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.

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