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Why schools should provide one laptop per child

| August 29, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Binbin Zheng And Mark Warschauer

A recent international study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found no positive evidence of impact of educational technology on student performance.

Does this mean we should abandon attempts to integrate technology in schools?

We are researchers of technology and learning in kindergarten-Grade 12 (K-12) environments, and our research suggests this would be short-sighted.

Impact of one-to-one laptop programmes

Impact of one-to-one laptop programmes

For the last 10 years, our research team has been investigating what are called “one-to-one programmes”, where all the students in a classroom, grade, school or district are provided laptop computers for use throughout the school day, and often at home, in different school districts across the US.

The largest one-to-one laptop programme in the world is One Laptop per Child (OLPC), which mainly targets developing countries. In the US, the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) launched a one-to-one laptop initiative in autumn 2002, which made Maine the first state to use technology to transform teaching and learning in classrooms state-wide.

In addition to our own extensive observations, we conducted a synthesis of the results of 96 published global studies on these programmes in K-12 schools during 2001-2015. Among them, 10 rigorously designed studies, mostly from the US, were included, to examine the relationship between these programmes and academic achievement. We found significant benefits.

We found students’ test scores in science, writing, mathematics and English language improved significantly.

And the benefits were not limited to test scores.

We found students with laptops wrote more frequently across a wider variety of genres. They also received more feedback on their writing. In addition, we found they edited and revised their papers more often, drew on a wider range of resources to write, and published or shared their work with others more often.

Student surveys, teacher interviews and classroom observations in these studies revealed that students with access to laptops worked more autonomously and gained experience in project-based learning. This allowed them to synthesise and critically apply knowledge.

One-to-one laptop programmes also enhanced students’ 21st century skills, such as the ability to locate and use internet resources. Students also improved their collaborative learning skills – that is, they were more capable of working collaboratively with others.

Can laptop use reduce educational gaps?

However, our study did not find firm evidence on whether these one-to-one laptop programmes helped lessen the academic gap between academically advantaged and disadvantaged students.

Earlier studies have found that laptop programmes could help shorten the achievement gap between low-income students and their peers. We did not find such positive evidence in all programs.

One possible explanation is that difficulty in using technology sometimes places an extra load on already challenged students. In contrast, wealthier students are usually more tech-savvy, so they can maximise the benefits of using computers to support learning.

Not all laptop programmes are effective

One issue here is that not all programmes are successful. In our study, although most programmes were successful, there were some stark failures as well.

These tended to be in school districts that treated computers like magical devices that would solve educational problems merely through their distribution, without sufficient planning on how they could best be deployed to improve learning.

Some of these schools, after observing no progress with laptops, decided to phase them out. For example, Liverpool Central School District, a public school district in a suburban community near Syracuse, New York, decided to drop the laptop programme from autumn 2007.

A school district in Philadelphia had to abandon its programme after being sued over its use of laptop webcams to capture pictures of students at home. The district claimed it was an effort to track down missing laptops.

For schools and classrooms that are already poorly organised, merely having access to a computer connected to the internet will not improve learning. However, for classrooms that focus on improving students’ writing, analysis, research, problem solving and critical thinking, those same internet-connected computers could be invaluable tools.

Technology to train future citizens

Well-organised programmes that make individual computers available to students are already getting excellent test score results. Such programmes are critical for helping students develop necessary skills for the future. These programmes deserve our support.

Category: Spring 2016

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