is printed and cannot be updated. What’s in the book is what’s in the book, regardless of what we as a society have learned since the book was printed. We will see a shift into online versions. Some of those textbooks will even be created by the teachers and students! That’s happening already