“Saying no to School Laptops”

One of my science teachers sent me a link to this article from the Wall Street Journal.  I am sure she couldn’t resist because she knew I would have something to say about the topic.  So here goes… 

“Abby [a sixth grade student] spent class time sending instant messages to friends and wanted to create a page on social-networking site MySpace.com. Her standardized writing-test scores fell, too. So Ms. Adam handed back the computer and pulled her daughter out of the laptop program, which is this year expanding to five schools. “What she learned was how to play games and email her friends,” says Ms. Adam. “School was one big happy gabfest.’”  It upsets me when this attitude is taken regarding laptops in schools.  No, the daughter should not have been instant messaging her friends if that was not part of the assignment; however, note passing was prevalent before computers were present in schools – the problem is not new.  If the introduction of laptops in to a classroom causes a rise in instant messaging, then maybe there is a problem with the structure of the class and the lessons.  If the class and/or lessons do not evolve with the introduction of the laptop then students are most likely going to be bored and unmotivated and thus easily distracted by AIM and social networking sites.  And for a really radical idea – why not try to implement instant messaging and social networking into the curriculum? And while we are at it, why not teach the students to use the laptops appropriately instead of giving up and taking them away?

 “…proponents of the programs argue that constant computer access teaches students skills critical to their success in college and at work, such as how to organize multimedia presentations and conduct research on-line. One-to-one access also makes it easier for educators to spruce up lessons with new educational-computing tools like interactive graphing programs without sending the class shuffling back and forth between computer labs.”  As a proponent of one-to-one initiatives, and a teacher in a one-to-one school district, I think it is bigger than this.  Yes, laptops give students access to create multimedia presentations and conduct on-line research, but they also allow students to take charge of their own education.  They allow students to reach outside the world of their classrooms by giving them access to experts, museums, other countries, planets and a host of other resources.  They allow teachers to more easily create student-centered differentiated lessons.  And probably most importantly, they allow students to learn in a way that is comfortable for them whether it be visually, orally, chronologically or randomly.  Jerry Terman, a student in a one-to one schools says,“… it [his laptop] helps him tackle longer writing assignments without hurting his hand and understand tricky science concepts, like electromagnetic attraction, by watching simulations at his desk. “The only thing I don’t use it for is gym,” he adds.” 

“But some parents worry that the laptops are teaching the wrong skills. Dugan Slovenski, 47 of Brunswick, Maine, says having a laptop has encouraged her thirteen-year-old son to spend more time dazzling up presentations with fancy fonts instead of digging through library books. “They need to be able to learn to research beyond what is accomplished by Googling a word or phrase,” she says.”  Why?  Why does a student need to spend time digging through library books?  Googling a word or phrase lends a plethora of information that students who have been taught new literacy skills can validate and use.  Students have access to many more resources than their parents.  They need to be taught how to utilize the resources they have and not outdated resources from their parents’ era.

“Few comprehensive studies exist on whether these programs live up to their claims to boost achievement, in part because the initiatives are so new. A preliminary study on the impact of laptops in Texas middle schools released by the Texas Center for Educational Research this spring reported that technology immersion improved student attitudes and behaviors but had a neutral impact on student achievement.”  Yes, the initiatives are new, so there will probably not be much data for a few more years.  What I would like to know is what data are we looking for?  How are we going to “prove” that laptops improve achievement?  Are we going to go merely by standardized test scores?  Are we going to implement laptops, ask students and teachers to change the way they teach and learn, and then still assess the program in the same old way?  It doesn’t make sense to me.

I teach in a school district and at a school with one-to-one laptops.  I am not stating that one-to-one implementation is easy or that we have done a perfect job.  But we have recognized the importance and have taken a risk.  We have agreed to step away from the traditional (at least a little) to try and prepare our students for the world of today (not simply the world in which we were educated).  I applaud my district for this.

Can a teacher or a school be effective without a one-to-one initiative?  Certainly, but they can also be effective with a one-to-one initiative.  I am certain of this.

Explore posts in the same categories: 1 to 1, Academy, EdTech, Edtech News, IISD, Laptops, News, one to one, Rant, Technology, The Wall Street Journal, web 2.0

2 Comments on ““Saying no to School Laptops””

  1. John K. Brown Says:

    Right on! I have nothing to add except well said!

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