I agree with a recent editorial in the Ocala Star-Banner (Florida) paper questioning the value of Governor Jeb Bush’s T3 proposal (Technology Tools for Teachers) that would spend $188 million to provide each teacher in the state of Florida with a laptop computer. Laptop computers for teachers won’t revolutionize education, or by themselves lead to much change in classroom instruction or student achievement. Read Larry Cuban’s book “Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom” or Todd Oppenheimer’s “The Flickering Mind: Saving Education from the False Promise of Technology” for support and elaboration on this opinion.

The instructional philosophy with which many teachers approach classroom instruction, which is strongly influenced by the curriculum directives of state legislatures, NCLB, campus administrators, and their own rich experiences with a content-transmission model of instruction, is what needs to change (in many cases) more than teacher access to technology. Teachers do NOT need access to technology to be effective educators who help students not only develop knowledge and skills, but also cultivate a love of learning and passion for things that matter. As Dr. Alan Glenn, former dean of the College of Education at the University of Washington has said, “It’s philosophy, not technology, that will change your classroom.” We need teachers who embrace project based learning, authentic problem solving, and in-depth rather than in-breadth learning for students. Reforms along the lines of The Common Principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools are needed much more than new teacher technology purchases: in Florida and elsewhere in the nation.

While we should recognize the more influential role of pedagogy / instructional philosophy over technology in supporting school reform and improved student achievement goals, we should also acknowledge the importance of providing access to digital technology tools for students. The digital divide is real. And students need our help in cultivating digital literacies.

Rather than giving all teachers a laptop, I recommend the state of Florida and other state education agencies vigorously pursue laptop pilot projects where ALL STUDENTS as well as teachers on a campus or in certain classrooms have laptop access 24/7. This initiative needs to be well supported with relevant digital curriculum, infrastructure needs (wireless networking connectivity), and professional development. The State of Maine’s laptop pilot project is a model more states should consider. Indiana’s state pilot project with Linux laptops needs further study as well: Especially if schools are considering laptops running the Windows OS, Linux is a much more cost effective and viable option.

Would some teachers like a laptop computer? Sure! Would provision of a laptop to every teacher in a state make teaching tasks any easier, necessarily help students acquire 21st century literacy skills, or even raise test scores (the myopic focus of most state legislators)? Not likely. This quotation in the article by Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, reflects the views of many teachers when it comes to computer technology upgrades:

It is a real problem and real drain on teachers, but I’ve always found that every time I get an upgrade of technology, my workload doesn’t get easier. It’s [the T3 proposal] kind of a Band-aid, a little gimmick that he’s using to sell teachers on this.

In addition to providing money for 1:1 laptop pilot initiatives, states need to fund certified, technology integration coaches / facilitators on campuses where broad-based integration of technologies within classroom instruction is a desired outcome. Otherwise implementation successes will remain spotty and isolated.

The video Technology Integration Done Right: Lewisville ISD provides some good insight into a school district’s use of technology integration facilitators to effectively help teachers learn to use technology in their classes more effectively. The process of doing this has much more to do with certified teachers providing hand-holding and personalized assistance (just in time) to other teachers than it does with hardware purchases.

I’m glad Florida Governor Bush is wanting to support teacher salary raises and expenditures on educational technology. Projects which focus on 1:1 laptop immersion for all students and teachers, however, seem more likely to make a noticeable impact on the educational landscape compared to a teacher-laptop proposal.

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6 Responses to Teacher laptops won’t change education

  1. Kary Ellis says:

    I work in a distrist where all teachers and all high school students have access to laptop computer 24/7, in a way i love the technology and what it does for my students. We are learning to use all the software on the computer, such as PowerPoint, fireworks, blogging, paint, excell, word, internet searching for project and many others. It is teaching the students the proper way to do the thing they will use on the job and keeping a very watchful eye out for computer porn, and online chatting during class time. My classroom managment has changed a lot. I have to be aware of what all of my students are doing at any given time when we are on the computer and in my class we use it 100% of the time. I love it and it has helped me with all kinds of things, such as grades, using gradespeed, I do not have to do the avgs. myself, I can make note for my classes using Powerpoint and there is no paper to keep track of, it is all in my computer, including my students work.

  2. Nikki says:

    To the previous poster: I’m sure this sounds petty, but I can’t help myself there is something inherently wrong to see a teacher with typos and punctuation mistakes in her writings. It reminds me of a visit I made to a 3rd grade classroom and the teacher was presenting a lesson to the students and she didn’t know how to spell cigarettes. She was asking the 3rd grade class about the correct spelling, as she was attempting to spell it out on the board. Now that is serious!! Proofreading my dear teacher only takes just a few seconds. *Tsk* Tsk*

  3. Nikki says:

    And no laptops won’t change education, an accountability of the system itself will.

  4. […] Teacher laptops won’t change education (Via Moving at the Speed of Creativity.) Wesley Freyer: “As Dr. Alan Glenn, former dean of the College of Education at the University of Washington has said, “It’s philosophy, not technology, that will change your classroom.” We need teachers who embrace project based learning, authentic problem solving, and in-depth rather than in-breadth learning for students.” […]

  5. Wesley Fryer says:

    Kary, you are fortunate to teach in a district where students and teachers both have access to laptops. Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow research indicates the integration process is multi-year and multi-phase, and it sounds like great progress is being made in your context and classroom.

    No worries on the typos, I have always been more concerned with ideas than grammatical perfection. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. Best of luck as you continue to blaze new trails with 1:1 learning.

    Nikki, I think your point is also well taken on proofreading, one of the things I have really enjoyed using with blogs (esp for commenting) is some webpage spellcheck solutions that are free. Often when we look at the work of others, including students, we see grammatical errors first before we see ideas. This is natural I suppose, but it is also important to listen to the message someone else is communicating in addition to looking its “wrapper.” This is especially true when communicating with an international audience, many of whom many not speak English as a first language.

  6. Bruce Deger says:

    Our district has two middle schools with different laptop programs, each in its third year. One is a 1:1, 24/7 implementation for teachers and students. The other is a 1:2, cart-based environment. Both were supported with the necessary wireless infrastructure, teachers were provided with identical professional development/support and both received considerable, indentical digital curriculum.

    Some brief observations supported by data:
    *Both have been successful in getting a majority of the teachers to change the way they teach. Project based, student centered learning carries the day.
    *Students from both schools have comparable 20th century technology skills.
    *Parents from both schools have embraced the technology and appreciate the ability to check grades, assignments, view student projects and communicate online.

    A few opinions supported by observation:
    *A minority of teachers at both schools have not changed the way they teach. The negative impact on students is much less in the 1:1 environment, however, because the students are much more likely to teach each other and explore new ways of learning in spite of the teacher.
    *Teachers in the 1:2 environment are required to be more accomplished with the technology than those in the 1:1. For example, a teacher in the 1:1 can simply require that students complete a multimedia project using the tools of their choice. The students can work together outside of school to support/teach each other how to use the various software. A teacher in the 1:2 school, on the other hand, needs to teach the students how to use the tool and answer questions on its use during class time. This is a bit of a simplification of the issue, of course, since students in the 1:2 school can help each other and can transfer skills from one class to another.
    *Projects take more class days to complete in the 1:2 school since students can’t take the computers home. The school has a friendly file transfer tool, but its effectiveness is limited since students don’t always have the necessary software at home to work on the project. Also, multimedia project files are often too large to move via the Internet. In summary, students at the 1:2 school use more class time than their counterparts at the 1:1 school to complete the same project.

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