Do Students Have To Learn From Experience? Laptops And Students, Oh My!

As a tech director in a 1:1 laptop school I have the opportunity to see a wide range of student treatment of their computers (see picture). We start our program in the 8th grade. In a whirlwind of excitement we do our best to keep students from overloading their computers with questionable software that’s going to inflict spyware, popups and the like onto their machines.

In the most recent drama, some of our pro-Mac students (we use Dell’s) have installed software that makes their Windows machines look just like Mac OS X. They also convinced lots of others to do the same. They soon realized that their hacking around caused a number of functionality issues (like not being able to see their address bar in Internet Explorer). In the process of cleaning up the machines we learned that we had to insert the Windows XP CD to replace missing system files – wow, is this Windows 98 or what? Couldn’t remember the last time I had to insert a XP cd. When installing the software students were asked if they wanted to overwrite “essential operating system files.” What do you think they did? They clicked “yes” to everything. In fact, students who were helping other students made sure to tell them to click yes to everything.

After all our discussions about operating systems, reliable software, etc, at least 10 students (out of 40) took the leap. Did they have to individually learn from from the negative experience? Was there a way as teachers we could have prevented this? Is this just normal teen behavior? Some students certainly don’t take those risks, but is that more about their innate risk-taking or does it have to do with the education they receive? If only the answer were so cut and dry. I think it is a mixture of all these things, but letting older students mentor younger students might be a way to “learn from experience,” even though Peter Senge thinks that doesn’t exist (read his great book). All I know is, we should be able to get better and better from year to year. Less trouble, less of the same mistakes made each year. But we don’t. We are a school, but are we not a learning organization?

Do you have particular grades that go through the same challenge each year? How do you deal with it?

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arvind s. grover

I am a progressive educator, a podcaster (, a blogger, and dean of faculty of JK-11 school (building a high school) in New York City.