You've probably heard of school laptop programs, and some schools now expect students at least to have access to computers at home. But do you ever wonder how useful (or not) it is for high school students to take their laptops to school?
Marian Merritt, Symantec's Internet Safety Advocate and mother of an 8th-grader, wondered just that and put some good thinking about it down in her blog the other day. Marian also asked some colleagues, including me, if we'd seen any research on it, so I turned to my friend and tech educator Anne Bubnic with the California Technology Assistance Project (CTAP) for her experience with school laptop programs.
Anne pointed us to some meaty links (below) but, first, here's some of her personal experience with student laptops in school which I think you'll find as interesting as I did:
"I would have to say about laptops that bringing one to a school where the teachers are all on board with a structured method of incorporating them into studies is an entirely different beast than bringing one into a classroom just for note-taking, as Marian describes. A student doing so on her own would have to be a lot more self-disciplined.
"I filmed a group of math students. They talked about how the laptops have helped them become so much better organized. They never lose assignments or papers they are writing. They talked about being better organized again and again. It was amazing how confident that made them feel. They are learning real-world skills that will serve them well in the workplace!
"They record all of their notes on NoteTaker [software]. They record homework assignments and test dates on their electronic calendars. Even their books are electronic! The kids told us that their teachers post all of their homework assignments online and that they often do the homework before it is even due – can you imagine?
"They’ve learned how to juggle their busy sports schedules and social lives and homework in a way that works for them. But even more amazing, they are tackling math that may have not even been taught yet in the classroom! To watch these students using laptops is pure utopia. You wish you could wave a magic wand and every school district in the country would be there!"
* Links from Anne Bubnic: "One of the leading experts is Saul Rockman, who also has served as CTAP's external evaluator for over 5 years," Anne wrote. "You can find some of the Rockman, et al, studies here. And here's more research from respected educator Gary Stager and the Ubiquitous Computing Evaluation Consortium. Apple Computers also has done a number of studies. Here's one on Del Mar Middle School" in Marin County, northern California. "You can also go to the Del Mar Middle School web site and find the latest student survey results," and Anne pointed to a laptop learning site at Ning.com.
* Big-picture food for thought from PBS column "I, Cringely": "We've reached the point in our … cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools. I came to this conclusion recently while attending Brainstorm 2008, a delightful conference for computer people in K-12 schools throughout Wisconsin. They didn't hold breakout sessions on technology battles or tactics, but the idea was in the air. These people were under siege…. Kids can't go to school today without working on computers. But having said that, in the last five years more and more technical resources have been turned to how to keep technology OUT of our schools." See also "Beyond System Reform" in Education Week.
* "Starting School Laptop Programs: Lessons Learned" by Andrew Zucker, Ed.D., Senior Research Scientist, The Concord Consortium – a few years old but substantive and on the opposite end of the US from Anne
* "Study: Middle school laptop program leads to writing improvements" from the Associated Press, 10/07
* "School drop laptop programs, but are they dropping the ball as well?" in Andy Carvin's education blog at PBS.org, looking at a New York Times report last May
* "School laptop debate heats up" in eSchool News, 9/06