Despite a growing number of mobile computing initiatives across the country, including dramatic statewide adoptions in Maine and Michigan, laptop programs continue to breed controversy. For instance, critics of Maine's laptop program point to a $28 million per year price tag that hasn't yet yielded higher scores on the state's educational assessment test. Meanwhile, in suburban Andover, Mass., and other communities, one-to-one computing programs are being dropped or delayed due to lack of sustainable funding.
Given this backdrop of continuing debate, we decided to examine laptop programs from two perspectives. First, what does the most current research say about their impact on teaching and learning? For this angle we tapped into the expertise of Saul Rockman, who's conducted numerous studies of K-12 mobile computing environments, most recently in Indiana (see "A Study in Learning" below). We also wanted to go a step further and offer practical advice on how to successfully structure a laptop program to get the most return on investment. After a visit to East Rock Magnet School in New Haven, Conn., we found the perfect in-the-trenches expert, Domenic Grignano, who rolled out a wireless laptop program there two years ago (see "12 Tips for Launching a Wireless Laptop Program" on page 37). Together, Rockman and Grignano paint an impressive--and realistic--picture of the potential of laptop programs.
RELATED ARTICLE: A study in learning.
What does the latest research on mobile computing tell us about teachers, students--and testing?
By Saul Rockman
At least one of every six U.S. districts now has some form of laptop program in one or more schools, encouraged by both the falling prices of computers and the positive public perception generated by promoting such an initiative. For the past decade I've led a research group that's focused on the study of ubiquitous laptop computing, starting with Microsoft and Toshiba's Anytime, Anywhere Learning initiative, where we looked at approximately 50 schools and districts around the country. Among the studies we're currently conducting is Tech-Know-Build, a Technology Innovation Challenge Grant project that provides laptops and wireless Internet access to some 3,000 students and 175 teachers in Indianapolis and Crawfordsville, Ind.
Perhaps not surprisingly, recent findings from the four-year investigation of the Tech-Know-Build project confirm and emphasize existing research showing that teaching and learning change in consistent and reliable ways when laptops are introduced into the school environment. We see more project-based learning, increased student motivation and experimentation, and higher rates of peer mentoring. Some of these shifts can be tied to an overall lower student to computer ratio. But we've found that with laptops, specifically, the behaviors appear earlier and are more pronounced, especially among special education and ELL students.
Here, a look at some key points that have surfaced over the course of the Indiana project, and those preceding it, based on extensive quantitative and qualitative research that included classroom observations, interviews, focus groups, and surveys.
Learning environments are transformed. Educators involved in laptop programs overwhelmingly promote collaborative learning and at the same time provide individualized instruction. This often means students and teachers move around more. Instead of staying put to do seatwork, students gather together to work on projects, which frees teachers to roam about the room helping those who have problems or need remediation. In addition, learning in laptop classrooms is often more self-directed: the majority of Tech-Know-Build teachers responding to a spring 2004 survey say they now let students decide what materials and resources to use in their projects.
Assessment techniques change. Teachers in laptop classrooms are more willing to assign presentations and multimedia products to students, and score them using customized, project-driven rubrics and even self-assessments. …