Laptop Programs: Why are They Failing?

Posted: April 2, 2008 in edushifts, mobilelearning, rants, tools

I came across the following NY Times article today in my feed reader. It’s about how school districts that have adopted 1 to 1 laptop programs are abandoning these programs because they are very expensive and are showing no progress in student learning. The article cites that, ” …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.


I feel frustrated. What seems to be under the microscope is not teaching practice but the technology. Don’t get me wrong, if the technology really isn’t helping kids learn, then it would be wasteful to continue using it. However, it doesn’t appear from this article that classroom teaching changed to reflect the presence of this powerful technology. The comments that the laptops “…did not fit lesson plans…” and that the programs encountered “…resistance from teachers…”confirms this point. Also, the comment that students are using the laptops to play games shows that teachers are not monitoring what their students are doing.

The criticism of cost is not really an argument if the money spent on the technology is being taken from budgets that were previously used for textbooks. No one ever talks about how money is being wasted on textbooks despite the fact that the information found in textbooks is already obsolete when they are given to students. Besides, with the introduction of the ultra-portable laptop and their $300-$400 price tags, using technology may actually be cheaper than buying textbooks. It’s interesting that the article focuses on money spent on the program but did not discuss the potential savings of such a program.

Then there was this comment: “Alice McCormick, who heads the math department, said most math teachers preferred graphing calculators, which students can use on the Regents exams, to laptops, which often do not have mathematical symbols or allow students to show their work for credit. “Let’s face it, math is for the most part still a paper-and-pencil activity when you’re learning it,” she said.” Only a generation ago, many of these same teachers were arguing against the use of calculators in math class and now they “prefer” them? True, math in today’s classroom is still a paper and pencil activity but mathematics in the real world is not. And we wonder why there is such a disconnect between school and the world outside of school. And then we wonder why students feel that what they learned in school is useless to them.

I have to agree with Mark Warschauer’s comment: “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.

When are we ever going to learn!!

  1. daniel1992 says:

    My school is seeing success, to my knowledge. Almost all students have them, and this year every incoming sophomore was required to have one. We have many teachers who embrace the technology, and we actually use it. No paper report cards, lots of electronic assignments, and just using the laptops.

    They have some issues, but in general they work terrifically. We even have a student-run helpdesk for setting up and fixing the laptops (which I am a member of).

    Pity that other schools can’t just embrace them and see their power in the classroom. As for math, apparently they have never heard of Mathematica? That is one insanely powerful program. Picture a TI-89 with 500x as much power and a full keyboard.

    –Written on my school-required laptop

  2. Thanks Daniel for your comment. I noticed from your blog that you are a student. It’s really nice to hear that great things are happening in laptop programs. Is your school a private school or a publicly funded school?

  3. Michael McIlveen says:

    The NY Times article is a cautionary tale for we who have yet to evolve…

    Rob, we don’t even have to come up with the pedagogy – there are educators all over the place using this technology to their students’ ed-vantatge!

    It’s a difficult pill to swallow: From my experience with on-line and e-Learning options at colleges, universities, and private schools, it now appears that we’re the last to move forward.

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