Things that make you go Hmmmmm


I was lying in my bed with my MacBook Pro reading this article this morning when I felt the urge to smile.  It’s not that there was anything funny about the story but my computer does have a web cam.  And, I use the term “my computer” rather loosely.  It actually belongs to my employer.  We never actually discussed it but I always thought it was kind of implicit that I had the computer provided to help me do my job.  Whenever there is a meeting or presentation, I think that I’m supposed to bring this with me for participation.

So, it was with great surprise that I read that 80 computers had gone missing in a suburban Philadelphia school district and the solution was to turn on a tracking program to take pictures of whoever is using it.  SMILE!

I’ve been to Philadelphia.  It’s a big place.  How would a picture narrow it down if it was stolen?  It seems to me that it makes sense that the person who has it is probably the person to whom it was issued.  I guess this process would confirm it.  Does that get it back?

The article talks about insurance of $55 required by the family before the student gets to take the computer home.  Was this applied to the cost of this software to take the pictures?  The number 80 still has me wondering how this many could have gone missing without some prior action being taken.

Whether it’s a 1:1 laptop school or just a school where laptops are loaned out to take home for homework, you’ve got to wonder what sort of check-out / check-in system is in place.  Even my local grocery story has devices in place to ensure that there’s no shrinkage.  I pay for every banana that I take home.  But, you don’t need to go to that extreme in education.  If you’re a 1:1 school and using the technology in the classroom or as textbook replacement, it seems to me that you just take a glance through the classroom and those students who don’t have a computer on their desk earns a visit to the principal’s office.

From a curriculum basis, it should likewise be easy.  The promise of technology is that you’re able to do different and inspiring things.  Things like updating the class wiki, or writing software, or controlling a robot, or collaborating on a project.  A student who can’t contribute should really stand out.  If the activities are motivating, wouldn’t you think every student would want to take part?

Is the problem that the school district owns the computers?  Would it be better taken care of if the parents owned it?  I know that my kids, who all have their own laptops, have our own little check-in and check-out system.  We’re forever sending messages, playing Scrabble, and staying in contact all the time.

These are all, of course, simplistic observations.  Scale it out to a large school system involves additional thinking.  But, I’m still at a loss to explain why taking an image solves the problem.  First, the computer would have to be connected to a network for the controls to kick in.  From there, services like Twitter has it done right.  Geo-tagging is something that we’re seeing everywhere.  Wouldn’t a solution like that narrow the search for the machines considerably?

I think that this incident, as unfortunate as it is for all involved, should send a message to all of us to think through all scenarios.  It needs to even extend to the loan agreement between student and school.  Some sort of acceptable use policy will need to include language indicating that the owner has the option of tracking the device electronically.  These things really need to be thought through.  I’m going to follow this story; there has to be more to it than was reported in this article and hopefully some really good recommendations for others will flow from the incident.

links for 2010-04-25