Over the past few years we’ve seen several high profile programs that issue laptops to large groups of students, mostly in middle school grades. The theory is that students having access to a computer any place, any time will improve their learning. That theory is still being tested and this article justifiably asks the question "Are such efforts worth the money?". The answer so far as I can tell is still "who knows?".
One of the largest programs so far began in 2001 down the road from here in Henrico County, Virginia where every student and teacher in grades 6 – 8 were issued a laptop. So far teachers and administrators in that system have been able to show better student attendance and a general increase in student effort. Teachers have also seen an improvement in writing skills as the laptops give students constant access to the tools necessary to revise their work. Better student achievement – as measured by standarized tests, of course – is much harder to demonstrate and may be difficult to link directly to the use of the laptops.
I’m not a big fan of these "one-one-one" programs since the way many of them have been implemented tends to isolate the kids from each other. From my experience, students get more value out of computers when they use them as a collaborative tool working in pairs. A bigger problem in the proposals for these programs, however, is that the teacher’s learning often gets short changed. For this, or any instructional program, to be successful it must include a continuous, comprehensive teacher training program. To make an effort of this kind "worth the money", use of the laptops must become an integral part of both the student’s and teacher’s daily routine. That will lead to a drastic change in the way that a classroom and a school works and it will take long term planning, solid professional development and time.