Monday, May 21, 2007

Reasons FOR classroom laptops

This is a good counter to the NY Times article bashing classroom technology. On a related issue, I also found a thoughtful rebuttal by a non-academic addressing those professors banning student laptops or Tablet PCs from the classroom. I agree that throwing laptops into the classroom simply because students demand it or the school wants to improve recruitment will tend to result in failure. As with any big project, putting computers in the classroom takes careful consideration, namely in the areas of
  • culture changing
  • new teaching techniques and training
  • IT infrastructure
  • software for computer control and interaction

Limitless money and good intentions won't guarantee success. In my experience, classroom laptop projects live and die by the shift in the teaching culture that must occur among administration and faculty. And this doesn't happen the same way for everybody. Some faculty are hands on and must tinker with the technology for awhile before a commitment. Others won't budge until they hear directly from peers about their successes and failures. Still others will seem to resist until the end but seeing their administrators "eat their own dogfood" will go a long way in slowly changing these holdouts.

Regardless of your philosophy, one thing is for sure: today's students will accept and adopt technology much faster than their teachers. So perhaps the greatest challenge for teachers is to accept this and enlist student assistance for positive change in the technology classroom. This allows faculty to remain subject-matter experts and students to be empowered learners.

An aside: For the K12 schools that make it to 1:1, I think it is completely unrealistic for boards or senior adminitrators to demand quantitative learning gains in the first couple years of a laptop program. This statistic requires longitudinal data and a carefully controlled experiment PLUS grade improvement is only one indicator or outcome of a successful laptop program. I encourage administrators to bear this in mind when defining outcomes for success. Kershaw County School District has done a good job of managing these expectations and measuring other results such as digital equity, attendance rates, and student confidence. To learn more about metrics for success, visit CoSN's Value on Investment (VOI) site.

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