The NY Times is reporting how some school districts are dropping their 1-to-1 laptop programs, given the high maintenance and repair costs, and the lack of difference on test scores with classrooms not using laptops:
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.
Some interesting numbers: out of the 2500 largest school districts, about a quarter of them have already started trying out 1-to-1 programs, and about half of them are planning to do so by 2011. The Liverpool school district in New York, which is the main example the story focuses on, charged each student $25 a month to use the laptop, or $900 a year to high school students “for the take-home privlege.” Also, the program was voluntary – students did not have to get a laptop, and only about half of the students in the district did so.
This means A) Students could not take the laptops home, except for some at the high school level who paid $900, B) They charged $900 for the laptop, when you can get a decent laptop nowadays for much cheaper, and C) They charged $25 a month, which is a considerable bill, for those who could not afford their own laptop. From that alone it’s no wonder parents were complaining. Also, since only half of the students had a laptop, teachers no doubt were even less inclined to incorporate them into class activities.
There is also evidence that many teachers, if not most all teachers in 1-to-1 laptop programs, are not sure how to integrate the technology into their lessons. See the above quote: “did not fit into lesson plans.” A laptop doesn’t fit into a standard K-12 lesson plan. You have to adapt your lessons to take advantage of the technology available. The problem is, teachers who tried to do so ran up against all the technical problems with the laptops.
There is some improvement to be made in the technology itself. Pretty much every laptop I or people I know have owned has developed a significant problem within 2 to 3 years – monitors dying, bad AC adapters, bad power cards, motherboards failing, and that was with just normal to light usage. Students in schools need more durable laptops or computing tools, such as the $199 Classmate PC, the $175 OLPC Laptop, or PDAs or cellphones. And I would think it would be better if students had 24 hour ownership and responsibility for the devices. Look at the technology as an extension of the child and his or her abilities, not as a part-time toy to use 20 minutes a day in school.
There are improvements that could be made to the context of this technology usage as well. Of course load the technology with high quality educational software and resources, but also develop and share lesson plans that take advantage of the laptops/pdas and are still tied to the K-12 curriculum standards. Develop teacher and school-wide tools to help administer and monitor and communicate with the tools. One example of this is the Praesolus program currently implemented in a few school districts in Texas. In that program, both the teachers and students all use PDAs for pretty much everything, including turning in assignments and grading. By reducing the high costs of paperwork and textbooks, too, that opens up more funding room for the technology, and more importantly for teachers’ sakes, can be a time-saver as well.
Even with the technological and administrative issues solved, there is still the issue of, will the students use the technology appropriately and learn more effectively with it? Yes, students will want to play off-task games, some students will try to use it to cheat on tests, students might harass other students online, students might lose or break their laptops, and students might feel bad if they don’t have a laptop or have a nice enough laptop. As Doug Johnson noted, the same could be said for other technologies as well, even pencils:
1. A student might use a pencil to poke out the eye of another student.
2. A student might write a dirty word or, worse yet, a threatening note to another student, with a pencil.
3. One student might have a mechanical pencil, making those with wooden ones feel bad.
4. The pencil might get stolen.
5. Pencils break and need repairing all the time.
6. Kids who have pencils might doodle instead of working on their assignments or listening to the teacher.