Laptops In Schools Are Bad…

Well, maybe not, but that is the gist I get from reading the New York Times article Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops.  If I hadn’t taught in a school which embraces a 1:1 laptop program for the last six years, I might believe the article.  But I have, and I don’t.

I absolutely LOVE <love being used very sarcastically here> the opening paragraph of the article.

“The students at Liverpool High have used their school-issued laptops to exchange answers on tests, download pornography and hack into local businesses. When the school tightened its network security, a 10th grader not only found a way around it but also posted step-by-step instructions on the Web for others to follow (which they did).”

Am I to believe from this paragraph that none of these problems existed before the laptops came in to the picture? That the laptops were the cause of this behavior… I am sure that students did not cheat before the advent of technology, and that none of the students involved ever looked at pornographic material before they received their laptops… right?  I am by no means condoning their behavior, but lets not blame it on the laptops.  Instead, make the students responsible for their behavior and teach them to make better choices.  Also, it might be nice for the media (outside of the educational community) to focus on some of the things students are doing right with laptops for a change… because they are doing a lot of things right.

What irks me even more about the article (than the negativity of the opening paragraph) is the continual assertion that the implementation of laptops has not improved student achievement which is measured traditionally through standardized test scores… hmmm… okay.  I don’t even understand why this point is continually brought up.  It isn’t logical.  The purpose of implementing a 1:1 laptop program is to allow students to learn in different ways, to access information not available otherwise, to assist students in preparing for the world as a global society… so why are we assessing their growth with these machines in the same way we have for the last several decades?  I don’t get it.

Although I don’t know anything about the laptop program in Liverpool, New York, except what is represented in this article, it seems like the heart of the problem is evident in the following statements…

“Such disappointments are the latest example of how technology is often embraced by philanthropists and political leaders as a quick fix, only to leave teachers flummoxed about how best to integrate the new gadgets into curriculums… But in many other classrooms, there was nary a laptop in sight as teachers read from textbooks and scribbled on chalkboards. Some teachers said they had felt compelled to teach with laptops in the beginning, but stopped because they found they were spending so much time coping with technical glitches that they were unable to finish their lessons.”

If your teachers don’t buy-in to the program and do not receive the proper training and support, then I don’t see how your laptop program can be anything but doomed.  If teachers do not want or are not willing to change the way they teach to better prepare students for their futures, then what is the point of giving the students laptops?  If students are simply using the laptops to do the same thing in the same way then they are not going to see the relevance of using a laptop versus paper and are more apt to use the laptop for off-task behavior like playing games and chatting. 

INTRODUCING LAPTOPS IN THE CLASSROOM IS NOT A MAGIC BUTTON.  They will not automatically increase test scores, make you a better teacher and make all your students behave.  You, as a teacher, have to change the way you present information and allow your students to learn.  You have to give up some control and let students teach themselves and each other. You have to allow communication with the outside world so students can see how school is connected to the “real world.” You have to teach students to monitor their time and to use the laptop appropriately.  No one said it would be easy, but if we are going to prepare students to be successful in today’s workplace, don’t they need to know how to use technology effectively?

“Where laptops and Internet use make a difference are in innovation, creativity, autonomy and independent research,” he said [Mark Warschauer, education professor at the University of California]. “If the goal is to get kids up to basic standard levels, then maybe laptops are not the tool. But if the goal is to create the George Lucas and Steve Jobs of the future, then laptops are extremely useful.”

I am going to end with another interesting quote from the article…

“The art of thinking is being lost,” he said. “Because people can type in a word and find a source and think that’s the be all end all.”

Hmmm… Yes, getting information via the Internet is much easier than going to the library to check it out, but the THINKING should occur when students/teachers evaluate the information for accuracy, bias, etc. and choose the appropriate piece for their research. Again, this skill requires training for teachers as well as students.

I love teaching in a 1:1 school, and I think my students have benefited immensely.  Have their test scores improved because of the laptops… I don’t know, and honestly, I don’t care.  Their work has improved, their collaborative skills have improved, their research skills have improved, their technology skills have improved. Do they always make wise choices? No, but that is one of the reasons I am there… to guide them and teach them.

I would love your thoughts on the article.  Leave me a comment if you like and follow the discussion on 2 Cents Worth and as well.


Explore posts in the same categories: 1 to 1, EdTech, Edtech News, Laptops, New York Times, one to one

13 Comments on “Laptops In Schools Are Bad…”

  1. Keith Wyrick Says:

    I totally agree with you! I truly don’t think these schools/districts knew what they were getting in to and didn’t really have a system in place to handle these problems when they arose. Of course we had problems in our first year (and still do), but I’d like to think that we are constantly thinking of ways to improve and fight those problems. We’ve adapted and overcame some of them too. Like you said, its not always about test scores. It’s about learning and living in a global world. I think many of these distsricts saw this as a fad and jumped on it and then when they didn’t see immediate results, they are moving on to the next fad. I feel that they are doing a tremendous disservice to their students.

  2. NYT vs. 1:1 Says:

    […] Perspective from a 1:1 teacher […]

  3. […] Perspective from a 1:1 teacher […]

  4. Doug Says:

    I thought it was strange that they charged students so much to use the laptops ($25/month) that they couldn’t even take home (unless they paid $900 for one). That alone would explain parent complaints. And the program was voluntary, so only half of the students even had laptops at first. That meant teachers had to decide whether to A) make lesson plans both for students with and without a laptop or B) ignore the laptop. Of course I wouldn’t blame teachers for choosing option B more times than not. I have some thoughts on it here, but that’s the jist of my view on it:

  5. Doug Says:

    Oops, my laptop just informed me it’s spelled gist not jist 🙂

  6. Elaine Plybon Says:

    I read that article and felt the same way you do about it. My recurring thought as I read it was that this school/district is blaming the technology for their own lack of responsibility for the problems. Sure, students are going to use the computers for things they WANT to do, but teachers have an obligation to make sure they have control over the room and what the students are doing on their laptops. With engaging lessons, students will want to be doing what they are supposed to be doing. With diligent monitoring, students won’t be able to stray (for very long, at least). I agree with Keith — it seems like this district just thought that buying a bunch of laptops and handing them out was going to miraculously change everything for the better. They didn’t seem to have any plans for how to maintain the program, train teachers, etc. I think that’s what is so great about The Academy — not only do we have plans, we have plans that can be adapted as we see the need arise. We’re constantly looking at our program and finding ways to make it better. If we had just handed out a bunch of laptops and said “run with it”, we’d probably already have lost the 1:1 program. It is sad that people are so quick to see all the negatives in these programs and that the media is anxious to report those negatives.

  7. Beth Bradley Says:

    When I first started teaching thirty-five years ago (Lord, I’m old!), I was given a book, a box of chalk and a list of reel to reel movies available for check out from the district media library. I got a coach to show me how to use the projector. My, how things have changed, technologically speaking. What hasn’t changed is that our focus should continue to be on how we can best serve the needs of our clients – those kids out there who rely on us to ready them for the real world they will soon enter. Since the real world is PC and iPod these days (anyone remember transistor radios?), that training must be technologically focused. If we leave out the technologically, we have failed our students.
    I’m wondering if Blackboard or similar web based programs were made available to the teachers where laptops were such a tremendous failure. In addition, I’m wondering how much training those traditional “chalkboard” teachers received in curriculum individualization via the web (or “teacher cloning”)and the use of the myriad software programs that aid in alternative curriculum delivery. You can teach an old dog new tricks and teachers can learn alternative teaching styles. They just need to be given the opportunity and the “buy in” to do so.

  8. Kathy Says:

    Wow Angela, I think you are just so right. I think the most difficult part of technology is teaching the students to use it appropriately. And kids are kids, just like we used to be. Just because the students have access to adult technology does not mean they are automatically going to act like an adult, its a process. The students will need to learn to make good choices, with technology as with anything. As a teacher I think we owe it to our students to incorporate technology into the classroom. We should not hide from it, but rather embrace it because it is going to be around for a long time.

  9. Sammy Says:

    YEs, i agree with you. i was doing a report on this and i agree with you. this has given me some good points for my essay. thatnkyou-i agree totally with your opinions =)

  10. Logan♡ Says:

    Well, my opinion is I hate this. I am a student and my school was “lucky” enough to get them. I highly appreciate them, but they are a pain with all the kids at school that break their lap tops or miss use them it’s a waste. I didn’t pay but 50$ for mine, but still temptation gets to you when you have your own computer. Us kids are mischievous and find ways to get around things. When we were born we didn’t have rattles in our hand we had cell phones. I hate the computers and would LOVE to give it back. The money we spend on them for repairs and issuing them out is enough to help the world! I hope computers are not what we have to learn with for the rest of our lives! they probably will ,but I can hope!

    • alex Says:

      Thankyou, i am also a school student and i think our laptops are abselutely horrible. recently got in trouble with the IT Man at our school and now have to use pen and paper. Yes!!! he was all telling me off and whatever and i was just thanking him, for giving me an excuse not to use my laptop!!!!

  11. I agree wiyh tou in yhat , but be sure if thats not happen now, it will after a few years later .

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