Trading Textbooks for Computers

Updated: 09/03/2013 6:29 PM By: Katherine Johnson

As Eden Prairie seniors begin their last year of high school, they're also looking back on the first year.

"Freshman and sophomore year were my scariest years because you didn't know what to expect," said senior, Jimmy Lusk.

So, to better prepare them for all the new things college will bring, take-home laptops are being assigned to each and every student in the school.

"Just a little terrified," said Principal Conn McCartan.  "Over 3,000 laptops in teenage hands..."

But those hands may actually be the most capable for the device. David Ernst at the University of Minnesota's College of Education says using personal computers as learning tools helps keep students engaged.

"These devices allow students to really expand learning outside the classroom" he said.  "They can capture data, they can take photos, they can take videos."

The $1.5 million yearly laptop lease is funded in part by the district's technology levy. The rest came from moving $400,000 from the textbook budget and opting not to replace outdated or broken computers from labs, libraries and classrooms.  Principal McCartan says the costs actually even out.

"When we put relevant tools into students hands, then we watch amazing things happen," said Eden Prairie School District Technology Director Josh Swanson.

Of course, there are risks. Like keeping the students off social networks.

"I think they've blocked Facebook but Twitter is still available," said one senior.

Principal McCartan says students will adapt.

"The presence of a laptop isn't the end of human interaction," he said.  "It might actually enhance it."

Ernst says assigned iPads to college students at the U of M have improved communication.

"It has actually helped them connect with their peers and helped them connect with their faculty," said Ernst.

"I think it's just really important to get everyone connected and everyone on the same page," said Lusk.

Professors in the College of Education at the U of M are also starting to use downloadable textbooks that are free to their students.  When one copy goes out of date, instead of publishers forcing students to buy a new version, the professors can update the downloaded textbooks themselves.