Our Early Lessons About Laptops

What have we learned from our laptop adventures of the last two years in Henrico County, Va.? Perhaps these lessons can benefit others who will be hiking this trail.

* Establishing a robust network.
During our first year, we learned that our network was not substantial enough to handle our Internet needs, and this shortcoming resulted in huge problems. Teachers, eager to demonstrate their willingness to use their new tools, were bogged down by the ineffective network.

* Implementing a strong security system with the operating system.
During our first year, some students were caught downloading pornography and other inappropriate material onto their laptops. A new secure operating system installed mid-year prevented students from accessing anything inappropriate at school and limited unsuitable downloading at home. This also enabled us to help prevent cheating or other issues that could develop.

* Providing dynamic curriculum content.
Teachers get excited and motivated by the content they teach, yet early in our deployment we did not have the level of digital content, packaged and easily available, that we had hoped for. The benefits of a digital curriculum are substantial. Digital content is essential to realizing the value of laptops.

* Creating a system of ongoing differentiated training.
As the laptop deployment progressed, we quickly understood the need to develop training linked to specific courses and content. Lab science teachers had much different needs than world studies teachers. Again, the benefits were absolutely huge. We increased required training for teachers, parents and students.

* Communicating with the public is imperative.
In our first year when we were under intense fire for some of the problems we faced, our local chamber of commerce and business community rose in support of our initiative. Our PTA presidents stood strong in support of the initiative due, in large part, to ongoing efforts in keeping them informed and involved as key communicators.