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Complex Problems in Very Few Words

The article from the front page of the New York Times last week about schools giving up on their laptop programs had a very familiar ring to it. At least for anyone who’s been working with ed tech for more than a few years.

However, the Times really didn’t need to waste so many words when the key objections to technology in the classroom (laptop or other) fit into a much smaller space.

Yet school officials here and in several other places said laptops had been abused by students, did not fit into lesson plans, and showed little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test scores at a time of increased pressure to meet state standards. Districts have dropped laptop programs after resistance from teachers, logistical and technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs.

Abuse by students, maintenance costs and “logistical and technical problems” are all part of the same we-can’t-use-it-because-it’s-not-reliable bundle.

We know laptops are going to have more problems than stationary computers just from the fact that they move. And in student hands, they will break more often because, well, kids break things occasionally.

All of that’s just an excuse. So, let’s move on to the real issues.

They can pretty much be summarized in a few bullet points of the type that school administrators love (they help avoid complexity).

  • Schools buy into laptop programs as a way to quickly increase test scores. Period.
  • They don’t budget enough for teacher training, if any. Especially time.
  • There is little or no corresponding shift in teaching practices to take advantage of the new tools.
  • Administrators don’t require any changes in classroom practice. Other than to see the computers in use during .
  • School board members expect the magic to happen in a couple of years. Or at least before the next election cycle.
  • Planning for the project involves few teachers and usually no students. It probably excludes the community as well.
  • Did I mention laptops are supposed to increase test scores?

All of this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be investing in one-to-one programs. It does mean that technology must be accompanied by a fundamental alteration in the way we look at teaching and learning.

And everyone must be involved in setting the goals, both for these programs and the concept of school in general.

Once again, it doesn’t take a whole lot of words to summarize those goals.

“Where laptops and Internet use make a difference are in innovation, creativity, autonomy and independent research,” he [Mark Warschauer, an education professor at the University of California at Irvine] said. “If the goal is to get kids up to basic standard levels, then maybe laptops are not the tool. But if the goal is to create the George Lucas and Steve Jobs of the future, then laptops are extremely useful.”

Innovation, creativity, autonomy and independent research. Great concepts, but, sorry, they’re not on the standardized test.

laptop, education, edtech

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1 Comment

  1. Take a step back…what about all those school divisions that have given laptops to administrators and teachers? I go to give presentations only to discover that few if any have brought their computers with them. And, even if they have, they still choose to take notes with paper/pencil rather than accessing the materials I’ve provided online. If the leaders haven’t figured out why they need a laptop, why is it any surprise that we haven’t figured out why kids need laptops?

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