Laptop Computers in the K-12 Classroom. (Eric Digest)
Belanger, Yvonne, Teacher Librarian
Over the past decade, many schools have investigated the educational possibilities of mobile computing. More recently, an increasing number of K-12 schools are implementing the use of laptop computers.
Improvements in portable computing technology and examples of successful pilot programs using laptops and other portables have inspired many K-12 schools to consider laptops for their students.
Emergence of Laptops in Schools
Organized laptop programs in higher education date as far back as 1988 when Drew University in Madison, NJ, began providing notebook computers (paid for from tuition) to all incoming freshmen. Now more than 50 postsecondary institutions worldwide require at least some of their students to use laptops (Brown, 1999). Throughout the 1990s, a number of private schools in the United States and abroad began requiring ownership of laptops. In 1996, inspired by the successful use of laptops in Australian schools, the Microsoft Corporation and Toshiba began one of the most high-profile programs now underway, currently known as Microsoft's Anytime Anywhere Learning (AAL) Program (Healey, 1999). Technology corporations, such as NetSchools (http://www.studypro. com/), NoteSys Inc. (http://www. notesys.com/), Apple (http://www. apple.com/education/), and others are promoting the use of laptops in K-12 education, providing hardware packages for schools and in some cases, software and technical support as well.
Transitions to Laptops
How are schools integrating laptops into their technology infrastructure? Microsoft commissioned an ongoing study of Anytime Anywhere Learning, published as the Rockman Report. In the study, Rockman (1998) identified five models of laptop use currently in place at the K-12 level:
* Concentrated -- each student has his or her own laptop for use at home or in school
* Class set-a school -- purchased classroom set is shared among teachers
* Dispersed -- in any given classroom, there are students with and without laptops
* Desktop -- each classroom is permanently assigned a few laptops for students to share
* Mixed -- some combination of the above models.
Each model has potential advantages, either in terms of instructional benefits, ease of implementation or savings. In the concentrated model, teachers are free to integrate technology fully into instruction as well as assignments, since all students have access to a computer for homework, study and projects. In the class set and dispersed models, teachers are free to integrate laptops during the school day; however, there may still be students within the same class who lack access to a computer in the home, so integration options are more limited. In the desktop model, although the computers are owned and maintained by the school, a student working on a computer-based project during the school day might be allowed to take the laptop home to complete their work. Also, teachers are better able to reconfigure their classroom setup to suit their technology integration needs. Laptops can also take the place of desktops in a traditional lab setting. For example, the Cuba-Rushford School District in Allegheny County, NY, created a 70-computer laptop lab. These computers are available for checkout to their middle and high school students. For many schools, the primary advantage of laptops over desktops is in creating opportunities for all students to have access to a computer both during and outside of the school day.
Traditional laptops are not the only portable computers appearing in elementary and secondary institutions. Some schools uncomfortable with the high cost of laptops have explored the advantages of lower-priced portables designed for K-12 students. The AlphaSmart and DreamWriter, for example, make it possible to provide each student with a rechargeable portable that can be used for word processing or keyboarding instruction at a fraction of the cost of a traditional laptop. …