We at Cushing LOVE books – so much that we want our students to have access to millions of them anywhere on campus, not just twenty thousand in the library. We also are not eliminating books altogether. Teachers can still assign printed books in their courses and students are encouraged to read printed books for pleasure.
Cushing is a laptop school. Every student has a laptop for use in the classroom; those on financial aid are provided laptops free of charge. Every classroom also has a Smart Board, with direct access to the Internet.
All of the books, journals, and data that our library will have available electronically will now be immediately available via wi fi to every student instantaneously in every classroom – and, in fact, anywhere on campus.
We also are providing Kindles and Sony Readers for students who want to read in a more eye-friendly format. Currently, we are providing 18 of those, because we think students will do most of their research on their laptops. We will purchase as many as we think the community needs as we get a sense this year of the demand for Kindles and Sony Readers circulating from the library.
One of the biggest challenges ahead is to work out the copyright issues that are holding up some of the access and standardization, especially for new material. Cushing hopes to work with Amazon and other companies to build models that are profitable for them and feasible for schools.
We are providing all of this free of charge to each student. Cushing is admittedly an affluent private school with extensive resources, so we are in something of a privileged position in this regard.
We do believe, though, that pioneers like Cushing will build the paradigm that, as costs come down with technological progress, will make this available to even the poorest schools in the developing world at accessible cost.
All of Cushing’s administrators spent the summer testing Kindles and Sony Readers. We fell in love with them and read all of our novels on them now. It is great to be on a plane with hundreds of books in your hand!
We believe that the costs will actually come down dramatically in the coming years and that the models which Cushing and others are now fine-tuning will make it easier for public school students to have cheap -even free – access to all of the great literature and cultural achievements of human civilization on a scale many orders of magnitude greater than what they can garner from a tiny school library today.
I give the headmaster points for acknowledging that they can do this because they are richer than God, as the saying goes. I do wonder whether encouraging students to read books for pleasure carries much water when you’re getting rid of your book collection. Teens are notoriously adept at spotting when grownups are not walking the walk.
I recently read about another laptop school in much more humble circumstances. Actually it’s a whole laptop school system. As of this month, every student in Uruguay will have an XO laptop of their own and wifi at their school. Under Plan Ceibal [English link on this page], Uruguay’s government has bought a laptop for every student and is connecting every school to their educational network to provide them with internet access and educational materials, including books. Compare this with Chile’s Maletín Literario, in which cases of books are sent to needy families. It will be interesting to see how all of these experiments turn out.