My turn

So I am late chiming in on the NY Times laptop article. You know the one…the one that says one-to-one laptops are not showing any improvement in learning and schools are ditching their programs left and right. Justin wrote a great post on it over at Medagogy. Chris Lehmann chimed in over at Practical Theory. Warlick put in his 2 pennies. In the Ed Tech blogosphere, this article is everywhere.

Here’s the thing. Almost every complaint/dig/slam of the laptops in students’ hands came from the perspective of the teacher. Laptops “did not fit into lesson plans”… “It’s a distraction” … “The box gets in the way … “They are too hard to manage” …

Where laptops and Internet use make a difference are in innovation, creativity, autonomy and independent research…

[Oh, I get it, and we wouldn’t want that? (where is that sarcastic font when I need it?)]

It could be that laptops in students’ hands are useless as the article suggests, but doesn’t that seem counter-intuitive? Doesn’t access to information and opportunities to engage, communicate, and think with students in a way that they use, interact, and enjoy in their own time sound like a good thing? And doesn’t providing students in a school setting with tools that they use regularly,outside of school, seem like a chance opportunity to engage them in discussion about responsible use, being safe, and the implications of their online behavior? I could go on.

Instead, I offer this question: is it not also likely that the teachers are not sure how to use the laptops with the kids in a proactive, educationally sound way?

Could it be that teachers are the very digital immigrants that we talk about as being so different from our digital native kids? And if that’s the case (it is) then isn’t it likely that if scores aren’t supporting improved learning then maybe it isn’t the technology failing, but rather the people entrusted with using them well who aren’t doing the job. (before you lynch me, it isn’t their fault…read on)

Often the most simple, logical answer is the right answer.

News media like to emphasize possibilities that surprise you. It’s not a secret that they like to sensationalize. Even the New York Times. Providing laptops and access to information to kids is a positive move for learning sounds right. It’s why so many people did it. It should be a good thing.

So why isn’t it?

Were we wrong? Maybe, but not likely. Ideas that are so intuitively sound are usually not wrong.

Instead, could it be that WE DID IT WRONG? Probably.

Most teachers are not social networking and blogging and thinking about the needs of 21st century learning. They are Math teachers and English teachers and Grade 2 teachers who were trained to be the kinds of teachers that we had when we were kids. Their ideas of best teaching practice come from a world before laptops in classrooms and probably before Internet access was possible (particularly for schools).

And I’ll be the first to say that good teaching is good teaching. That sharing passion and engaging students in subject matter and learning has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with a teacher.

But that’s not what we are talking about here. We are talking about the teachers for whom the technology was expected to solve less-than-good-teaching (or at least not inspirational teaching). And that wasn’t going to happen. It was unfair to teachers and to the technology to have expected it. (luckily, the technology’s feelings weren’t hurt)

What teachers need with technology is REAL professional development and REAL support. They need technology support people whose job is to make sure that they understand what good laptop classroom management looks like. It isn’t hard to keep kids off of mySpace during class. But if you’ve never had to think about it before, you might not know how to do it. These tech support facilitators need to be 100% devoted to the implementation of technology in their schools. They need to be available to team teach with teachers to model good laptop classroom management strategies and share integration ideas. It is their job to learn new technologies and figure out their implications on learning. Teachers are too busy to keep up with that stuff. (see Kim’s post on always learning)

The shame of it all is that the reaction of schools to abandon laptop programs is hurting the students. Once again, decisions are being made that are “most convenient for us, not best for them.” (Dangerously Irrelevant) Sure, in this case, the decision is couched behind scores that haven’t improved, but the causality is all wrong.

Do it right and it will work. Do it wrong and it won’t.

“A good craftsman never blames his tools.” (thanks, Keith Olbermann and ESPN Sportscenter!)

It’s worth noting that perhaps these schools and districts concede that they will never hire these support people or create a professional environment in which teachers have an opportunity to succeed. If they concede this, then they might as well abandon the laptops.

But if they really want kids to learn WHAT THEY NEED TO LEARN, then the cause of why it didn’t work must be looked at. And then they must bring the laptops back with an infrastructure in place (training, personnel, HELP) so that teachers aren’t pre-destined to fail, but rather are given a real and fair opportunity to succeed.

In the end, if teachers, schools or districts resist or deny this, then it is the students who suffer and who ultimately will not be prepared for their future. Our past is over. We must stop insisting that learning only happens when it matches the testing and models of that past.

Laptops are gateways to information. They can instigate real learning about ethics, communication, safety, responsibility, and high-order thinking. But they need a teacher to do that. A teacher supported and prepared and passionate to do that.

Our curricula of content mired in Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies is not preparing students for anything but further education focused on these same subjects.

What students learn needs to be different and how they learn needs to be different.

But that’s another post.

  1. May 11th, 2007 at 09:56 | #1

    Excellent post Dennis!

    Lately I’ve been remembering that the things I read about online are accepted by a very small community of learners. For me it feels like the world. But, then I read about the whole laptop situation and remember that we edubloggers are actually few and far between.

    I am the only teacher at my school that maintains a professional blog. I think there are one or two others that read blogs when they have time, but no one else has adopted this 2.0 lifestyle – most are still somewhere around 0.5. Somehow in my virtual world, it’s so easy for me to forget the real world – the one where we are now removing laptops from the classroom…

    We have to figure out a way for all of the schools (at least all of the international schools in our region – I can be a little bit selfish, right?) that are going through the same growing pains can collaborate to deal with these issues. Why does every school deal suffer through these challenges on their own? Surly more minds working together can develop a solution that would work for multiple schools, right?

  2. dharter
    May 11th, 2007 at 12:19 | #2


    I hope that this is what the small (but powerful) edublogosphere is doing. I don’t know yet if Principals and Heads are talking about this sort of stuff yet. And I know that many tech directors like to talk about network administration and budgeting over learning and curriculum.

    But we who do care are small in numbers but at least strategically located and hopefully willing to share our professional dilemmas with each other. With this in place, we can help each other come up with solutions.

    The real luxury of course, is going to be having you AND Justin to work with next year. How often does that happen?! I can’t wait.

  3. May 16th, 2007 at 03:17 | #3

    Thanks for the recent comment Dennis which led me here – and it has been a most thought provoking read. The messages you put forward make a great deal of sense and I no doubt will have these ringing in my ears as we proceed with our own endeavour.


  1. May 15th, 2007 at 10:13 | #1
  2. May 20th, 2007 at 02:43 | #2