I had the opportunity last week to drop in at the eighth annual Maine Learning Technology Initiative Student Conference on the University of Maine campus. What I saw made the experience well worth the trip.
It wasn’t just that if you looked down an aisle in the Collins Center for the Arts auditorium, it was laptops as far as the eye could see. And it wasn’t just that a specially designed high-density wireless network allowed more than 1,000 students in the same room to log onto the Internet simultaneously without delay.
Rather, it was the evidence on display of how students have used their MLTI laptops to take their learning to the next level. Those laptops have allowed students choice in how they complete assignments, and they’ve opened doors that allow students to discover and pursue their passions.
During a presentation that blew the crowd away for its polish and professionalism, Oak Hill High School junior Chris Jones told us how he touched every button and opened every program on the MLTI laptop he was given as a seventh grader. His penchant for exploration only grew, and today he’s collaborating with computer programmers from across the planet on what could become the next big software innovation.
Did I mention he’s a high school junior?
Telstar Regional Middle School eighth grader Mike Rodway proved that, with the help of his MLTI laptop, he’s become a master filmmaker. He electrified the crowd during a presentation that involved him interacting with a filmed version of himself on stage.
Joe Lien demonstrated his penchant for playing the guitar, and told us he probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to play before a large crowd until he used his MLTI laptop to create a multimedia presentation of his life story.
And Yarmouth High School junior Hannah Potter eloquently explained and showed during a multimedia presentation how she’s used MLTI to connect her classmates with Iraqi teenagers as a way to introduce them to the Iraq beyond the headlines.
I’m commonly asked about the future of MLTI — most frequently about the program’s future technological foundation. Will the next iteration of MLTI involve more laptops, iPads or some other technology that doesn’t yet exist?
It’s too early to know the answer to that question, especially given how fast technology changes.
What we do know, though, is that we don’t want to return to the days when technology wasn’t an integral part of a student’s learning. To the days when Chris Jones wouldn’t have had a chance to make a mark in the programming world as a high school student. To the days when Mike Rodway wouldn’t have otherwise discovered he’s an immensely talented filmmaker. To the days when Joe Lien wouldn’t have overcome his nerves to perform in front of a large crowd. Or to the days when Hannah Potter wouldn’t have had the tools to connect her classmates with teenagers from another part of the world.
That would be a disservice to the students we’re trying to educate to be innovative, resourceful, entrepreneurial and prepared for the 21st century.
Maine is already ahead of the pack when it comes to putting laptops in the hands of its students. Let’s stay ahead, keeping focused on how technology can transform our students’ learning.