Laptops have transformed the way instruction is delivered in the classroom. As both a mobile operating system and information processor, laptops have helped countless teachers be more productive in the classroom and students be more efficient in finding and organizing information. On the other hand, laptops can also be detrimental to learning when in the hands of irresponsible students.
Between 2002 and 2004, the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) provided thousands of 7th and 8th grade students (and their teachers) with laptops in the pursuit to accelerate learning and technological literacy. A survey shortly thereafter revealed that a majority of teachers believed that the laptops helped them meet their curriculum goals and student needs (70 percent), helped them better meet the state's learning standards (75 percent), and helped create a more proactive educational environment (80 percent). In addition, more than seven in ten students believed that the laptops helped them get more work done, be better organized, and produce higher quality content for their classes.
To complement the survey's results, research from the Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment (JTLA) on laptop use and student achievement found that middle school students earned significantly higher test scores and grades when using laptops. Moreover, students who used laptops were more proficient in writing, language arts, and mathematics than students who didn't use laptops. Additional research also reveals that teachers feel more empowered and spend less time lecturing when using laptops in their classrooms.
Laptops are expensive and powerful hardware, and trusting them to high school and middle school students can be risky. For instance, a review of laptop use at Liverpool High School in New York revealed that students used their laptops to cheat on tests, hack businesses, and download inappropriate content. In addition, the school faced countless hardware and software issues as a result of misuse.
With the explosion of social media, teachers at all educational levels affirm that laptops are becoming more of a distraction. Rather than focusing on classroom exercises, students are instead surfing Facebook and viewing videos on YouTube. Since laptops are a medium for students to "hear" rather than "listen" in class, many teachers around the country have banned them in their classrooms.
A Balancing Act
Laptops can be a powerful force in the classroom when used appropriately. Not only do they make teachers more productive and effective instructors, they also make students more efficient learners. The key is balancing student freedom with administrative oversight over what students can and cannot access. If balanced appropriately, laptops can transform the classroom into a more proactive and engaging place of learning that benefits both the teacher and the student.
- Main Education Policy Research Institute: The Impact of Maine’s One-to-One Laptop Program on Middle School Teachers and Students
- Red River Valley Junior Academy: Does Laptop Use Improve Student Learning?
- The New York Times: Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops
- Great Main Schools Project: One-to-One Laptops in a High School Environment: Piscataquis Community High School Study
- Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment: Learning With Technology: The Impact of Laptop Use on Student Achievement
- The Washington Post: High School Teacher: I'm Banning Laptops in Class -- and Not Just Because They Are Distracting
Tim Zimmer is an Associate Consultant at Manhattan Strategy Group (MSG), a management and social services consulting firm that works with Federal, State, and local government agencies.