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4 May 2007 @ 1pm


High Schools Are Dumping Laptop Programs

The New York Times features an interesting article today on schools that have abandoned their one-laptop-per-student programs.

“After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool, one of the first districts in New York State to experiment with putting technology directly into students’ hands. “The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.”

I am somewhat divided on this issue. On the one hand, I see how my entry-level college students are less and less capable of doing anything beyond instant messaging and typing a paper on their computers (though that can be a challenge for some as well). On the other hand, though, I also don’t find much use for a computer in my classroom itself.

Maybe I am old fashioned, but my classes consist of me talking to my students. Discussing issues they have researched beforehand (not in class). A computer indeed just gets in the way of me during class. Don’t get me wrong, I use PowerPoint to show pictures, I will use Google Earth if I need to show some geographical fact, my students publish reading responses in their class blogs, but my students don’t need to have that computer in front of them. I got a nice projector hanging from the wall for that.

And then there are the numerous distractions of having the computer right there, in front of the student. I don’t want to spend my time in class explaining how to save a word document.

Judy Breck asks two interesting questions about this on SmartMobs:

One, I wondered just how students learn in today’s world without digital technologies: maybe the schools let them use wired computers. Two, the students all have little computers in their pockets now that are mainly phones but quickly morphing into doing what laptops can now, changing school virtual world isolation forever.

I would argue that most of the learning students do has nothing to do with digital technologies. A good teacher doesn’t need gizmos to teach any subject. Also, in my experience, those students who struggle academically are the ones who are the weakest when it comes to computers as well. The computers get in the way of their learning experience instead of enhancing it.

Now the question about cell-phone/laptop convergence is an interesting one. For the schools, though, at least this is neither a financial or technical issue as they are not going to manage those networks. There will probably be a “keep the phone off during class” policy (as most schools already have) – and that’s that.

The problem here is: why pay money for a program that doesn’t have any real benefits. And I agree with the schools that decide to kill those programs. It isn’t worth their time and money.

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