From the very beginning, the Maine Learning Technology Initiative received a lot of attention across the country and around the world. One of the most frequently asked questions was and is, “Do laptops improve learning?” Even when Auburn published their research on 1to1 iPads in kindergarten, we were asked if it were the iPads or if it were something else.
1to1 advocates readily recognize, however, that technology does not raise test scores or improve achievement. The answer to the question of technology improving learning is a resounding “NO!”
Only good teachers and teaching improve learning.
But technology is an amazing tool for teachers to leverage for their students’ learning. Educators are finding that technology, especially when students have access to it anywhere/anytime, is a powerful tool that allows for improved teaching and learning.
This isn’t a contridiction, it is simply placing credit where credit is due. A classroom full of laptops or iPads which aren’t being used, or aren’t being used well, will have no benefit to students and their learning. Only when teachers are using them well does learning improve. Handing technology to students is insufficient for improving learning.
In fact, the research on technology initiatives indicates that when schools put too much focus on the technology (ie treating their initiative like a “tech buy”) there is no significant benefit to achievement. And even if laptops and iPads are a relatively new phenomenon, the importance of distinguishing between a focus on technology and a focus on learning, is not. Analyzing over 700 studies, Schacter concluded in 1995 that technology initiatives have to focus on teaching and learning, not the technology, in order to be successful: “One of the enduring difficulties about technology and education is that a lot of people think about the technology first and the education later” (p. 11). Studies that show a negative impact of technology often indicate that the initiatives themselves focused on hardware and software, or teachers taught about the technology instead of using the technology to enhance learning experiences.
Maine recognized from the beginning that MLTI could never be about laptops alone, a position that Auburn continues with their iPad initiative. Both initiatives recognize that the real value of technology in schools lies not in learning to use technology, but in using technology for learning. You cannot separate the technology, and learning and teaching, and the professional development in MLTI or other 1-to-1 initiatives. The initiatives are all those things together. Intentionally. You can’t just say, “well then it was just the professional development and the technology doesn’t matter.”
In fact, the technology matters a lot. You have to remember that many students are doing things with their laptops that aren’t convenient/possible without the laptop. Sure you can write with pen and paper, but research shows that the quality and quantity of writing improves because of the perceived ease of revision and editing. Sure you can look up extra facts in the library after class, if you want to go to all that trouble. But it’s a lot more likely to happen when a student can just flip open the laptop, open the browser, and do a search. The technology extends our capabilities as teachers and as the engineers of students’ learning experiences.
Only when technology initiatives focus on teaching and learning (includinng well supported teachers) do the initiatives impact achievement.
“Do laptops improve learning?” is not, nor should it ever be, the right question. The right question is “How are teachers using technology to improve learning?”
Reference: Schacter, J. (1995). The impact of educational technology on student achievement. The Milken Exchange on Educational Technology.