Streams

Why Hoboken is Throwing Away All of its Student Laptops

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Hechinger Report

Inside Hoboken’s combined junior-senior high school is a storage closet. Behind the locked door, some mothballed laptop computers are strewn among brown cardboard boxes. Others are stacked one atop another. Dozens more are stored on mobile computer carts, many of them on their last legs.

That’s all that remains from a failed experiment to assign every student a laptop at Hoboken Junior Senior High School. It began five years ago with an unexpected windfall of stimulus money from Washington, D.C., and good intentions to help the district’s students, the majority of whom are under or near the poverty line, keep up with their wealthier peers. But Hoboken faced problem after problem and is abandoning the laptops entirely this summer.

“We had the money to buy them, but maybe not the best implementation,” said Mark Toback, the current superintendent of Hoboken School District. “It became unsustainable.”

None of the school administrators who initiated Hoboken’s one-to-one laptop program still work there. Toback agreed to share Hoboken’s experiences so that other schools can learn from it.

Despite tight budgets, superintendents and principals around the country are cobbling together whatever dollars they can to buy more computers for their classrooms. This year alone, schools are projected to spend almost $10 billion on education technology, a $240-million increase from 2013, according to the Center for Digital Education. Educational technology holds the promise of individualizing instruction, and some school systems, like Mooresville, N.C., and Cullman, Ala., have shown impressive student learning gains. But districts like Los Angeles and Fort Bend, Texas, which jumped on the tech trend without careful planning, had problems when they gave a laptop or tablet to every student and are scrapping them, too.

By the time Jerry Crocamo, a computer network engineer, arrived in Hoboken’s school system in 2011, every seventh, eighth and ninth grader had a laptop. Each year, a new crop of seventh graders were outfitted. Crocamo’s small tech staff was quickly overwhelmed with repairs.

We had “half a dozen kids in a day, on a regular basis, bringing laptops down, going ‘my books fell on top of it, somebody sat on it, I dropped it,’ ” said Crocamo.

Screens cracked. Batteries died. Keys popped off. Viruses attacked. Crocamo found that teenagers with laptops are still… teenagers.

“We bought laptops that had reinforced hard-shell cases so that we could try to offset some of the damage these kids were going to do,” said Crocamo. “I was pretty impressed with some of the damage they did anyway. Some of the laptops would come back to us completely destroyed.”

Crocamo’s time was also eaten up with theft. Despite the anti-theft tracking software he installed, some laptops were never found. Crocamo had to file police reports and even testify in court.

Hoboken school officials were also worried they couldn’t control which websites students would visit. Crocamo installed software to block pornography, gaming sites and Facebook. He disabled the built-in web cameras. He even installed software to block students from undoing these controls. But Crocamo says students found forums on the Internet that showed them how to access everything.

“There is no more determined hacker, so to speak, than a 12-year-old who has a computer,” said Crocamo.

All this security software also bogged down the computers. Teachers complained it took 20 minutes for them to boot up, only to crash afterwards. Often, there was too little memory left on the small netbooks to run the educational software.

Hoboken math coach Howard McKenzie says he also had problems with the software itself.

“We wanted to run a program for graphing calculators, but it didn’t work very well; it was very sticky,” said McKenzie “We kind of scrapped it.”

Ultimately, the math teacher just showed it to the class on a Smart Board, an interactive whiteboard.

Superintendent Toback admits that teachers weren’t given enough training on how to use the computers for instruction. Teachers complained that their teenage students were too distracted by their computer screens to pay attention to the lesson in the classroom.

Michael Ranieri, a junior at Hoboken’s high school, aspires to be an electrical engineer. He said when he did use the computers for schoolwork, it was mostly for word processing and internet browsing. He would write an essay on the laptop for English class, for example, or research information using Google.

“We didn’t really do much on the computer,” said Ranieri. “So we kind of just did games to mess around when we had free time. I remember, really big, was Crazy Taxis that we used to play. If we found solitaire on line, we used to play it.”

Ranieri said he was relieved to be free of the stress of keeping track of his laptop. Families had to sign papers agreeing to be financially responsible if the computers were lost. Every week Ranieri roamed his classrooms looking for his.

“It was usually under my desk in English class,” he said.

Superintendent Toback inherited the laptop program when he arrived in 2011. At first, he tried to keep it going, but he faced skyrocketing costs, which hadn’t been budgeted for. The $500 laptops lasted only two years and then needed to be replaced. New laptops with more capacity for running educational software would cost $1,000 each, Toback said. Additionally, licenses for the security software alone were running more than $100,000 and needed to be renewed every two years.

And the final kicker: the whole town was jamming the high school’s wireless network.

“A lot of people knew the username and password,” Toback said. “So a lot of people were able to walk by the building and they would get wireless access. Over a period of years, you had thousands of people. It bogged it down, it made it unusable.”

Allison Powell said Hoboken’s headaches are not unusual. Powell is a vice president for state and district services at iNacol, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, where she works with school leaders on how to use computers to personalize instruction by delivering different lessons to each child.

But Powell said many schools continue to make Hoboken’s mistake of shopping for technology without a plan to make teaching in the classroom more effective.

“Probably in the last few months I’ve had quite a few principals and superintendents call and say, ‘I bought these 500 iPads or 1,000 laptops because the district next to us just bought them,’ and they’re like, now what do we do?” Powell said.

This summer, Hoboken school staff will go through the laptops one by one, writing down the serial numbers and drafting a resolution for the school board to approve their destruction.

Then they’ll seek bids from recycling companies to figure out how much it will cost Hoboken to throw them away.

 

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet at Teachers College, Columbia University. Read more about how schools are bringing technology into the classroom.

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Comments [63]

Support Desk

Good management of the equipment used in a 1:1 learning initiative is the key to it's success. Having a tool like Support Desk that can handle all aspects of the program can ensure that success. http://goo.gl/M9fvwx

Dec. 14 2014 03:20 AM
reine from france

did they try with a Linux distro, surely not, it would have worked!, but, you know...

Aug. 16 2014 09:52 PM
George, Software Instructor from Silicon Valley #2, NYC

At Bates College, we had a library with about 40-50 computers in it. People who didn't have a computer of their own would often use these ones. This program was there to help folks who couldn't afford a computer (college is expensive!) However, most people at the campus used the Help Desk within the library. This was basically an on call IT staff when your computer had a virus. You didn't use it everyday, but everyone probably used it at some point in their career at the college. They hired students to do the IT work and bam---you've got yourself a cheap, student run IT staff with a little bit of guidance from a teacher or network administrator. And a decent place for a student to start a career in IT. Cleaning up a PC isn't rocket science but it definitely takes a tech savvy kid to do it.

This works for a few reasons. Yes, computers that schools buy are going to suck. They're going to be slow and they're going to be bogged down by viruses. You're going to need an IT department to fix these things anyway. Might as well encourage students to use their own PCs so they take care of them a bit more. However, if you also have a bunch of computers for students to use in a library then you've created a quiet work place with computers that have to work for those of us who can't afford or are inbetween PC's for whatever reason. Yes, these get bogged down by viruses too, but it's better to manage 50 PCs full time than 500 or more. The student run IT staff means that those who are lucky enough to have computers at least have computers that work.

Plus, if you promise your students free IT services if you provide them with a computer, don't you think the parents and families would be more ready to spring for a computer?

Encouraging the school to create an ad hoc IT department as a class, extracurricular activity, or paid position, is a nice tool for the community too. Maybe the parents need to pull a virus off their computer. Bring it into the local school maybe they can fix it for you. You know there's some computer whiz in that school who can do it! I don't know this school personally---maybe it's a rough school. But every school has a few computer savvy kids in it (and if it doesn't it should) that are ready to get their hands into a real career. Let them!

A previous commenter said that this school has a tech institute down the road. For any computer that isn't fixed with a free malwarebytes check that a high school kid could perform, send it to the Tech School.

Aug. 11 2014 03:37 PM
thelittledabbler

Sure, spend money to throw away the laptops instead of taking off the security software that's bogging them down and DONATING THEM to the needy. So many people would LOVE to have that super slow dinosaur computer because they can't afford anything else. I'd like to send a letter to the superintendent telling them this. They could even have families pay $10 if they want to keep a computer. It's better than PAYING to dispose of them!!

Aug. 07 2014 11:54 AM
Preston Winn from Georgia

I think it is great this district went public with its failure. These so-called "failure fests" are important to moving forward (I believe this even as a tax payer). However, I also want to point out that districts and schools around the world are doing this successfully and we should look at them at the same time we look at failures. Look at Henrico, VA who has been doing this for many years. This isn't the fault of the technology (although there are always lessons to learn there), it isn't the fault of teachers, it is poor planning and management and a lack of understanding of what it takes to enable mobile learning in schools. Also, one correction for the author of this article. Los Angeles Unified School District is NOT abandoning its mobile tech effort. It is growing and expanding it. There are very few people that understand what LAUSD did wrong and even fewer who know what they are doing right. They aren't perfect and there are things they would and are doing differently, but 80% of what is floating around out there is misunderstanding and FUD placed by political opposition an opportunistic media people. It is my considered opinion that we need to understand best practices and cut ourselves some slack on mistakes (but not too much). Mobile technology in schools is ultimately about improving student learning but it will not happen if districts don't do their homework, have a comprehensive deployment plan and most importantly, teach teachers HOW to use the technology to benefit students. It isn't about the device and not even really about the content (although both are important). It's about enabling new teaching methods for teachers that will improve student learning.

Aug. 05 2014 11:55 AM
Orbmiser from Portland,Or.

Sums it up quite nicely. The Clueless leading the Blind just because everyone else is.

Projection costs for critical thinking about the issue first for viability and usability in real world use educating the children before purchase? Zero dollars. Applying projected actual using scenarios with students in a real world situations=Nightmare again investment cost Zero Dollars! Asking real and valid questions needing valid answers also Zero Dollars.

Aug. 05 2014 11:05 AM
misscee

My daughter went through a computer tech middle school with a laptop before the Internet was widely available. She was required to bring it to school everyday and use it to complete every assignment in every class. She learned programming, databases, spreadsheets, desktop publishing, and word processing. Today she has her own business making and managing web pages and she also does printing. I think if there is a clear use for the laptop the student will care for it accordingly. If it is a tool that is given to all of them to take home and there are no clear cut goals the students won't value it as much.

I am a retired teacher and I can tell you that watching a class of middle grade students to make sure they don't break the laptops is impossible. Been there, done that. It's easier to manage a lab with desktop computers.

Aug. 04 2014 07:15 PM
Roger from Michigan

I volunteer to teach at a charity school for slum children in India. I use Free Khan Academy interactive teaching site to teach math to kids that I cannot even talk to in their language. After three months in my computer lab these kids are several grades ahead in math. Don't fear computers, use them to create excitement for learning!

Aug. 04 2014 05:22 PM
geekWithA.45 from PHL, USA

Education is about the MIND, and the more time spent playing with gadgets and magical silver bullets and hokum education theories distracts from the fundamentals, and noticing that fewer and fewer people have actually mastered them so as to reliably manifest some sort of rigorous thinking.

The UN has something they call a "school in a box". "The contents of the kit are culturally neutral, can be used anywhere in the world, and are often supplemented by locally purchased products, such as books in local languages, toys, games and musical instruments"

http://www.unicef.org/supply/index_40377.html
http://www.unicef.org/supply/files/School_in_a_Box_Guidelines_English_.pdf

It contains slates, chalk, paper, pencils, rulers, scissors, an inflatable globe, and so on.

Not one item is a laptop or tablet.

Aug. 04 2014 12:39 PM
Glen Gilchrist from Wales

Hi

Interesting read - and so are the comments.

As an educator in the UK we are seeing these issues too. One question I always come back to is "what is the educational impact" of such devices? Sure 1:1 looks good and sounds progressive, but do the learners actually benefit in any measurable manner? Is their attainment higher? Do they do better at securing a job? Does all this tech actually achieve anything?

I ask that as someone who would naturally lean towards tech, so I'm not anti 1:1 - I would just love to see some justification other than "it makes the kids more engaged".

Glen

Aug. 04 2014 07:52 AM
Mike B.

My county in West Virginia is about to run into a similar issue, I believe. The BOE managed to secure a technology grant to give every student (K-12, mind you) an iPad. On the surface, it seems like a great idea, but the execution was awful. Every student above 3rd grade can take their iPad home, and there is no charge for the student/parent if it becomes destroyed. In the drug-ridden coalfields of southern West Virginia, this is incredibly stupid. Also, the county BOE made absolutely no effort to train the teachers on properly utilizing the technology for instruction. This means that the older educators who were completely unfamiliar with the technology, remained lost when trying to use them in the classroom. And here's the kicker: the grant didn't completely cover the cost of the iPads and Macs (the latter given to the teachers to aid with instruction), so he tapped into funds provided via a levy. That money comes from the county taxpayers, and is legally allocated to specific things (typically repairs to older buildings, textbooks, training resources for teachers, etc.). The Apple technology wasn't part of the levy; not only did the superintendent illegally use taxpayer funds to pay for the iPads, but he also left the county $800,000 in the hole, because the levy money didn't fulfill the debt. That money from the levy had been allocated for new textbooks and instructional resources for the upcoming academic year, so the educators and students in my county won't be getting those essential tools this year.

Aug. 03 2014 11:19 AM
Ken Starks from Taylor Texas

Sigh.....I am the Executive Director of Reglue.org. We are a non profit that takes in broken or decommissioned computers and we then repair them and put them into the homes of the financially disadvantaged kids in the greater Austin area.

It breaks my heart to see this waste. We have a staff of volunteers who fix computers professionally and our biggest challenge is getting enough broken or old stuff to repair.

One thing we have learned though is that most high school kids don't appreciate something that's given to them. Also, some of these kids grow up in homes that expect and sometimes demand entitlement. The kid that gets a reglue computer and breaks it has to work at our facility for 16 hours to receive another one. No exceptions.

Aug. 01 2014 11:20 PM
kendrick wilson

Chromebook

Aug. 01 2014 01:58 PM
RBL from PA

Teach kids how to USE computers. Don't GIVE them computers. Have a computer lab, just like we have a library. Give it high speed WiFi so they can BYOD. Give kids time to work in the lab to do their homework.

Aug. 01 2014 01:21 PM
Julia from Hoboken, nj

This is dumb as hell. I graduated from Stevens institute of tech which is just up the hill from this high school and they train NSA grade cyber security experts there for NYC financial trading firms. Wtf you guys.

1. Don't pay for expensive antivirus subscriptions. Backup a master computer and then restore the ISO over the diseased laptop's partition. If the kid loses his/her data.. That's their fault for not saving it to their personal Dropbox or google drive account.

2. Have broken computers repaired by the computer engineering students at Stevens. $30-$60 and they should be able to fix most issues in under 2 hrs if the parts are on hand.

3. Have all your classroom software in the cloud or available for download on a centralized server.

4. Why aren't all your laptops register to the router via MAC address. Only have approved devices able to connect to the school's wifi.

5. Load balance the internet connection so all the kids in the school aren't connecting to the internet through one measly cable modem pipe.

6. Throttle the bandwidth appropriately so each device isn't hogging all the bandwidth.

Jul. 31 2014 07:01 PM
Mary

What a mess. With everyone getting tablets in schools you would hope people would stop and THINK!
Get the FACTS on tech and kids: Be informed!

The National Association for Children and Safe Technology. NACST.org
A site around for parents and educators.

Jul. 31 2014 04:07 PM
Kyle Gough from Indiana

Are these computers salvageable? There's a wonderful program in North-East Indiana called PCs For Youth that refurbishes computers and gives them to underprivileged kids.

The website is pcsforyouth.org.

When I was involved we could not meet laptop demand.

Jul. 31 2014 02:07 PM
Wastrel from Austin

"None of the school administrators who initiated Hoboken’s one-to-one laptop program still work there."

No, but you can bet they got good kickbacks, made friends, and are now using their experience to ruin a project in another city or in a state or federal agency. I saw it happen more than once: federal money gives administrators the opportunity to make a quick killing.

Jul. 31 2014 12:12 PM
Pete from chicago

I'm a junior/city college teacher and I totally see the benefits of getting students to use laptops/computers because these tools are useful when they leave for university and the work force. Because most of my students are from low-income areas, their families can't afford computers so the options are very limited and when they have to do homework, they have to stay behind and work in one of the labs and stay late (and the school's in a shady neighborhood with monthly gang shootings - not an area I would want my kid to be leaving when it's dark). Also, another practical issue is that my students aren't familiar with word processing, email, or Internet research. These skills are invaluable in college. It's obvious that this program in its bones is good, it just needs some tweaking to reflect the fact that we're talking about kids....

Jul. 31 2014 10:29 AM
Adam

It’s no news…getting technology into the classroom often involves having to deal with lost, stolen or damaged devices, and the IT overhead involved in managing these devices. Hence, Chromebooks have become a good fit for many schools; they’re inexpensive, extremely secure, easy to use and equally easy to replace. With the help of third-party solutions such as Ericom AccessNow, it's even possible to run Windows- and Java-based educational and testing applications on these devices. This solution enables Chromebook users to connect to any RDP host, including Terminal Server and VDI virtual desktops, and run Windows applications or desktops in a browser tab. AccessNow does not require any client to be installed on the Chromebook, so it's easy to deploy and manage.

For more information about AccessNow for Chromebooks in Education, visit:
http://www.ericom.com/Education-ChromebookRDPClient.asp?URL_ID=708

Please note that I work for Ericom

Jul. 31 2014 10:01 AM
just a reader from midwest

Let's see...
Government
Good intentions
money
Sounds like a recipe for failure.

Jul. 31 2014 08:30 AM

I went to "HoBroken" and it was sad to see what most of the "diversity" students did to their laptops. Some were made into Frisbees, flyswatters, and some were used as baseball bats. It turned into "who could do the most damage" to the laptop on any given day. The "diversity" kids had no respect for these laptops. Just another freebie that did not meet their standards. I'm sure they would have taken care of them a bit better if they were able to play games on them, play rap music with them, and surf pornographic websites with them. The laptops would NOT let them do those things, so they abused and broke them.
One teacher told us "if they can't smoke it, eat it, or f u c k it, it will be destroyed.
And it was destroyed.

Jul. 31 2014 06:49 AM
Jesse from NYC

In a world where technology literacy is increasingly becoming a prerequisite for success, I worry for students who lack access to meaningful educational experiences that leverage the technologies they will be expected to know in college and the workplace. Too often this tech divide is closely aligned with economics and race. I predict that the technology face of the achievement gap will have clear repercussions for the future notion of equal opportunity in the United States.

I also do not mean to argue that this is the fault of educators. Rolling out a one to one laptop program takes vision, technical know-how, and a tremendous amount of time and attention. In rich districts there are teams of techie-educators working full time to solve these problems. In less fortunate schools, the task of device rollout falls on the shoulders of an overworked and underpaid community worker, teacher, or administrator with many other competing responsibilities and every incentive not to take chances or innovate.

If we want to get serious about inequality in America, making sure that our public education system affords all students easy access to high quality technologically integrated education is a good place to start.

Jul. 30 2014 07:37 PM
Maureen

Thank you Hoboken, you are a smart school that chooses to remove these costly distractions. Not even to mention the toxic non-stop pulsed MICROWAVE RADIATION which comes from WiFi. Please consider removing this untested and unstudied health hazard around children.

Jul. 30 2014 03:40 PM
Maureen

Thank you Hoboken, you are a smart school that chooses to remove these costly distractions. Not even to mention the toxic non-stop pulsed MICROWAVE RADIATION which comes from WiFi. Please consider removing this untested and unstudied health hazard around children.

Jul. 30 2014 03:38 PM
John Kirsch from Manhattan

"Then they’ll seek bids from recycling companies to figure out how much it will cost Hoboken to throw them away."

They should really be looking at ethically recycling them with a legitimate company not throwing them away.

Jul. 30 2014 03:36 PM
glork from NJ


As one person commented, children and teens are oversaturated with technology and are already sufficiently independently tech-savvy. Test that theory on the average 13 year old. It might simply be that school would be a better place to turn off some ( not, all ) technology and expose the students to books, pens and paper...resources that many students are not familiar with and that many do not have at home. Those needing more resources ( tradition or technological )always have access
to an astronomical source of education: the free public library.

Jul. 30 2014 03:28 PM
Cathy

It would have worked if they were Macs. PCs are too unrealiable

Jul. 30 2014 02:50 PM
choppie70

Wow! This is sad! My school district has 1:1 laptops from grade 4 - grade 12. We have never had these problems.

Jul. 30 2014 02:18 PM
Mike

The machines would probably last a lot longer and be much more reliable if they weren't portable. Don't give the kids something they can cart around until they know how to take care of them.

Jul. 30 2014 12:59 PM
KFS from Flemington

I ran across this story about a taxpayer funded lunch program in Tennessee that I'd relate to this one http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/in-rural-tennessee-a-new-way-to-help-hungry-children-a-bus-turned-bread-truck/2013/07/06/c93c5eec-e292-11e2-aef3-339619eab080_story.html Note that they are giving out "lunchables" and it costs $3.47 per lunchable. Any thoughtful, practical person would see the foolishness and waste but the way government works - all the regulations - they probably have to use expensive prepackaged food.

The Hoboken schools obviously didn't know how to use these computers for instruction. I can't blame the teachers.

Jul. 30 2014 11:28 AM
Mike Trucano from Washington, DC

This is a story that we've heard before, and will no doubt hear again: a variation on a sadly familiar theme. I don't know that the answer is just to admit defeat, throw up your hands, throw everything away and go back to the 'good old days'.

I maintain a popular list of 'worst practices in technology use in education'. Looks like I've got yet another example to add to this (rather sad, in that so much of this is avoidable) collection:
http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech/worst-practice

I am also not sure how this should actually be labelled an 'experiment'. In an experiment, you are usually trying to learn something. This massive purchase of technology seems to me like yet another solution in search of a problem that no one bothered to actually tried to define in any meaningful way. I suspect that, at a fundamental level, the problem wasn't (really) with the technology. Seems more like human failure to me.

Jul. 30 2014 10:20 AM
Excessed from New York

The Deer Park School District on Long Island did exactly the same thing. They started a one-to-one laptop program where they gave every 5th grader a MacBook. The next year they gave them to the fifth and sixth graders, Then the next year they added another class. The plan was to go on until they phased in the fifth through twelfth grades. Ironically, the year that they started the program, they cut out teaching keyboarding by a certified business teacher in the intermediate school and had the 5th graders "learn" keyboarding from a computer game. The results of this program were terrible. The kids didn't learn how to keyboard or utilize the programs as a tool. No one taught them how to use spreadsheets and such. The Macs became a vehicle for kids to play games . Teachers tried to create new lesson plans that would incorporate technology but these projects were few and far in between since the teachers didn't have too much time to deviate from their curriculums in light of needing time to prepare for state tests. With Cuomo's tax cap, it became impossible to finance the program since the district couldn't raise taxes. The Macs started braking and money was running out. The hotshot IT administrator who championed the program resigned the year after the program's implementation. The district just ended the program and collected back all of the MacBooks that they paid over $1,000 a piece for so they can sell them to a vendor for $200 a piece. I feel like saying I TOLD YOU SO, since anyone with a brain saw this as a bad idea from the beginning--that is everyone but the superintendent and board of ed.

Jul. 30 2014 09:40 AM
Joe from Adams Center, NY

It could cost next to nothing to get rid of the laptops. List them on a government auction site such as auctionsinternational.com

Jul. 30 2014 08:47 AM
enzro from florida

Another story of why the current system continues to fail. We need to teens access and also teach them more than how to use the software installed. I would have used open source software, Linux specifically. I would also find students to volunteer for computer tech train. The training would make them sys admins and repair techs. The kids would get credit for supporting the computer system. Using linux would significantly lower the cost of the system and teaching the kids to adminster and reapir the computers would give them added real world skills and a sense of ownership. That's just a beginning. Let's be creative, our teens are the future.

Jul. 30 2014 08:25 AM
not from tatw

silly citizens. these shenanigans weren't intended to educate the students, it was a way to publicly launder money - steal billions from working stiffs and distribute it to their union supporters and corporate backers. of course, a healthy percentage of that money makes it into the politicians' pockets, so that's a big win for them.

Jul. 30 2014 07:05 AM
Nicola from New Zealand

I’m a teacher in a 1:1 digital environment in New Zealand, and I think it’s really great.

Youtube can be a source of so much learning; instructional videos, science demonstrations, Shakespeare performed on stage, Khan Academy, etc. Turning off cameras may prevent the odd selfie but it also prevents students taking photos of their learning, or filming or presenting new understandings. These are rewindable. Students can return to them as many times as necessary!

Managing Youtube and Facebook is no different from having strategies to stop students doodling or passing notes. I’ve been known to stand on the bench at the back of the room to view everyone’s screens at once, and students know I will restart any laptop being used for games or Facebook. Students spin their laptops away from them when I’m talking to them all.

Technology can substitute for paper (worksheets) or redefine teaching. There are apps to reward points for being on task (ClassDojo). There are also online tools (Harpara’s Teacher Dashboard) to help teachers’ view all students’ screens at once, start a comment thread with students’ on their work to help or provide feedback. Don’t get me started on the apps to mark quizzes and provide stats on achievement with the push of two buttons (thanks Flubaroo and Google Spreadsheets!) Digital simulations such as http://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulations/category/new, or having students create movies or animations of their learning can't be done with paper! Check out this site about the SAMR model of digital teaching here:
https://sites.google.com/a/msad60.org/technology-is-learning/samr-model

I disagree with the statement that teachers needed training on how to use the computers for “instruction.” Technology can be used for so much more than just "instruction"! Just look at some of the work my students have created this year:
http://misswellsscience.blogspot.co.nz/2014/06/movies-migration-and-skeleton-teeth.html

Googling was a skill I had to learn at University, and students need to learn it too! Do they know how to search key words rather than whole sentences? Do they know how to spot a valid source rather than a dodgy Wikipedia site? Can they navigate through sites and find information hidden in videos or hyperlinks that lead them to other sites... Digital skills that need to be learned!

Technology motivates and enables students to share their work with an authentic audience and gain feedback from peers, parents, teachers or anyone who cares about their learning; http://tpswillyl.blogspot.co.nz/

“Schools are projected to spend almost $10 billion on education technology.” WHY? Because technology is the future. Schools have a responsibility to prepare their students and equip them with the skills to open as many doors for themselves as possible.

The views expressed in this post are my own and do not reflect the views of any company or school I represent. :)

Jul. 30 2014 02:19 AM
Ed Friedman from Bowdoinham, ME

In my previous post I meant to but forgot to mention what should be obvious to most of us, kids are our most sensitive population when it comes to adverse health effects from microwave radiation or any other toxin. There are some striking images on line of the relative penetration of RF through the brain of a soft-skulled child [maybe 3/4] vs a hard-shelled adult [maybe 1/4].

Jul. 30 2014 12:36 AM
Ed Friedman from Bowdoinham, ME

Other issues aside, if students are using wifi to run their computers, they shouldn't be. The microwave or radiofrequency [RF] radiation common to wifi, smart meters, baby monitors, garage door openers and of course cell phones is classified by the very conservative and very political World Health Organization as a 2B Possible Carcinogen. Some people are extremely sensitive to this RF showing acute non-cancer symptoms including headaches, insomnia, spontaneous bleeding, heart arythmias, cognitive difficulties, etc. Use of laptops on laps has been shown to adversely effect reproductive systems but thousands of independent researchers have shown for many years biological effects of low-level RF to nervous system, DNA, eyes, brain and other biological systems. This RF often called non-thermal or non-ionizing is not regulated at all by the FCC which only offers 1996 guidelines for thermal or heat-producing RF.

Jul. 30 2014 12:27 AM
William from Sacramento

I have been intensively involved with computers, sometimes for a reason. I have a lot to say.

I read all the posts—unlike most of the ephemeral attention the information tsunami receives. All your comments changed my mind—I was planning on teaching my 7-year-old granddaughter to use Adobe Illustrator to channel her constant drawing. Now I realize the mistake I was making. I'll keep her as far as possible away from computers.

TODDLERS BECOMING SO ADDICTED TO IPADS THEY REQUIRE THERAPY

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/10008707/Toddlers-becoming-so-addicted-to-iPads-they-require-therapy.html

Children as young as four are becoming so addicted to smartphones and iPads that they require psychological treatment.

INFANTS ‘UNABLE TO USE TOY BUILDING BLOCKS’ DUE TO IPAD ADDICTION

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10767878/Infants-unable-to-use-toy-building-blocks-due-to-iPad-addiction.html

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers warn that rising numbers of children are unable to perform simple tasks such as using building blocks because of overexposure to iPads.

SLEEP PROBLEMS PLAGUE DEVICE DEPENDENT CHILDREN

http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2014/03/03/Sleep-Problems-Plague-Device-Dependent-Children

Cellphones and other devices emit the “blue light” that works against the sleep process by interfering with melatonin, the chemical in our bodies that promotes sleepiness.

Anecdote: When I was in the 10th grade in 1970, I shared a science-fiction short story I had read with my friends: Like the kids in Hunger Games, rural, disadvantaged kids lacking access to specialized calculating equipment were able to beat elite urban kids in math competition by using traditional paper-based cyphering techniques.

Life imitates art, as a recent news article shows: “FINNS BEAT U.S. WITH LOW-TECH TAKE ON SCHOOL”, Politico 5/27/14

http://tinyurl.com/lz8w69k .

"At the start of morning assembly in the state-of-the-art Viikki School in Helsinki, students’ smartphones disappear. In math class, the teacher shuts off the Smartboard and begins drafting perfect circles on a chalkboard. The students — some of the highest-achieving in the world — cut up graphing paper while solving equations using their clunky plastic calculators." (Read More… http://tinyurl.com/lz8w69k )

I trace a lot of this confusion to the indubitable Al Gore, Nobel Peace Prize winner. As Vice-President, he had enormous influence promoting the idea that the mere possession of computers automatically confers educational excellence. (Image: Al Gore as a traditional medicine man dancing with a little computer rattle. http://postimg.org/image/moxpm6ykz/ )

I'm very happy at Kim from Far Rockaway's comments, contradicting what I am saying here. I would love it if every teacher were sufficiently conscientious and skilled to be able to ensure her students' excellence. But I suspect that Kim would succeed with her students under any circumstances.

Jul. 29 2014 10:14 PM
Kim from Far Rockaway

FOR MARY in NYC:
- Students cannot check Facebook because it isn't a permitted site on the NYCDOE server (You Tube is also banned).
- Cameras are disabled to prevent selfies
- I use formative assessments at the beginning of class with very specific questions based on the previous night's work, usually in the form of a google doc or the app Socrative. I give 5 minutes for students to respond then readjust the form setting so it is no longer accepting responses - this prevents a student from scanning an article/text and guessing (I use short responses, not multiple choice). This work is graded as "class participation" and is configured into the final grade.
- We work in triads so peer pressure is also a detriment
- I walk around the room with my clip board and look at the screens - if you're off task, I deduct points from your weekly conduct grade (everyone begins each Monday with 100%); all a student needs to do is stay on task and do the work to keep the 100%.
- Scholars' Academy is a gifted & talented 6-12 school - and very competitive; parents are highly involved and we post grades online so parents have access to everything

Jul. 29 2014 08:16 PM
Hoboken Reformer from Hoboken

It should be noted that only one Hoboken school board member voted against this when it came up for a vote in March 2010. That was Maureen Sullivan and, citing studies in Texas and elsewhere, she made every argument against the laptop program made here, and many more. But politicians and bureaucrats are often distracted by shiny new objects. So Maureen's cogent objections and sound reasoning were no match for the lure of shiny new laptops that could handed out to each student, followed by heaps of praise from their parents-and votes in the next election. But the board members were really just sheep following their superintendent, Peter Carter. He knew almost nothing about computers but was about to retire and wanted this “gift" to Hoboken to be his “legacy.” Well, Carter now has this fiasco as his legacy.

Jul. 29 2014 06:55 PM
BK from Hoboken

Waste in Hoboken?! Never!
This story is no surprise to any resident here. We spend over $25k per student with poor results. It will be interesting to see what happens when we lose our Abbott status based on the 2010 census that showed median income over $100k here (Abbott schools in NJ were low income urban districts- hoboken is still urban but certainly not low income anymore). The hoboken BOE is a huge bureaucracy where everyone hires their cousin or sister in law as an "aide" or something. There are admins making $100k. It's insane. This computer fiasco is nothing.

Jul. 29 2014 05:54 PM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

The failure here was deploying the technology without a plan for integrating it with any classroom curricula. Students latching on without a plan is just a matter of luck.

The very briefest of google searches reveals that Hoboken DPW does e-waste recycling from 8am-4pm M-F. [Although, an enterprising IT technician would sell the easily recovered parts - RAM, batteries, CD drives, and especially the unbroken SCREENS on eBay for beaucoup l'argent.]

The WiFi encryption key could be changed EVERY DAY as well. More hassle for the administration but it does solve the problem. Many networks permit guest access - just throttle down the available bandwidth so nobody would use it unless they had, too.

Computers are no more magical than chalk and blackboards, pencils and composition books and typewriters. They do, however, take a lot more work to support.

Jul. 29 2014 05:31 PM
MaureenSullivan from Hoboken, NJ

I am the only member of the Hoboken school board who voted against this program back in March 2010. To me, it was clear that the superintendent and his deputy (both retirees working on an interim basis)had no clue what they were talking about. When I asked how our tech department (we have 1,700 students in K-12) could cope with 250 extra laptops, the superintendent explained that the kids could call the Dell help-line. When I asked what would happen when laptops started breaking, he said: "that's what insurance is for." The other board members were willing to overlook any possible problems because it was "for the kids." We already spend about $25,000 per pupil (second in NJ in K12 districts) but it's never enough - the board continues to raise taxes. I did not run for re-election in 2012.

Jul. 29 2014 05:22 PM
David Fowler from Springfield, Illinois


We are a nonprofit United Way member agency that has been providing refurbished computers for kids to use for school for 15 years. Laptops/tablets and backpacks on a school bus just don't mix. We firmly support the position that a desktop computer at school and at home is the most economical and sensible solution. We receive over 5K desktop computers a year from corporations looking to donate their equipment. We refurbish, load new Microsoft licenses (an issue for many)and provide to school kids and directly to schools for a nominal fee. The money saved is considerable.

SO...Hoboken. We will come get all your computers...no charge. We will remove all data to exceed Dept of Defense specification...no charge. We will refurbish them and provide them to low income kids all across the country. Just go to www.computerbanc.org...contact me!

Jul. 29 2014 05:13 PM
Jonathan Harris

I agree with David Fowler with the donation idea, just don't throw them out. Those laptops can still be used by some body out there that don't even have access to technology. I'm currently using a 3 year old laptop and it works just fine, don't throw them out, just give them to charity, if they still work and a two year old laptop is just fine for doing basic things.

Jul. 29 2014 05:13 PM
David Fowler from Springfield, Illinois


We are a nonprofit United Way member agency that has been providing refurbished computers for kids to use for school for 15 years. Laptops/tablets and backpacks on a school bus just don't mix. We firmly support the position that a desktop computer at school and at home is the most economical and sensible solution. We receive over 5K desktop computers a year from corporations looking to donate their equipment. We refurbish, load new Microsoft licenses (an issue for many)and provide to school kids and directly to schools for a nominal fee. The money saved is considerable.

SO...Hoboken. We will come get all your computers...no charge. We will remove all data to exceed Dept of Defense specification...no charge. We will refurbish them and provide them to low income kids all across the country. Just go to www.computerbanc.org...contact me!

Jul. 29 2014 05:08 PM
mary from NYC

For Kim, From Far Rockaway,

Is it possible that these students also surfed on the web and checked their Facebook during class. How do you monitor that? Also how did they demonstrate that they read the articles at home?

I'm a teacher and I haven't had too much success with students using their computers in the classroom. What subject do you teach?

Jul. 29 2014 04:42 PM
Curt Johnson from New York City

This unfortunate scenario plays itself out all to often, not only in education or academic institutions but in business and commerce as well. Organizations don't take an Architectural approach to technology in the organization. What problem are we trying to solve with computing technology? What are the requirements? What are the outcomes that we seek? How is the lifecycle of the devices and infrastructure handled. Are we buying the proper hardware to execute the software that we plan on using...do we know what software that we plan to use?

Why are education and academic institutions trying to rely on software/hardware/infrastructure that was primarily design to help solve productivity problems in commercial/business/office organizations? Is there a niche industry that focuses on developing software and solutions for education?

It is my opinion that classrooms and education have a unique set of problems that indeed can be solved using various types of computing technology and infrastructure. I don't believe that it can be solved using today's off the shelf technology components which were design for the corporate workplace. Education must venture forth and invest in developing tools and infrastructure that have been developed with it in mind. Until then, the return-on-investment derived by using computing technology will never be realized and perhaps can never be justified.

Jul. 29 2014 04:08 PM
Gennaro Esposito from Kinnelon

Teenagers are pretty bad at taking care of things that have no bearing on their own lives. Maybe next time the motivated kids can earn laptops by volunteering to do paperwork for their teachers or administrators, or to help out in the gym, cafeteria, or library. Something that will give the government-subsidized school computer enough value to not let your friend sit on it.

Better yet, have a computer class that lets students earn a laptop by repairing an existing broken one. Break your current computer? Looks like you are staying late the next couple weeks learning the repair methods until the parts come in and you've fixed it.

Jul. 29 2014 02:26 PM
Janice from NYC

I fought with the NYC school system for several years to get my child 1)permiszsion to use a laptop or computer in class, and 2)to have NYC DOE provide my child (who had been tested by the NYC DOE as well as their Assistive Technology team) with a laptop. My child has fine motor difficulties and it was recommended that he use computers rather than try to write out notes and essays, as keyboarding is easier for him than writing. He continued with physical/occupational therapy for years as well.
It took 4 years for the school to finally give him a laptop, and then the Principal, tired of dealing with our family, just handed my son one of HIS child's cast-offs! When my son was finally given a proper laptop, it was new but broken. It took them a month to repair it, then a week later the same issue arose. I insisted on a replacement, and the school wanted to know what my kid was doing that kept causing the problem. My son was able to research this model online and found that it was a chronic problem with this model, and you guessed it, all they had ordered was that model. I finally took out a loan and got him one that worked. Yes, teens will be teens...he didn't always stay off the internet, and the school's administrative password was "password" so he hit on it right away to enable internet while in school, we had to buy waterproof padded backpacks with laptop sleeves, but it is worth it to see my son write and write and write, when he was barely able to handwrite a legible sentence before. He's in college now, and they have a free loaner laptop policy for while students are in classes during the day, so clearly it can be done. But maybe not by the large beaurocracies which run our school systems.

Jul. 29 2014 01:23 PM

To all the commenters suggesting that the school district donate the computers to a "third world country" like Haiti, what did you learn from reading this article? Read the article again and replace 'Hoboken' with 'Port Au Prince.' If a major city in one of the wealthiest states in the U.S. can't manage Internet access, loss, theft, damage, security, tech support, software upgrades, etc.--not to mention misuse and underuse--how do you think these issue will play out in present-day Haiti? What developing countries (as well as many U.S. cities) need is better teacher training and better social support for students and families--not money-sucking quick fixes like more "educational technology."

Jul. 29 2014 01:05 PM
Cat from New York City

As a teacher, I have seen technology implemented both effectively and ineffectively in classrooms across different schools. It ultimately comes down to the systems set up by the teacher or school surrounding the technology. If students have shown irresponsibility or carelessness, there has to be a penalty of some sort. The Hoboken program's failure, in my opinion, is on the adults in the building for not setting the kids up for success. Without systems in place, a computer is a huge source of distraction to any teenager or pre-teen. If there are not teachers with a clear vision and training of how this technology will work to enhance their classroom, a lot of money and opportunity for learning will inevitably be wasted. A computer or iPad is not a magic hat to make learning appear, and to treat it as such is ignorant. To throw these computers away is only further justification of how inefficient our education system can be. Where is the accountability?

Jul. 29 2014 12:48 PM
Lauren Gwozdz from Boston

I agree with Bill Hart, why destroy these computers? They can be used in countries like Haiti! I know of organizations that could benefit greatly from these laptops. Seems like such a waste to just throw them away.

Jul. 29 2014 12:13 PM
Lianor Harrison from Arizona

Bill Hart, you hit the nail on the head.

Jul. 29 2014 11:55 AM
MMcGrath

I have a suggestion for Hoboken`s "destruction" program. You can get a sledgehammer from Home Depot for $20.00 and release your frustration

Jul. 29 2014 11:25 AM
not linus torvald from nyc

viruses attacked?
Have schools heard of Ubuntu Linux - close to none.
It's such a pity that teenagers don't appreciate the gift of free laptops.

If this school district had insisted on Linux they would have been able to purchase more items at cheaper prices!

Jul. 29 2014 10:53 AM

I think this story is yet another example of government waste, and I'm sure the technology companies were happy to oblige, since the program represented sales to them. I think this situation boils down to the fact that kids can be irresponsible and tend to not fully appreciate what is given to them. I would think educators above all people would know this, but then again when you are spending other people's money...

Jul. 29 2014 10:31 AM
auntieoh from Far Rockaway

I am familiar with Scholars Academy and I have to say truthfully that all of the students that attend Scholars may be more motivated than others in the care and usage of these iPads. At any rate, it's best to have the students use laptops in the school only. I say this because I know this to be true as a parent and an educator. Some schools won't let students take certain books home because of loss so just imagine what would happen to a laptop or iPad.

Jul. 29 2014 10:12 AM
Paulette from New York

My thought exactly!

Jul. 29 2014 08:55 AM
Kim from Far Rockaway

My students received iPad minis this year and it has revolutionized my classroom. I have a google site which houses all of my materials, instructions, and student work (parents can access too). I do not need to go to school two hours early to copy materials for my 99 students anymore.
Furthermore, I can facilitate questioning and extending the learning of my students as they navigate the web and the assignment. They are consumed with technology and love having access to materials, dictionaries, and thesauruses. Additionally, we added apps like Evernote so they don't need paper notebooks; students share their work with me through google docs. I can have them flip assignments I post, so they can come to school prepared to work in groups - no time "reading an article", then working. I have found that 97% of my students arrive prepared and 100% report that they love having their class online. Some even work in the car on their iPhones and parent communication has increased since it's quicker to return an email than a phone call. We also have an online grading system, so both parents and students are up to date on grading. I also send weekly progress reports to my parents and they tell me they love getting them.
Of course, we developed guidelines for use and grade iPad behaviors - it helps eliminate negative uses in class; and we created lessons that explained how to use the iPads in school - giving time to explore through planned questions plus free time.
We are a NYC public school (Scholars' Academy) and I give kudos to Principal Brian O'Connell for his vision, implementation, and support.

Jul. 29 2014 08:00 AM
Bill Hart from New York

This is such a sad article. The huge opportunity for faculty and students alike was never intelligently addressed at any level apparently. Rather than throwing all this equipment away,and treating it as rubbish; perhaps the possibility of giving it away to a third world country, or to a school district in the US that will use the computers, repair the computers as part of a learning program in computer repair at the very least should be considered. Is the damage to all these computers to the extent that none of the equipment could serve someone somewhere that is more willing and able to utilize the potential here ?

Jul. 29 2014 07:04 AM

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