Laptops instead of textbooks

A small, high school in Vail, Colorado “will become the state’s first all-wireless, all-laptop public school this fall.”

The 350 students at the school will not have traditional textbooks. Instead, they will use electronic and online articles as part of more traditional teacher lesson plans.

The laptops cost $850 each.

I wonder if teachers will develop courses independent of textbooks, which is a lot of work, or send students to the old textbook’s web site. I wonder too what will happen when a student says, “A dog ate my laptop.”

About Joanne


  1. BadaBing says:

    I’ve been waiting for this. I never use our department literature text as it is nothing but an overdone multicultural literature lite piece of crap.

    I have all my short stories (50+), including many I’ve written myself and use in class, on Word, including quizzes, projects, tests, Q&A, etc. I also have lessons on sentence combining, grammar, topic sentences, thesis sentences, supporting details, blah blah blah on Word.

    I’ll do any old sneaky thing to get around using the lamo textbooks the district always ends up buying, even if I have to type the stuff myself. Yeah, I know. I don’t have a life.

    So, fire up your cute little laptops kiddies. I’m ready to make your day.

  2. Irving, Texas, has been working for three years on laptops for everyone from middle school on up. It’s difficult — but there are some powerful advantages for good students.

    Insurance takes care of the “dog-ate-my-computer” problem, at least the first time.

    The bigger problems are band-width and controls that keep kids from downloading movies when they should be reading Shakespeare.

    And the biggest problem is that we don’t deal well with technology in schools. Heck, we haven’t even figured out how to use television to great effectiveness, let alone a personalized television screen for every student with two-way capabilities.

    Despite the problems, the effort is commendable, and more should take the plunge.

  3. I don’t know if this will work for HS, but this is the current method used in my PhD program. All of our class material is given to us on a CD. The pros are that due to the every changing world of science (my subject) text books are usually out of date by the time they are publish. This way the professor can pick and choose the most current and relevant text book chapters, journal articles, etc, that work for the particular course. However, I still buy a lot of the “out dated” text books for my own references. It is kind of a security blanket to have those books on my shelf. I just don’t get that feeling from a stack of CDs.

  4. We had a slightly less intense variant of this in my junior high and high school. While it made things easier for, say, my computer programming class, the fact that every class was required to use the computers, and that many of my teachers had no idea how to do so, made it pretty awful. I don’t know how many lectures on how to use MSWord you can take, but especially when you don’t even use Word, it got a little dull. And there will always be people who surf the internet during class, just like there are always people who play games on their graphing calculators.

  5. When I was a professor, I made my handouts THE texts for my classes, since I had reservations about the textbooks I was using. That made my teaching years very work-intensive but at the same time it forced me to absorb myself into the material and rethink a lot of issues.

    BadaBing: “I have all my short stories (50+), including many I’ve written myself and use in class, on Word”

    I presume the short stories that aren’t yours are in the public domain.

    I’m glad I didn’t teach literature, as I wouldn’t have the ability to legally distribute many of the readings without presumably jumping through a lot of hoops.

    Is it normal for literature instructors to use their own writings? I’ve never heard of this practice before.

    Joanne: I wonder too what will happen when a student says, “A dog ate my laptop.”

    How about “I dropped my laptop?” Then it’d be supposedly out of commission for weeks. Seriously, a dead computer is one of my biggest fears.

  6. AndyJoy says:

    I’m not opposed to paperless texts and documenets, but I’d sure worry about breakage and especially theft! Can’t you see someone stealing and reselling school laptops? Plus, it’s hard enough to get teens to take care of their textbooks–would’t laptops be a nightmare? I can’t even count all my COLLEGE classmates who weren’t mature enough to take care of their laptops–even when they paid their own money for them (and thus had a vested interest in their care)!

  7. I don’t know what HS textbook online sites are like, but some of the college-level texts we use (especially one “selected by committee” which would not be my personal choice) have websites that are total PITAs to navigate – slow, annoying interface, important info buried and hard to find.

    I’d love to be able to do “digital coursepacks” of important journal articles – copyright being what it is, it’s almost impossible to make “coursepacks” of published articles any more, and I find if I use the old “on reserve” system, students don’t generally bother to read them. Or they say they couldn’t get access to them. (Of course, there are probably considerable copyright issues preventing “digital coursepacks”).

    I prefer using a “real” textbook, but then again I get to choose most of the textbooks I use; I can totally see wanting to subvert the must-use-given-textbook mandate if the person who chose your textbook is some idiot in Capitol City who hasn’t been in a high school in 25 years

    Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but I LIKE having a real, physical textbook – you know, that I can access when the power is out (provided I have a flashlight) and that if I drop it – even in a puddle – it’s still usable.

    I’ve had enough laptop problems in the past to want to have hard copies of all important information.

  8. In one of my courses, I use an anthology for 3 or 4 works (depending on how I design the course that year). In all my other courses I use novels and I have a class set of Warriner’s for reference (I do not use their exercises — I developed my own system of grammar instruction). It is a lot of work, but not a stretch for an English classroom. I wouldn’t want to read A Tale of Two Cities off a screen, though.

  9. Walter E. Wallis says:

    $850 laptops? Guess they don’t read the Fry’s ads. How about teachers being ahead of the curve on the other problems raised here? As for web surfing during class, how about intranet?

  10. $850 isn’t that bad a price for a laptop. Especially when you consider that the people making the buying decision are more interested in dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s of the purchase process then in securing the lowest price.

    More then that though, there’s nothing in the use of computers in education that’s transformative of the process. It seems that computers, where they’re used best, modestly improve the efficiency or modestly lower the cost of education. But when you consider what the computer has done in the business world, and damned near everywhere else in society, it’s hardly scratched the educational surface.

    Partly I think that’s a function of the public education system being the dominant form in this country but it’s also because the technology hasn’t matured to the point that it can transform education just yet. So what the hell. They might as well piss away money on laptops that’ll soon be obsolete as on a luxury administrative headquarters.

  11. Catherine Johnson says:

    Hi–I haven’t read all the comments here, yet, but I think this is a very bad idea.

    I haven’t been able to teach my own child using computers, and preliminary research in schools in Israel showed slight decreases in academic achievement in schools with heavy reliance on computer technology.

    Results of Computer Aided Instruction in Israel

    I found this mystifying until I read Jakob Nielsen’s work on useability showing that people read 25% more slowly on computer screens, and advising writers to use 50% fewer words when writing for the web.

    That made sense immediately.

    I’m a writer myself, and while I write online, I never edit online, and neither does my husband, who is a historian.

    When I have something challenging to read I always print it out.

    Now I know why.

    On the other hand, posting lessons and text online means that students can print them out as needed….

  12. The link to the Isreali site didn’t work. Try this:


    That’ll get you to the page with the .pdf of the report.

    The report looks like a study of the “pasta preperation” method of introducing computers into education. You keep throwing the pasta (computers) at the wall until they stick. It’s messy way to judge pasta’s condition and it’s a lousy way to introduce computers into education. But as long as grants continue to be written with no follow-up on the results and no accountability from the grant-recipients, the waste will continue.

    Well, it’ll continue until that transformative event occurs that causes computers alter the face of education. Wonder what that’ll be, and when?