Thursday, February 10, 2011

1-to-1 Laptops are Changing Instruction

What if you were going to see a motion picture in 1931, but your local theater was only showing silent movies because it had not yet figured out how to operate the sound features for the new talking movies? As a customer, would you accept that level of service?

Flash forward eighty years. Students are sitting in a classroom, listening to a lecture, and watching the teacher reveal his notes on an overhead projector. Should these students accept this level of customer service?

One-to-one laptop computing is changing modern classrooms for the better because teachers cannot continue to maintain traditional methodology when their students can do a better job of teaching themselves.

In my last blog I mentioned some research findings that suggest that laptops can improve student achievement. Still the research is spotty. Schools that want to improve standardized test results should not look to one-to-one computing as a solution. However, that does not mean laptop learning is not making a difference in classrooms. Other research is suggesting other benefits, and they include the following:
  • Bridging the digital divide between wealthier students with home computers and poorer students who cannot afford computers (Lemke & Martin, March 2004);
  • Higher student motivation and engagement (Gulek & Demirtas, January 2005);
  • Fewer behavior problems, and increased student attendance (Lemke & Martin, December 2003);
  • Better class participation, and greater homework completion (Silvernail & Lane, February 2004);
  • Computer trouble shooting skills for students (Fairman, 2004);
  • Better parent involvement, interaction, and attendance at school, and greater technology literacy among parents (Lemke & Martin, May 2004); and
  • Increased teacher recruitment, enthusiasm, and retention (Lemke & Martin, May 2004).
I have heard these findings confirmed by colleagues at schools that have implemented one-to-one laptop learning initiatives, and I have seen these borne out in my own school.

Moreover, one-to-one laptops are allowing students to learn and retain at higher levels. The difference laptops are making in learning can be explained using the Learning Pyramid from the National Training Laboratories in Bethel, Maine. The pyramid reveals how content retention is related to the methodology used by the teacher:

Average Retention Rates
  • 5%       Lecture
  • 10%     Reading
  • 20%    Audio-Visual
  • 30%    Demonstration
  • 50%    Group Discussion
  • 75%    Practice by Doing
  • 90%    Teaching Others
Laptop learning changes the classroom dynamic from more traditional passive learning, i.e., lecture, reading, and audio-visuals, to the active learning of practice by doing and teaching others.

And it really does not matter if the teachers fully understand this. The students will demand this, . . . as good customers should.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How 1-to-1 Laptops Can Reform Education, Part I

First of all, any teacher who can be replaced by a machine had darn well better be, . . . and fast.

One-to-one computing in schools is not intended to be a solution. Technology will not reform education. A weak teacher will still be weak, even with powerful teaching tools. Laptop computers in the classroom do not automatically make a teacher better. None of these points have ever been argued as part of the conversation.

Admittedly, research is limited. It has only been within this decade that laptops were both powerful and affordable enough for schools to distribute them system-wide as part of a reform effort. Our best source is the state of Maine. Maine became the first state in the U.S. to issue laptop computers to every student in grades seven and eight. The Maine Learning Technology Initiative began with a vision of former Governor Angus King to prepare Maine’s students for a rapidly changing world. The theory was that a major transformation would happen only when student and teachers worked with technology on a one-to-one basis and that any other ratio would not produce the transformation everyone sought. The program began in September, 2002.

A study of student achievement in Maine conducted by Lemke and Martin in 2003 showed improved test scores in language arts, mathematics, and science. While one study is hardly conclusive, some smaller studies have also shown positive gains. For example, a study at Harvest Park Middle School in Pleasanton, California, showed that students with laptops score 6 to 13 percent higher in language arts and mathematics than peers without laptops (Gulek & Demirtas, January 2005).

Affecting the amount of data is the way instruction with computers is changing. In a more recent study from Maine, students who were taught to use animation and podcasts in the study of science “had a higher level of comprehension, a higher level of retention, and higher levels of engagement” (Berry & Wintle, 2009).

One of the greatest benefits may be in the teaching of writing skills. A recent study showed computer usage improved writing scores approximately 1/3 of a standard deviation. Twice as many students using laptops in the writing program met state proficiency standards (Silvernail, 2009).

This is just the first step: to integrate powerful teaching tools into the classroom. The real benefit lies in how these tools are utilized to change instruction. But that will have to wait for my next blog.