I think I bought my first computer in 1998. It was a big beige desktop box from Dell. I had a machine for probably two years before that; but I had received it as a gift from an uncle who was buying a new one. This was the first machine I had ever bought on my own.
I really can’t remember much about it besides the fact that I had paid $2 499 for it.
Now I look at things like the OLPC tablet that is going to cost about $100 (or the Datawind UbiSlate which is going to cost approximately $35 if you are an Indian student) and the machine soon to be available from Raspberry Pi for approximately $25 and it gives me pause to wonder what the future of edtech might look like.
For the same price as my original desktop I could get a dozen Raspberry Pi setups (and yes… I understand that I still need monitors, mice, etc) and twenty OLPC tablets that would go far in teaching the kids in my class both information access and digital literacy skills as well as giving them access to a programming / coding / creative environment.
All for the price of my one old desktop.
I hope we take advantage of these opportunities; but I worry that we won’t. I worry instead that we will chase after the newest, best designed, slickest machines that come with a full textbook and set of teacher photocopiable worksheets. We will buy what is best marketed at us to help raise test scores. We’ll buy what we’re told is easy to use. If we buy into that type of edtech we become consumers and fail to see the power we can help our students to have as creators. If we go that route there is danger that we are locking our students into a place where form is more important than function. Into a place where they are simply consumers of information and not active participants and creators of text, of global understanding and connections.
These low priced machines must make technology a tougher business to be in, but they also give us a chance to redefine the goals we have for our schools and for our students. Is it more important that they are able to pull a shiny new machine out of their bags that has been sold to them via a multi million dollar marketing scheme, or that they gain the skills they need to play a role on a changing globe.