A study from Michigan State University found significant improvement in academic achievement in schools that provided students with their own laptop computer or a similar device.
Academic improvements were noted in the areas of science, writing, math, and English. Lead author Binbin Zheng said teachers who get the most out of the laptops use them to enhance their curriculum rather than simply to take notes.
"In the past couple decades, one-to-one laptop programs have spread widely, but so has debate about whether they are cost-effective and beneficial to educational outcomes," said Zheng. "I believe this technology, if implemented correctly, is worth the cost and effort because it lifts student achievement, enhances engagement and enthusiasm among students, improves teacher-student relationships and promotes 21st century skills such as technological proficiency and problem solving."
Zheng went on to say that simply handing a student a laptop did not help them, and that technology should not be implemented just for the sake of increasing the use of technology. She said it is the one-to-one laptop programs, where each student receives their own laptop, that improves educational outcomes for students because the teachers become highly involved. These programs typically offer teacher buy-in, technical support, and professional development for teachers, in addition to implementing the technology into the curriculum.
She added that laptops were found to be more beneficial than computers in a school lab because students have the capability to take the laptops home with them for further learning opportunities, reports Will Greenberg for Michigan Radio.
However, laptops are an expensive commodity, and Zheng suggests schools only consider making the purchase if they already have a curriculum in place that would benefit from the addition of technology. She said other devices are available, such as netbooks, at a lesser cost.
Not everyone agrees with the idea that laptops can provide additional resources for learning inside the classroom. A recent OECD report shows reading and math scores not having increased in the countries that have invested the most in technology. In addition, one teacher told Stefani Cox for Big Think that she does not believe most of the educational computer apps currently on the market to hold much influence over student learning. The teacher said that the majority of these apps simply take content that children would have otherwise read in books and present it in an animated fashion.
Yet the Michigan study not only found higher test scores from students who had their own laptops, but also a deeper writing and research process. Researchers noted that the strongest results were found when teachers became involved and offered support in addition to integrating the technology into their already existing curriculum.
The writing and research process used by students changed as well, with laptop program offering students more feedback on their writing, as well as additional help with editing and revising. In addition, more resources were used to write the papers, and the technology allowed students to publish or share their work more often.