1:1 Laptops in the Classroom—Where Are We Now?

Vol. 9 No. 6


For more than a decade now, we have heard the battle cry: “Give every student a laptop to improve learning, engagement, test scores, graduation rates…” you name it. And many schools and school districts have adopted 1:1 laptop programs, giving students a tool to explore and have access to the wider world beyond their own community. Indeed, access to the world of information and instant communication via the Internet is one of the key pieces in the 21st Century School concept. But where are we, for real? What has happened in the classrooms that have adopted a 1:1 laptop program?

Thierry Karsenti of the Université de Montreal Faculty of Education conducted a study in the Eastern Townships School Board (Quebec, Canada), where the 1:1 laptop program has been operating for eight years in the 3rd through 11th grades. The study included interviews with 2,432 students, 272 teachers, 14 interventionists, and three administrators. You can download the highlights of the study here.

In his synopsis, Karsenti lists the 12 main benefits of the 1:1 laptop program as:
1. Facilitation of work for both teachers and students;
2. Greater access to current, high-quality information;
3. Greater student motivation;
4. Greater student attentiveness;
5. Development of student autonomy;
6. Increased interaction among students, teachers and parents;
7. Individualized, differentiated learning;
8. Engaging, interactive and meaningful learning using multimedia support;
9. Development of ICT skills;
10. Universal access;
11. The breakdown of barriers between the school and society;
12. More opportunities for students in the future.

The laptop, used as a teaching tool, Karsenti found, had a positive impact on concentration, motivation, test scores, and the graduation rate. The dropout rate fell from 39.4% in 2004-05 to 22.7% in 2008-09 and the ETSB’s ranking shot from 66 to 23rd, as published in an article on Physorg.com.

But the research does not totally credit the laptop. He finds that teachers can’t surrender to the technology, or students will lose interest and migrate to the more common distractions like Facebook.

eSchool News recently featured a roundup of the latest research in One-to-One Computing Programs Only as Effective as Their Teachers.

The article asserts that indeed, the success of a 1:1 laptop program rests in the preparation and teaching strategies of the teacher in the classroom, pulling together findings from a variety of sources, including The Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, published by the Boston College Lynch School of Education, January 2010 special edition devoted to the 1:1 laptop issue.

Researchers Damien Bebell and Laura O’Dwyer assert that the downfall of 1:1 laptop programs is the assumption that simply giving a student a laptop is the magic bullet because there is little focus on the education process.

“[The program] refers to the level at which technology is available to students and teachers; by definition, it says nothing about actual educational practices,” they write in “Educational Outcomes and Research from 1:1 Computing Programs.

Bebell, with Rachel Kay, conducted a study of five Western Massachusetts public and private middle schools that participated in the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative. What they found was that the 1:1 laptop program had positive educational effects, but educational practices changed as well. Teachers had to change their methods of instruction.

“One of the central project outcomes of the study was the documentation of fundamental changes in teaching, particularly teaching strategies, curriculum delivery, and classroom management,” write Bebell and Kay. “Without question, the 1:1 program had major impacts across many aspects of teaching for the majority of teacher participants.”

In the Philadelphia area, Lower Merion High School has been conducting a 1:1 program, while nearby Harriton High School is three-years in. In January, the Lower Merion School District’s Supervisor of Instruction Technology told the School Board that education delivery and practices in those schools were allowing students to reach new levels of learning.”

As reported by the Ardmore-Merion-Wynnewood Patch Hilt noted that the district uses a method called SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition), which firsts asks teachers to substitute technology for resources or established instructional practices. The goal, though, is to next use the technology to augment lessons to provide additional advantages and then modify lessons based on the advanced technology available through the program. Ultimately, 1:1 computing should redefine educational practices. Teachers become the moderators and facilitators of a wider world of learning.

Lower Merion Spanish Teacher Allison Mellett and Biology teacher Elliott Burch have embraced 1:1 computing for their classes. Burch, for example, asked students to demonstrate animal behaviors by producing claymation movies using their laptops’ built-in cameras and iMovie software rather than write written reports. Mellet has a virtual classroom model—students download class assignments and upload their completed work. Her classroom is completely paperless.

The concept is in line with the 21st Century Schools concept, which is the hot topic in education reform right now.

A teacher at the Wichern-Schule in Hamburg, Germany, Torsten Otto agrees that it is up to the teacher and his/her practices for the 1:1 computing model to fulfill its promise.

“In our 1-to-1 program … we put a big emphasis on project-based learning; otherwise, the laptop is no more than an expensive notepad. Research needs to show the effects of this different style of teaching in terms of student engagement, motivation, and so-called 21st-century skills,” Otto said in the eSchool News story.

In Lower Merion, four students lauded the program at the School Board meeting. Harriton Senior Daniel Carp said “ I keep everything I need for school on my computer. I can connect with students and teachers, and any pressing question I might have can be answered with a quick e-mail.”

But a survey of parents and students show that not everyone is enamored with 1:1 computing and the laptop program. The Merionite, Lower Merion student newspaper, conducted a student survey that showed 47% of the 555 students responding said the laptop program was making them less likely to pay attention, and 54% of teachers said students were distracted rather than 27% who said they were mostly focused.

Pam Livingston, author of 1-to-1 Learning: Laptop Programs, believes, that for a program to work, teacher professional development and preparation, well in advance, is essential.

“Programs that have worked have started with a plan that was well thought out and formulated by a vision committee that involved stakeholders,” Livingston told eSchool News. “They have nearly given all laptops to teachers first, sometimes a full year ahead, so teachers can use the laptops and begin developing curricular possibilities.”

Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, TN, hosts an annual Laptop Institute for teachers, technology integrationists, technology support personnel, and administrators to gather for keynotes and workshops and discuss using laptops and tablets as tools for learning. Last year, over 500 attended, representing 32 states, 14 countries, 120 schools and school districts—with over half K-12 teachers. The mission? “To facilitate the growth of laptop technologies in education by creating a community of learners among administrators, technology personnel, and teachers in schools that currently use or are considering use of laptops in the classroom,” according to The Laptop Institute Web site. (http://www.laptopinstitute.com/about). 

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