1:1 Laptop Programs: Shifting the Way Students Learn

This week I was invited to write a guest blog for Edutopia on the #edchat discussion of 1:1 laptop programs and their impact on learning.  The Edutopia blog can be found at  http://www.edutopia.org/1-to-1-laptop-programs-edchat-chris-ludwig but it also appears here:

AP Biology students with their MacBooks

I usually join the 5:00MST #edchat on Twitter but this past Tuesday (January 19th) my colleague @boundstaffpress (Justin Miller) mentioned that I should tune in to the early version of #edchat.  The topic, laptops in the classroom, was one that I follow carefully since I run a science classroom with MacBooks for each student. So I multitasked while teaching and joined some of the #edchat discussion of whether 1:1 laptop programs are the future of education and exactly how such programs are changing education.

One of the main questions at the beginning of #edchat was related to which types of hardware do schools choose and whether students get to take it home:

@RonnieGonzalez Does every student need a laptop to take home or just desktop in their class? Instead of labs, every classroom with a thin client

Many hardware choices exist but for my classroom I chose to use MacBooks. These laptops are powerful enough to do most any task that desktops can do but students could use them in my room at their desks without having to travel to a computer lab.    Students use my class set of MacBooks at school but not at home, although I have checked them out for special projects. Each student does have the ability to personalize their laptop experience, however, and they refer to them as “their” laptops.

Another of the major #edchat concerns was about student misuse:

@seanbanville Big danger is students chatting, surfing, gaming, etc instead of studying.

@lhiltbr Classroom management is also a huge piece. Make sure students know expected routines/procedures/uses of the tools.

I had these concerns, too, when I first started envisioning how they would be used in class. Therefore, since the laptops were new to the students this school year, I started each class off in August with a Technology Boot Camp in which we discussed some basics about the laptops themselves but also began a conversation about what kind of class we wanted to have now that everyone had a laptop.

Students do use the computers for a variety of tasks, most of which, but not all, are directly related to classroom learning tasks. I have no problem with students checking their English class Ning or reading articles in Forbes as long as they are on track with my content. I know that they are on these sites because I use Apple’s Remote Desktop to monitor student use of the laptops.  I can lock all screens if uninterrupted discussion is necessary or chat privately with a student who is off–task or needs help with an assignment.

Probably the biggest area of concern on #edchat was how 1:1 laptops in class would change the role of the teacher and whether teachers could handle the change:

@cybraryman Laptops are wonderful but teacher needs to know how to incorporate the tech & when and how to use it first.

@evmaiden Teachers won’t be replaced by technology but teachers who don’t use tech will be replaced by teachers who do

My style of teaching and assessment of students has changed dramatically now that everyone has a laptop in class.  For example, I now use Edmodo to share assignment files and information with students.  This extends my contact time with students who ask questions and turn in assignments anytime or anywhere because my courses are now effectively online.  Assessment of students can be altered, too, since it is possible to deliver flexible student assessments online using my Moodle site. And, most importantly, each student now has the tools to create digital content that shows their level of understanding of a topic.

A class set of laptops has definitely changed how my classes operate. The most exciting change is the spontaneity and interactivity that laptops bring to classroom discussions. I still lecture at times but students now have instant access to information besides what I offer so if a student finds a relevant example from a reading or video then they can share that with the whole class. Not only that, but students that I have taught in past years who never took notes during lectures are now consistently taking notes using their laptops.

In summary, I think that students with laptops in class are more likely to contribute to class discussions and are able to engage course content in more meaningful ways. So even though schools like mine aren’t yet true 1:1, even a class set of laptops can lead to a major shift in the way students learn.

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