Laptops in the Classroom The Holy Grail?

Many intelligent and well-educated professionals believe that 21st century learning requires integrating digital media and laptops into classrooms.  And I have to say as a parent, seeing the exciting things children can do with computers in schools is alluring. But does adding laptops to a K-12 classroom really improve learning?   In this tough economic time when every single penny we spend on education MUST be thought through carefully, rushing to integrate expensive hardware into the schools should not happen without a thoughtful, clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

The answer to this question is not simple — assessment is usually only possible through the typical testing procedures, the tests that many educators say measure very limited kind of learning — math and reading, on a procedural, by the numbers kind of test.  Moreover, throwing technology into a classroom means very little if the teacher chooses not to incorporate it into the curriculum.

The NY Times wrote a thoughtful piece on this issue a few days ago.  A few highlights of some research.

  • Test scores in an Arizona school district did not increase after they equipped their schools with a one to one ratio of laptops, while test scores in other districts in the State without the same technology program improved.
  • In Maine teachers asked about technology in their classroom mostly agreed that it improved student’s work.
  • A rare large-scale, study in Texas found after 3 years positive impacts of laptops on technology use and skill, increased interest among teachers in student-centered instruction, reduced student disciplinary actions, and greater teacher collaboration. However, there was generally no significant impact on students’ test scores in reading and writing and only a weak impact in mathematics (Science, 2009).

Bottom line, the research does not clearly and decisively show that technology improves academic achievement, at least when this achievement is measured by standardized tests.  In some cases it does, and in some cases it doesn’t.   In the end, it’s important to know who benefits the most from the push for technology in the classroom?  Computer salesmen.  So before we rush to increase their bottom line, let’s make sure it really does improve our children’s bottom line — with a real growth in academic achievement.
The troubling quote below came from the NY Times article.

  • “Let’s hope the fiscal crisis doesn’t get better too soon. It’ll slow down reform,” said Tom Watkins, the former superintendent for the Michigan schools, and now a consultant to businesses in the education sector. “



One Reply to “Laptops in the Classroom The Holy Grail?”

  1. Pursuit of technology for technologies sake will result in big failures. There are some great technologies which can help, and there is a lot of junk. The issue isn’t whether technology is good or bad, but which pieces of technology are helpful.

    The onus is on teachers and administrators to be the gatekeepers and ensure that any piece of technology imported into the classroom is effective. And by effective, I mean they help teach kids in reading, writing, math, science and so on – not vague ideas about building ‘collaboration’, keeping kids engaged or teaching them Powerpoint.

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