Dying of Dysentery in a One Computer Classroom



As a fourth grader, I patiently suffered through many monotonous school days eagerly awaiting my turn to journey back to the pioneer times of the mid-nineteenth century. Loading up my virtual conestoga wagon, I led four fictitious settlers on an adventure across one of America’s most storied routes – the Oregon Trail. Even though I typically died of dysentery within ten minutes, I learned two very valuable lessons:

Never drink dirty water.

One device (computer, tablet, smartphone, etc) can impact a classroom.

It would be great if every classroom was a one to one learning environment or at least had a class set of computers or mobile devices, but until that day arrives, we are left to use the technology we do have to our advantage.

The easiest way to utilize limited technology in the classroom is to embrace it as a resource for direct instruction. However, if you want technology to truly engage students, then it needs to be placed in their hands. Using a shared technology in small breakout groups can lessen the ratio of student to device. It could be passed around throughout the class period, shared via some form of rotation schedule, or used as part of a reward or remediation program. However you choose to use it, you will likely need a system in place for sharing the technology, but a little bit of hands-on learning can go a long way.

The ultimate goal of using your limited classroom resource should be to get as much out of it as possible and having students create their own digital content can be one effective solution. Design a collaborative group or class project that allows each student to add a page, slide, or comment or have each student create digital portfolio pieces throughout the year. Using cloud saving options will even allow students to save their work and access it (as well as add to it) from home. Many kids are willing to come in early, give up recess, or even stay late in order to do productive and engaging things with technology. A content creation station for video editing and podcasting can be a purposeful addition to your classroom.

Shared access to technology can work. Don’t let a powerful tool like a computer or tablet go unused just because you do not have one for every child. There are teachers who think twenty-five iPads can’t teach thirty students; one iPad can teach thirty students if incorporated in meaningful ways to enhance learning. However you choose to implement your limited technology, just be sure it is providing your students with a challenge. I always died on the Oregon Trail within ten minutes, but I kept coming back for more.


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4 responses to “Dying of Dysentery in a One Computer Classroom

  1. When I first saw the title of your post, the first thing I thought of was the Oregon Trail and I was right! I wholeheartedly agree with you that there is potential for technology to be used in the classroom to support learning even if you only have one device. I really like your idea of creating a collaborative project and having students add to it. This gets all students involved, while making use of technology, and the final product is one they created together. I see some excellent opportunities for reflection after a project like this.

  2. dps61techcoach

    Oregon Trail started my passion for technology. I was memorized with the game. As I played, I remember imagining that I was actually on the Oregon Trail shooting buffalo or taking the ferry over the river. This open doors for me and allowed me feel like I was actually part of the Oregon Trail experience. So thanks for the quick trip down memory lane.

    I whole heartedly agree that whether it is one device or a room full of devices should be in students’ hands. As educators, it hard sometimes to let go of the control of “chalk” (device). How do you approach this with teachers?

  3. Your mention of Oregon trail brought back memories, but from a different perspective. When I ran a computer lab at a Middle School, many moons ago, I found out my kids were playing what I called “Anorexia Trail” .They would starve their “avatar” on purpose. Why? Because they got to leave some quite choice messages on the “tombstone” the program created when a character died, for the next class.. Fortunately MECC provided a “backdoor” in that allowed the instructor to “erase ” the tombstones,and once I caught on that what was happening, I put on my “mean teacher face” and the problem went away. I suppose the moral there is kids will find a way to use technology in unexpected ways. However, to your point about shared use of a single computer , the old Apple IIs were not very powerful, but I did find by taking the video out through a VCR you COULd share the screen with a whoe group on a TV( this was in the mid 8os) and also RECORD what somone did with a program. Of course now data video projectors and he quickly dropping prices of big screen Monitors make sharing in a one computer classroom a lot easier, but as with the kids, if you have the will, you will find a way.

  4. Re: Oregon Trail. Good stories (with consequences) always engage!

    Re: devices for students. In terms of device acquisition, I have long wondered: how many families have iPad1 or 2 sitting around? Or businesses? For example, UC Irvine has an iPad program for their MD students (funded by a donation to the school). In the course of offering this program for a few years, they have a lot of iPad 2’s that go unused now – and are wondering what to do with them. There is nothing wrong with an iPad 2 (except eventually the iOS won’t update, but you might get at least another 2 years out of them!). How much more useful these tools could be in the hands of our classroom students than gathering dust in businesses, homes and closets?

    Re: Creating your own stories with consequences: See SparkWorks’ SaaS. It allows anyone (including your students) to author quick (or long) stories, games and mazes based on content. See for example what some grade ten students did at an inner city high school: https://me119.infusionsoft.com/app/page/education_projectbased

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