Lessons on Lagging Laptops & Laryngitis

“Come on, slow computer! Hurry up!” a student announces, as she watches the gray spinning wheel on her screen, indicating that the page is still, roughly 30 seconds later, loading. This anxious announcement is not uncommon among the computer labs at our middle school. In fact, this sore sentiment is so shared among students that we decided to conduct a scientific experiment:

What is the average time it takes for computers to turn on, log on, and load one internet page?

Before we disclose our shocking answer, let’s delve into some details about our class and computers. As of today, November 13, 2014, my students have spent a lot of time using laptops at our school in English class, both in stationary computer labs and in class with mobile computer carts. They are well-acquainted with login procedures, how to use Google Apps for Education, and now–with Google Classroom. This is a far cry from last year, where I found that a large majority of my students were unaware of the BYOD policy in place at our school. This year, we are now in a place where my students can successfully log on and work in Google Classroom without verbal instructions, which comes in handy now that I have had laryngitis for 12 days. (Teaching with laryngitis is a curse I would not wish upon even my worst enemy, but with Google Classroom, it is possible.) While I have had to explicitly teach how to use the technology (shortcuts for copy & paste, how to print a document, what a hyperlink is…) before my students do any Language Arts content area work with technology, I believe this teaching has laid the groundwork for successful lessons on laryngitis and for future lessons in class and in life.

This sounds perfect on the page, but there are many obstacles sprouting up like stubborn weeds in our path beyond just this lingering laryngitis. Our middle school serves (at last count) 1,067 seventh and eighth grade students. The technology program provided for our students is as follows:

  • Bring Your Own Device Program (Students, if they have and can afford a device, may bring a device to school to use at teacher discretion.)
  • Stationary Computer Labs (We have 6 computer labs, 2 with 15 computers and 4 with 28 computers. Teachers sign up for locations by date via Google docs.)
  • Mobile Computer Labs (We have 11 mobile computer labs: 9 labs with 16 computers, 1 lab with 10 computers, and 1 lab with 8 computers. Teachers also sign up for carts by date via Google docs.) (Source: ochwoman.weebly.com)

That means, if all computers are functioning properly and not under maintenance with tech support staff, we have 304 computers to support 1,067 students. At any one time, technology is only available for 28% of our student population.

Now, add to the equation some unavoidable realities:

  • Some computers shut down without warning.
  • Some computers are being serviced by tech staff.
  • Some computers do not have “logon servers,” which means a RequestIT ticket must be submitted since the computer is not usable.
  • Mobile labs cannot be used for two full periods in a row, as computer batteries die quickly.
  • Lastly, some computers are so slow to load browsers and documents, it eats away at learning time.

Our bell schedule runs on block days Monday through Thursday, when we see classes on alternating days for approximately 90 minutes. We have a neutral day on Fridays, where we see all classes for shorter periods of time, approximately 44 minutes. To make the most of this time, I usually sign up my classes for labs on block days, so that most of our time is used for learning, aided by technology.

bell_schedule

 

What does a daily lesson plan look like with computers?

  1. LINK: Students complete a warm up related to the learning target for the day, as they wait for their computers to log on. We go over the warm up as a class.
  2. ENGAGE: Students log on to Google Classroom to view the announcement (a task list) and the assignment for the day.
  3. ACTIVE LEARNING: Students will begin working on a group activity together to encourage participation. Students will  then work on an individual assignment to show mastery of the learning target.
  4. REFLECT: Finally, students reflect on the day, completing an exit ticket usually by commenting on high-level critical thinking questions on Google Classroom.
  5. NOW & THEN: Reflection questions tie in to previous and future concepts, helping students to connect to content, making it relevant to their lives.
This is a snapshot of a Google doc assignment for one of my classes. Lesson #1 on Laryngitis

This is a snapshot of a Google doc assignment for one of my classes. Lesson #1 on Laryngitis

This sounds like a great lesson in theory, and in a utopic world, all students would be engaged in learning for the entire duration of class. However, this is where today’s realities kick in, and yes, we are now going to answer:

What is the average time it takes for computers to turn on, log on, and load one internet page?

Students were instructed to turn on their computers at the same time, log on, click Google Chrome, and log in to Google Classroom. When this internet page loaded, they were to say, “Now!” I noted the time and computer number for each student in a spreadsheet.

spreadsheet

Nineteen students were in attendance for this class experiment. The fastest startup time for a student’s computer was 3 minutes and 25 seconds. This sounds quite reasonable.  The next student’s computer took 6 minutes, and the third student’s chimed in shortly after at 6 minutes and 10 seconds.

The average, however, is much more grim.

 

The average startup time for computers was 10 minutes and 56 seconds.

 

Now, add in the fact that the slowest computer took 21 minutes and 39 seconds, and that four students had to switch computers due to unexpected shutdowns; the utopic lesson crumbles to rubble.

Yes, my students and I are thankful to have access to technology.

Yes, we find ways to work around issues by switching computers, sharing computers, and using our personal devices.

Yes, we are flexible, adaptable, and resilient in the face of adversity.

But, is this the best way to teach my students these admirable qualities and life skills? Sure, the student whose computer took 21:39 to start up was able to read her class novel and work on a review packet while waiting, but this was not the intention of the day’s lesson. Further, even when her computer loaded, her internet browser’s sloth-like speed made it completely impractical to actually complete work. She ended up working with the student next to her, sharing a computer instead.

My students are missing out on so many collaboration possibilities and problem-solving discoveries because of lag time. My students and I are waiting for the day that our large school district’s budget allows for new technology to be purchased, but in our school district, which serves more than 180,000 students, “equal opportunity for all” politics rule. If all schools can’t get it, no one gets it. Everyone will be provided the same opportunities. With all the budget cuts of late, it seems new technology will continue drifting further down on the To Do list. In the mean time, my students, my school, other schools in our school district, and schools across the nation will continue waiting for a solution, just as we wait for our laptops to log on and load our learning.

Dear Google, Apple, DELL, IBM, or any computer company with a conscience,

You have the power to change the meaning of equal opportunity in education.

Will you work with schools to provide the resources that your future employees and consumers will use daily? Will you support 21st century learners, who will become the critical thinkers, problem solvers, and flexible, fearless leaders of tomorrow? Will you be the answer to our endlessly loading, spinning wheels and frequently failing computers?

I challenge you to answer truthfully with politics, public relations, and pride aside: Will you fight for our future?

 

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