There are a number of factors which are gradually leading to an increasing number of K-12 schools providing a laptop to each student. The cost of devices is diminishing, more studies supporting 1:1 laptop initiatives are being written, computer devices play an integrated role across all of our lives, and an increasing number of teachers have the skill set necessary to integrate computer technology in their classroom. The high hopes of enthusiasts have not been borne out by research, although this does not necessarily support abandoning 1:1 laptop programs. 1:1 laptop programs clearly improve student achievement in writing. In other areas, the results are negligible. Many aspects of 1:1 laptop programs have yet to be studied, including aspects of education which were unforeseen.
American education may be without parallel a set of institutions constantly undergoing reform. A cursory review of its history will reveal controversy from its earliest colonial days to the present. Practitioners, politicians, and parents have a wide variety of often conflicting ideas about proper content, delivery, assessment, and instructional practice. Computers and their proper use have been a focus of all schools increasingly for two decades. Now that costs have decreased, miniaturization has increased, and devices have become ubiquitous in our daily lives, a discussion emerges regarding the trend for schools to provide every student a wireless computer. These programs have many terms in the literature, owing to the newness of the phenomenon: “ubiquitous computing”, “1:1 Laptop Programs”, and so forth. The present literature review focuses on studies done since 2005 on the educational impact of 1:1 laptop programs in grades four through high school. Though studies from prior to 2005 figure prominently in all of these papers as a foundation upon which to build a rationale for research, technological change is so rapid that even 2005 seems a very ancient period in “computer years”. Seven of the eleven studies reviewed here were published since 2010. Those from 2005-2009 were included because they passed the test that the nature of the particular technology used would not have affected the conclusions.
Lemke et al. (2009) offers the best definition of a 1:1 laptop program. It refers to “situations where each student and teacher has access to the use of a personal laptop computer, typically with wireless access. In some cases, laptops are checked out to students for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (24/7).” All studies reviewed here refer to implementations that match this definition. Authors would concur that the benefits of computers in education cannot be fully realized as long as a computer is a shared commodity.
“Effective” teaching can be defined in a variety of ways but here it will suffice to say that it is a practice that maximizes the learning goals of students in the most efficient way possible given constraints of time and human and financial resources. Whether 1:1 laptop programs are tools to increase effectiveness of instructional practice has been examined in many ways and from many perspectives in the literature. Some of these dimensions or themes which emerge include student scores on standardized tests, reading, writing, attitudes toward technology, issues of equity from school to school, funding, leadership, regional differences, parents, teachers, and etc. The scope of this review will be the following themes that emerge from these eleven studies: student achievement, student engagement and motivation, teaching practice, and to a limited extent professional development. These themes were chosen on the basis of their predominance in the literature and on their likely relevance to school districts considering 1:1 laptop programs. Papers by Bebell & Kay, Sell et al., Suhr et al., Ingram et al., Gulek & Demirtas, Drayton et al, and Silvernail & Gritter are all well-designed studies of specific institutions that implemented a 1:1 laptop program. These were selected on the basis of their having been often cited in meta-analyses in this subject area and on the basis of covering a variety of different regions across the United States, namely Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, Maine, California, and Missouri. Papers by Higgins et al. and Lemke et al. were meta-analyses selected for this review to provide a larger context and, in the case of Higgins et al., an international one (UK). Save for Suhr et al., which deals with fourth grade, all of the other studies are middle and high school populations. Finally, the papers by Weston & Bain and Shapley et al. are included to provide perspectives on fidelity of implementation and ways the entire conversation should perhaps be reframed. There is a noteworthy general shift in enthusiasm from the 2005 paper toward the present. As 1:1 computing initiatives become scrutinized for their effects and return on investment, critics have their day and make some strong points worth taking well. Weston & Bain effectively address these criticism.
The student achievement theme is the most highly developed through the literature. It is what administrators and boards of education are asking for when 1:1 proponents bring a proposal to the table. Will our students’ education be better if we give them all laptops? The short answer is that 1:1 programs most strongly support achievement in the area of writing. Shur et al. reports that “there is broad consensus in published research that one-to-one laptop programs create a highly favorable environment for students’ literacy development.” (2010,p. 8). Examining results on standardized tests is the most common way to find support for 1:1 initiatives. In writing there is measurable and consistent improved achievement. In mathematics, the effect is negligible. Other subject areas remain unstudied. (Sell et al., 2012, p. 33; Higgins, 2012, p.3). The most common way these studies examined student achievement was through standardized tests cores. Some administered their own assessments in addition to this (Bebell & Kay, 2010; Silvernail & Gritter 2008). All of these studies include surveys of students and teachers. Suhr et al. presents an interesting paper targeting fourth grade in particular. At this age, there is commonly seen a “slump” in student performance as students move from learning to read to reading to learn. Suhr et al. make a convincing case in a well-designed study (albeit with a small sample size) that a 1:1 laptop program smooths out this slump and improves student performance.
It is only natural that we would tend to judge the new by criteria by which we judged the old. Light intensity can still be measured in candlepower. We still speak of an engine’s horsepower. The width of a standard road is little different from the Roman road. Student performance on standardized tests, considered to measure what we value in academic work, are a natural place to start. However, computers open up the possibility of developing important academic skills that have always been valued and which are not entirely measured on standardized tests. It may well be that the benefits of 1:1 computing programs are to be seen in new and emerging learning opportunities that were not well represented in the previous paradigm and so not predicted or intended as outcomes by the people who set it up. For example, in 1:1 laptop schools, students have access to most of the internet as a source for information. Becoming wise information consumers becomes of paramount importance, since the accuracy and quality of web sites varies from scholarly and researched to inaccurate and foolish. No study in this review measured the degree to which students developed this skill or how and how well teachers taught it. No one expected it. It was not needed before. By way of another example, citing sources according to pre-established formats such as MLA and APA becomes more important earlier in schooling in a digital age. Whereas such training in bibliographic citation and paper styling was reserved traditionally for the end of schooling for college-bound students, it is becoming clearer that such training now needs to rightly happen as early as the middle school grades. Citation generators make this possible, where decades ago composing accurate citations according to the demands of a particular style was far more challenging. No one expected that. We use standardized tests to measure student performance but 1:1 probably does not develop things measured on standard tests but which are valuable. Sell et al. identifies 21st century skills
- ability to work independently,
- be critical in consuming information,
- completing larger or more complex projects,
- working collaboratively (2012, p.33).
And read in Gulek & Demirtas back in 2005, who noted that
- collaborative work,
- participate in more project-based instruction,
- produce writing of higher quality and greater length,
- gain increased access to information,
- improve research analysis skills,
- direct their own learning,
- report a greater reliance on active learning strategies,
- readily engage in problem solving and critical thinking (in abstract).
And finally note in Suhr et al. who state that new digital technologies
- expose students to a wide range of academic language;
- provide scaffolding so that students can comprehend challenging and interesting texts;
- engage students in text-based simulations that spark their interests and motivate their learning;
- provide a wide range of tools for analyzing texts (2010, p.7).
To be continued...The next installment will address the proper direction for further research as well as the following areas that emerge as most studied in the literature: student engagement and motivation and teaching practice and professional development. The next installment will also include some thoughts on the relative strength of the research and describe the the broad consensus regarding measurable student achievement thanks to 1:1 programs.
Bebell, D., & Kay, R. (2010). One to One Computing: A Summary of the Quantitative Results from the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative. The Journal of Technology, Learning and Assessment. Retrieved March 12, 2016, from http://ejournals.bc.edu/ojs/index.php/jtla/article/view/1607.
Drayton, B., Falk, J.K., Stroud, R., Hobbs, K., & Hammerman, J. (2010). After Installation: Ubiquitous Computing and High School Science in Three Experienced, High-Technology Schools. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(3). Retrieved March 12, 2016, from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ873677.pdf.
Gulek, J. C. & Demirtas, H. (2005). Learning with technology: The impact of laptop use on student achievement. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 3(2). Retrieved 13 March 2016 from http://ejournals.bc.edu/ojs/index.php/jtla/article/view/1655.
Higgins, S., Xiao, Z. and Katsipataki, M. (2012 Nov.). The Impact of Digital Technology on Learning: A Summary for the Education Endowment Foundation. Durham University. Retrieved 12 March 2016 from https://v1.educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/uploads/pdf/The_Impact_of_Digital_Technology_on_Learning_-_Executive_Summary_%282012%29.pdf.
Ingram, D., Willcutt, J., Jordan, K. (2008). Stillwater Area Public Schools Laptop Initiative Evaluation Report. Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement. University of MN. Retrieved 13 March 2016 from http://www.cehd.umn.edu/carei/publications/documents/StillwaterReportFINAL.pdf.
Lemke, C., Coughlin, E., & Reifsneider, D. (2009). Technology in schools: What the research says: An update. Culver City, CA: Commissioned by Cisco. Retrieved March 12, 2016, from https://www.cisco.com/web/IN/solutions/strategy/assets/pdf/tech_schools_09_research.pdf.
Sell, R., Cornelius-White, J., Chang, C., Mclean, A., and Roworth, W. (2012 April 30). A Meta-Synthesis of Research on 1:1 Technology Initiatives in K-12 Education. Ozarks Educational Research Initiative Institute for School Improvement Missouri State University. Retrieved 12 March 2016 from https://education.missouristate.edu/assets/clse/Final_Report_of_One-to-One_Meta-Synthesis__April_2012_.pdf.
Shapley, K.S., Sheehan, D., Maloney, C., & Caranikas-Walker, F. (2010). Evaluating the Implementation Fidelity of Technology Immersion and its Relationship with Student Achievement. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(4). Retrieved March 12, 2016, from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ873678.pdf.
Silvernail, D. and Gritter A. (2008). Maine's Middle School Laptop Program: Creating Better Writers. Maine Education Plicy Institute. University of Soutern Maine. Retrieved 17 March 2016 from http://maine.gov/mlti/resources/Impact_on_Student_Writing_Brief.pdf.
Suhr, K.A., Hernandez, D.A., Grimes, D., & Warschauer, M. (2010). Laptops and Fourth-Grade Literacy: Assisting the Jump over the Fourth-Grade Slump. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(5). Retrieved March 12, 2016, from https://ejournals.bc.edu/ojs/index.php/jtla/article/download/1610/1459.
Weston, M.E. & Bain, A. (2010). The End of Techno-Critique: The Naked Truth about 1:1 Laptop Initiatives and Educational Change. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(6). Retrieved March 12, 2016, from https://ejournals.bc.edu/ojs/index.php/jtla/article/download/1611/1458.