Monday, May 7, 2007

Infuriating conclusions about student technology use

Reading this article in the New York Times about how the Liverpool Central School District plans to phase out it's laptop initiative infuriates me!

Here are some of the key ideas:
  • ... the Liverpool Central School District, just outside Syracuse, has decided to phase out laptops starting this fall, joining a handful of other schools around the country that adopted one-to-one computing programs and are now abandoning them as educationally empty —
  • “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.”
This sounds to me like there was a lack of planning and coordinating about the use of the technology in the classroom. You can't just give students laptops and think it's going to make them smarter! Yes, putting a laptop on each student's desk will cause the box to get in the way when that's all you do with the technology. However, when it's integrated in the curriculum, when lessons are modified to use the technologies and to take learning to new levels, when teachers are trained about how and when to use the laptops effectively, and when they are used appropriately 1:1 initiatives have tremendous power!
  • 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.

Don't fit into lesson plans? Perhaps the lesson plans need to be modified, more geared for 21st century learning and thinking. Abused by students? This comes as no surprise... kids abuse everything! Perhaps manufacturers need to work on creating something a little more durable and students need to be trained to value these technology tools. Think of their iPods and gaming devices... they don't intentionally break those. When it means something to them, they value it and take care of it.
  • Such disappointments are the latest example of how technology is often embraced by philanthropists and political leaders as a quick fix, only to leave teachers flummoxed about how best to integrate the new gadgets into curriculums. Last month, the United States Department of Education released a study showing no difference in academic achievement between students who used educational software programs for math and reading and those who did not.

Why do philanthropists and political leaders embrace technologies?? Because they use them daily; their lives have changed as a result of these technologies.... business isn't done as it used to be. But our classrooms haven't changed. They look just like they did way back when. These philanthropists and political leaders may actually be seeing that it's time to bring our schools into the 21st century and that it's time to prepare our kids for their future jobs using these tools.
  • Many school administrators and teachers say laptops in the classroom have motivated even reluctant students to learn, resulting in higher attendance and lower detention and dropout rates. But it is less clear whether one-to-one computing has improved academic performance — as measured through standardized test scores and grades — because the programs are still new, and most schools have lacked the money and resources to evaluate them rigorously.

So there is some good news in this article. Motivating reluctant students. Higher attendance. Lower detention rates. Lower dropout rates. Aren't these great things??? These are successes to be celebrated in their own accord. If students aren't in school, if they drop out, and even if they are there but don't get involved in their learning--their scores won't be so hot. The technology motivates them to try, motivates them to show up, and motivates them to stay in school. It connects to their world.

Take a look at that last sentence of the quote..... no money or resources to evaluate the initiatives rigorously. No wonder there's no good data out there to show the true gains that technology can make when it's planned for prior to dumping all these new tools on teachers and students and when it is used effectively.

Although 1:1 initiatives are expensive, the cost of implementing them half-heartedly and watching them fail is far more expensive. Let's face it: technology is not going to curl up and go away because our K-12 schools weren't about to find a way to embrace it. Technology is here to stay and it is changing every aspect of life.
  • But Mr. Warschauer, who supports laptop programs, said schools like Liverpool might be giving up too soon because it takes time to train teachers to use the new technology and integrate it into their classes. For instance, he pointed to students at a middle school in Yarmouth, Me., who used their laptops to create a Spanish book for poor children in Guatemala and debate Supreme Court cases found online.
Here it is: train teachers? Integrate it into classes? Imagine that. You don't throw computers into existing lessons and make it fit. Lessons have to change. Our goals need to be to have students use these technologies to create, to collaborate, to do things we can't even imagine---but most importantly to LEARN. Allow students to create meaningful products that culminate their work and can be share with others. Not only do they learn and deeply learn, but they help others. and make an impact.
  • “Where laptops and Internet use make a difference are in innovation, creativity, autonomy and independent research,” he 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.”

Great point... laptops are not a cure all. Technology can provide individualized learning opportunities. It can be used to re-teach, to fill gaps on an individual level, and to extend learning. But technology will not replace all modes learning. Teachers are still the best source of learning. However, when teachers embrace technology and are trained to use it effectively, amazing gains will be evident in learning.

1 comment:

Jason said...

read the same article in the PGH Post-Gazette last week and laughed.

This are the key if you ask me - what training was given to the teachers? How was it integrated it into classes?

You posed several good questions and made many good points here.


Jason Burik