Technology Doesn’t Work by Itself

Two years ago a large high school just up the road from here (the only one in a much smaller district) gave laptops to all their students.

So, what big changes can they show for the time and money spent? There aren’t many according to an article on the front page of this morning’s Post.

The administration did extend library hours so kids could take advantage of the wireless connection.

The system is also going down the dubious path of requiring teachers to post their class materials online in Blackboard (something our district has done with generally mediocre results).

And there’s a lot of discussion about students and teachers being more efficient and the laptops replacing textbooks (or not depending on who is being quoted).

The big reason for the lack of any meaningful progress is summed up by one parent.

“My daughter and most of her friends, they don’t find it to be useful at all,” said board member Scott Newsham, who was elected in spring and is the father of a T.C. Williams student. “I think the decision was made to bring computers into the school system before they really knew what they were going to be doing with them.”

The district leaders are just now realizing that simply handing out technology does nothing to improve teaching and learning. That teacher training is the key to making a program like this work.

However, beyond the lack of planning and staff development, there is another major problem that all of the staff needs to address.

No one in the story talks about changing classroom practice to take advantage of the powerful tool they’ve bought for everyone.

They need to address the fact that grafting technology onto to the same old school structure produces very few improvements in either teaching or learning.

Unless they’re prepared to make drastic changes to the educational program to take full advantage of that power, the first student quoted may as well continue to leave her laptop under the bed.

laptop, one-to-one, edtech

5 Comments Technology Doesn’t Work by Itself

  1. Raj

    It’s the one thing that never seems to be factored into these 1:1 plans – that in order to make effective use of technology, there must, in many cases be major changes to the way that instruction is delivered. For the most part, it means more work for the instructors as now they have to continually deal with their content and their students as opposed to just doing their lessons once and then riding them out until there need to be major changes.

  2. Tom C

    Laptops are another tool that teacher can use in the classroom. I do not agree that is it necessary to make drastic changes to the educational system for laptops to provide some benefit. It is unrealistic to expect every student to be using their laptop every minute in class. Even the most usefull tools in
    classrooms today are not used 100% of the time, for example the whiteboard.

    Distributing laptops to students enables the use of that tool. Some students do not even have access to such technology at home. Enabling is the first step in using it.

  3. Diana King

    I thought it was interesting that although the article presented several positive comments on the use of the laptops in that high school, the writer chose to lead with the negatives. I wonder how many readers had time to read all the way to the pluses.

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  5. tim


    My problem with most 1-1 laptop programs is not in the amount of time students use the machines but in how they are used. Reading through the reports you find them used as motivational tools and people talking about them as electronic textbooks, incorporated in teaching as simple replacements for the passive paper versions.

    To be successful, the laptop and its wireless connection to the world, provides the means to change students from receivers of information to creators. But that requires a major change in the way that teachers, administrators, students, and parents view the concept of “education”.

    From what I’ve observed of how laptops (and really all computers) are used in the classroom, they are little more than electronic supplements to the standard teacher-at-the-front, students-in-rows, subjects-in-discreet-boxes, approach to teaching and learning.

    My frustration is with the seeming belief of many that just the presence of the technology will automatically improve learning.

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