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1:1 Laptop Programs: Shifting the Way Students Learn

Chris Ludwig

HS science teacher in La Junta, Colorado
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I usually join the 5 p.m. MST #edchat on Twitter, but this past Tuesday (January 19), 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 I follow carefully, because 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 schools choose and whether students get to take them home:

@RonnieGonzalez Does every student need a laptop to take home, or just a 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. Students 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, because 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 a video, they can share that with the whole class. Not only that, but students 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.

Check out the rest of the #edchat transcript here. If you have never participated in an #edchat conversation, please join us on Twitter every Tuesday at 12 p.m. EST/6 p.m. CET or at 7 p.m. EST/1 a.m. CET.

Chris Ludwig teaches chemistry, biology, AP Biology, and Anatomy and Physiology at La Junta High School, on the eastern plains of Colorado. He graduated with honors from the University of Arizona with a bachelor's degree in molecular and cellular biology in 1993. He then pursued a doctorate in neuroscience at Washington University, in St. Louis, won a National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship in 1994, and left the neuroscience program with a master's degree in 1999 to take his love of science back to the community through teaching. Read more.

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Dr. Joan Bradley's picture

Congratulations, Chris, on the 1:1 laptop experience you are giving your high school students. Isn't it wonderful to see how engaged students become when they are empowered to use technology in learning? You're spot on when you say that once they understand how technology will change the learning experience and they are given guidelines of how to work with a tool they enjoy, they begin to demonstrate new levels of initiative and responsibility.

I worked as Head of an Elementary program in Britain. The school had a strong reputation for it's Elearning program which began with 8 year old students. Parents were required to purchase laptops and so because they belonged to the students, they were able to take them home for completing assignments, for research and for pleasurable use as well. To support their decision-making regarding appropriate use of laptops, we conducted workshops for parents and gave periodic talks to children. The school's character education program emphasized qualities such as honesty and responsibility and this was emphasized throughout the school day.

Elearning and laptops were introduced as part of the school's "21st century competencies" curriculum - which identified 10 competencies considered essential to succeed in the 21st century. Data manipulation and verification was a top priority and this lead to the introduction of laptops starting in the elementary school.

The impact on student-learning was powerful. It enhanced the integration of literature into other subjects since students could easily research topics on any subject and then use a variety of media to present their findings; for example, PowerPoint, Photostory, website creation, etc.

I would be eager to share my experience with anyone interested in knowing more about the program. My email address is joanbbradley@gmail.com

Kind regards,
Joan Bernard Bradley, Ed.D.

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Hello everyone-

I just came across this FREE 02/03 webinar on "Worry-free Strategies for School Laptop Management." Might be helpful to many of you interested in finding an easy, cost-effective way to manage a 1:1 program. http://bit.ly/6v8WUH

Chris Ludwig's picture
Chris Ludwig
HS science teacher in La Junta, Colorado

Thanks for the comment, Joan. One of the points that I would like to make again is that many school districts (and parents), especially in the current financial climate, are not able to afford a laptop for every student. Even if they could buy laptops there is the whole issue of Internet access at home that could diminish the utility of the personal laptop.

I think most districts should start with a class set for each teacher and work up from there, especially if the district does not have a history of managing student laptops. Fewer laptops are easier to manage and care for and school-based laptops avoid the issue of Internet access at home. A class set of laptops can deliver the benefits of 1:1 access without some of the drawbacks.

Randy's picture

Our school of 3000 recently purchased 40 laptops with a cart. They roll into our rooms if we are lucky enough to schedule them. After they are there, we word process since we do not have internet access. Then we hook them to the desktop printer, one by one, to print essays.
Although this is quite a beginning, we really wouldn't know what to do if we had internet access. How do we get strong inservice on this????

Dawn's picture

Hello! I am in the very beginning of a pursuing my Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education and was assigned a blogging experience. The online community that I'm a member of is in the process of encouraging teacher collaboration that goes beyond the school. I'm obssessed with integrating technology in my classroom and am so glad that I came across this website.

I teach Kindergarten in a low income area so accessing personal laptops is not ideal. I would LOVE to be afforded the opportunity...maybe in the future. We do have MAC computers in the classroom, which I LOVE...and so do my students.

I may have to start a fundraising event.

Thanks again for your insight.

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