Laptops Revisited

By Bigham, George D.; Bigham, Vicki Smith | Curriculum Administrator, November 2000 | Go to article overview

Laptops Revisited


Bigham, George D., Bigham, Vicki Smith, Curriculum Administrator


The trek towards increased laptop usage in K-12 classrooms: An Historical Perspective

Imagine the hurdles an educator must overcome to equip her students with access to computers. If she is lucky enough to have three or four desktops in the classroom, she must divide her class into groups, assign one student the responsibility of navigating the machine while the others watch. Inevitably, the rest of the students are left to be observers and have little to no interaction with the machine. Alternatively, if a teacher has access to a centrally-located computer lab, she must stop her instruction at hand, have her students line up, walk them through the hallway and deliver them to the lab. All of this transporting dramatically cuts into the actual amount of time students have with one-on-one access to technology.

Now imagine the classroom where each student has a laptop computer in hand. Students can take notes, work on revisions to an English class report, conduct research on the Internet or access the media center to see what books on the rain forest are currently available to check out. It is clear that affording students hands-on access to technology, in the form of laptops, not only makes better use of their time, but provides them with a solid foundation to seamlessly tackle technology.

ANYTIME, ANYWHERE RESEARCH

Portable computers first found their ways into the hands of students in the 1980s. Not surprisingly, the data available on the growth of laptop usage in K-12 classrooms, although limited, show a growing momentum in both laptop usage and academic results. Over the past 10 years, the National Center for Educations Statistics has administered surveys specifically focusing on technology infrastructure in schools and classrooms. The latest report from NCES, Teachers' Tools for the 21st Century: A Report on Teachers' Use of Technology (September 2000), does not focus specifically on laptop usage in schools, but does provide strong data on general use of computers in schools. What the study shows is a lack of a one-to-one ratio of students to computers. Comparatively, schools who do employ a laptop program, generally provide a laptop for each student. Primarily, educators report no time in their daily schedules for students to use computers in the classroom (80 percent), although teachers themselves are more likely than students to use computers in their classrooms (63 percent compared to 36 percent).

Since 1997, ROCKMAN ET AL has conducted surveys to assess experiences of schools participating in Microsoft's Anytime Anywhere Learning program. The program started with 52 schools and has grown to include more than 800 schools with 125,000 students. Last month at the U.S. Department of Education's Secretary's National Conference on Educational Technology, this research firm provided findings that indicate students who use a laptop as an everyday learning tool are better writers, are more collaborative on projects and get more involved in their schoolwork. Additionally, the study indicated that teachers report improvements in their teaching methods, an increased constructivist approach to teaching and greater confidence in using technology in lesson plans. This third-year report as well as two previous research studies maybe found at www.microsoft. com/education/aal/research.asp.

EARLY EXPERIMENTS WITH LAPTOPS IN SCHOOLS

Methodist Ladies College, Victoria, Australia www.mlc.vic.edu.au/computing

In 1990, the Methodist Ladies College began requiring laptop computers for all students in grade 5, and the school claims to be the "first school in the world to introduce laptops." By 1993 nearly all students in grades 5 and above were using laptops. Currently NEC Versa Note Educate 2000 notebooks are being used, and this year the college celebrates the 10th anniversary of laptops at their school. The school's Web site section on Reflections of a Learning Community tells the story of how laptops have brought change to the school. …

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