The School Of The Future, Today… But Is It Worth It?

from the rushing-ahead dept

We’ve had numerous stories about attempts to use technology to upgrade the school process, from the basics of just adding laptops to the classroom to more advanced ideas, such as completely replacing textbooks with tablet PCs and the internet (though, perhaps not WiFi in some schools). However, it looks like one school in Philadelphia has decided that there’s no use speculating on the school of the future of technology in schools when they can just build it themselves — with some help from Microsoft (found via Broadband Reports). The school, which apparently cost $63 million to build, involves a bunch of different technologies, from laptops to smartcards (which even track how many calories students eat) to digital lockers to mobile desks to internet-connected screens replacing blackboards (or whiteboards). The school attracted thousands of applicants, but could only take 170 students — all from the West Philadelphia area. Apparently 85% of students come from low income families — and the article highlights how all this technology has them excited about learning, though that could just be the novelty effect. Of course, there are also plenty of naysayers who point out that the $63 million could have gone towards many other projects that would impact a much larger group of people. That’s absolutely true, but there are always opportunity costs in how money is spent (especially donated money). No matter what, it should be interesting to follow how this project moves forward and how successful it is over time. Sometimes the problem with projects like this that seek to reinvent almost every aspect of something get so far ahead of themselves that they miss the little things. Either way, it should be a good lesson for other schools looking to use technology to their advantage.

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Comments on “The School Of The Future, Today… But Is It Worth It?”

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SimplyGimp says:

It WOULD be worth it if...

If the kids only cared about what they were being given. Face it, kids today are BEYOND SPOILED. You give them a laptop in school and what will they do with it? Either brake it, lose it or use it for something other than intended uses.

Now take a look at the average ‘urban’ youth. You think they know how to do more than browse the web and send email? Not really. Most kids are as retarded about computers now as the early 90s. NO ONE has gotten them interested in the technology, only interested in BUYING the technology, usually in “console” format.

So, no. Putting this crap in classrooms is NOT worth it. At least not until we make it worth it to the kids…. I still remember studying for weeks to get all the tests right in elementary school, just to be the first to play a colorized version of Oregon Trail on the new Macs…. Sorry, but you wont find any kid that cares today unless they can get something back out of the computer. Remember, using the computer for learning takes attention span and the ability to sit still, neither of which has survived in this generation of school kids.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: It WOULD be worth it if...

If the kids only cared about what they were being given. Face it, kids today are BEYOND SPOILED. You give them a laptop in school and what will they do with it? Either brake it, lose it or use it for something other than intended uses.

Actually, if you look at the results in states like Maine, where they required laptops for student, they were surprised to find the exact opposite. Students took the responsibility seriously and were often very caring of their laptops.

OperaFan says:

The School Of The Future, Today... But Is It W

I partcipated with Microsoft in a similar project in Wash. DC, back in the mid-90s. The target wasn’t a school, but “muli-family housing in an under-served neighborhood” (i.e. The Projects). Microsoft pulled out at the last minute, leaving the corporate sponsors to underwrite the full tab. Corp sponsors had to cover costs for MS technology (we were too far committed to switch), provide personnel, and other ancillary costs associated with deployment, including training of the residents. All of these costs were to be covered my Microsoft in the original agreement.

It was a singularly unpleasant experience.

OperaFan says:

It WOULD be worth it if...


Do you have any actual experience working with “urban youth”? Because I do,
and I gotta say these kids are really smart and inquisitive… much more so than their suburban counterparts.

It may be because the smart urban kids have more drive… noone wants to stay in the “inner city”, and there a very few options to get out.

You may not be aware that colleges rarely recruit in the inner city for anything other than sports? And born geeks come in all shapes, sizes, and dare I say colors?

So what’s a smart kid in the inner city to do?

Not So Mindless American (profile) says:

Re: ok

So what’s a smart kid in the inner city to do? Umm use the Fafsa just like everyone else does. My upper-middle class suburban parents work thier butts off to provide an education for me.

what you fail to realize, is that the fafsa isn’t always the “Get all” of getting into college.. Most colleges will overlook the “inner city/urban” applications in favor of the “suburban” applications. The reason? The “suburban” kids have money.

Mako says:

I come from a relatively nice suburban neighborhood, and technology is my life. It might jest be who I am, but I was very impressed walking onto a college campus and seeing cameras to project textbooks onto the board in every classroom. Another thing that impressed me quite a bit is the access to computers 24/7 by keycard. I would hate to tell you that I even come from a technology magnet school and find this amazing. Why not give it to the kids, they will certainly use it. If you’re concerned about the kids using technology the wrong way, IT can block ANYTHING, look at websense used in a lot of school systems. They can even have a computer “wipe” itself of any new files so that a virus cannot keep itself on the hard drive. As far as caring for the computers, most people have a home PC, allow them to transfer text documents to a server account, just strip out “code” for anything that might be malicious, that is what is done by our school even through e-mail.

Mdr says:

370k / student

That sounds rather extreme…

And something tells the capitalist in me a private schooling system could work wonders with that kind of dough, for a boatload more than 170 students. The impact on the world of a 170 students getting gizmos is absolutely negligible.

What astounds me is the success various European nations have with the voucher system… and they’re bloody socialists!

American tendency to innovate + free market schools = much higher economic prosperity over time.

Not to remove blame from parents, but private schools already tend to achieve much better results for a lower cost per student per year. A lot of their class rooms could be described quite accurately as ‘spartan’ as well; no high-tech boondoggles destroying their profitability.

|333173|3|_||3 says:

My old school has a half-dozen digital projectors (700 students), a smart board, and about 2-300 computers available, with more like 150 available at any time (we were on a shared campus (Golden Grove Secondary Campus), as well as laptops fro staff use, and from next year are getting laptops for year 12 students, and possibly year 11’s as well. This all sounds good, but he average teacher there needs to ask for help from students to set upp the projectors and some have difficulty using the more advanced features of M$ office, (you should see some of the wierd kludges used in some of the word documents I have recieved). When combined with the stupidity of certain members of staff about IP law as relating to the internet, you get a situation wereby the students know more about the use of the computers tan the staff do, and indeed have sometimes managed to diagnose network problems faster than the admins, and spot when they are lying to us about servrs being full etc. This situation appears to be the case on a lot of campuses. It seems that you will get a school witha few knowledgeable IT staff members, then a group of students who know far more about he tech. than the rest of the staff do. The n00b staff will have hours of trouble withthe tech. and go back to paper and pens.

Sheeesh says:

Re: Teachers and Technology

|333173|3|_||3 … Teachers and administrators for the school system where I live were asked by the school board to email articles about their schools/classes to the local paper for an insert about the School System. They were also asked to send pictures in digital format.

The teachers dutifully wrote the articles on M$ Word, and scanned in pictures – only to print out and fax the results or deliver the printed out hard copy (not the files) in person. (For the scanned in pictures, too.)

The most important part of what they were asked to do – EMAIL, i.e, provide copy in digital format – sailed right over their technologically-impaired heads.

That was so embarrassing…. and shamefully stupid.

PhysicsGuy says:

While I think completely computerized classrooms are inevitable, and frankly kick ass (I would have given anything to have a setup like that in high school), I’d have to agree with |333173|3|_||3 … We had a handful of PCs in my high school (note PCs… plenty of old school macs :P) and I was called whenever there was trouble with any of the computers (our librarians were the IT staff scarily enough). of course, I was also the first one called down to the principles office when there was any kind of … incidents … involved with the computers (sure, I *was* usually responsible [due to complete boredom of course], but they were so quick to accuse >:)) anyway, reminiscing aside, high school staffers are noobs. enough said 😛

Brad says:

Where's your $63M?

So all of you complain that Microsoft is not giving it’s money away in the way you’d like? Fine, give your own money away.

They can do whatever the hell the damn well feel like with their money. Unless you’re a shareholder, you don’t get to say shit.

And if you ARE, you’d realize this is a massive market research and product testing ground, not an act of writing a blank check and never seeing the school again.

And Dorpus, I know you only say the things you do for attention. You act like a spoiled 13 year old. You are a waste of life and a leech on society’s ass. Do us all a favor and kill yourself.

Anonymous Coward says:


I currently attend a school (Brophy College Preparatory, if you’re dying for specifics) where the entire freshman class is using Toshiba Tablet PCs, all our textbooks are online, and every class is supplied with a SmartBoard. The teachers all have the tablets too. The constant school population is 1200, 300 in each class, and is entirely male. The computers are surprisingly resilient, but students are also surprisingly careful with them. These are two thousand dollar machines we have here, and even the wealthiest of parents tends to become hesistant at buying a new one. Breaking these is not an option. As a result of this, students are surprisingly careful, and are much more organized, much less clutter and paper everywhere. The incentive to not lose things is also much higher. To buy a stylus from the school is $30. The SlimDrive CD drives are $170 from the school, and I’m not sure about the SlimDrive batteries but I’d imagine they are quite expensive too. I find that the technology is rather nice in the sense that it is much easier to organize things, and a lot easier to work and take notes, because an 80 words per minute typing speed is just a tad bit quicker than a person writes. The entire campus is Wi-Fi equipped, so you get a solid internet connection everywhere on the campus. Also, the computers have microphones built in, making it a simple matter to record a class. I recently discovered this feature and have been using it frequently. The downside to all of this? A student using a tablet must be determined and focused like no other. Since the beginning of the school year, I have watched the progress of games and other features that students put on their computers. Nothing dangerous, mind you, but the diversity of programs. It started with simple internet gaming, through easily found sites, then to emulators, then to demos for more advanced games, and now its back to more easy internet games. Its an interesting trend. That is the biggest downside I see in the program, the easy access to distracting programs. Other than that, the tablet program has been a huge success. My class happens to be the guiney pigs of the program, but major problems have been few and far between.

This website is the web blog for the tablet program, if you’d like to look at it a bit more.

This is the actually description of the program and other information about it.

friday says:

Here is an idea, instead of giving kids really great computers that they dont even understand, how about we give them lots of books, and maybe teach them to read. Then give them math books and actually teach them math, instead of the waterdown bullshit we are teaching our youth today.
In developed Asian countries kids are learning calculus by middle school. When I was in middle school we were learning pre-algebra. So I say focus on real education, not interactive, colorful, fun, bullshit education that we are spoon feeding many of the youth of today.

tom says:

Here is an idea, instead of giving kids really great computers that they dont even understand, how about we give them lots of books, and maybe teach them to read. Then give them math books and actually teach them math, instead of the waterdown bullshit we are teaching our youth today.

So why can’t we teach kids math, reading and computers? If kids don’t understand the computers then it’s up to us to teach it to them. Having low standards and thinking that students can’t handle learning multiple things at once isn’t going to help anyone.

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