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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Lots of laptops, not much learning

Eighth-grade algebra students use laptops to graph polynomials. Photo: Ricki Morell

Maine launched its laptops-for-all program 15 years ago, reports Robbie Feinberg on NPR. “Maine became the first, and still only, state to offer a statewide laptop program to certain grade levels.” Are students learning more? Not in measurable ways.

. . . after a decade and a half, and at a cost of about $12 million annually (around one percent of the state’s education budget), Maine has yet to see any measurable increases on statewide standardized test scores. That’s part of why Maine’s current governor, Paul LePage, has called the program a “massive failure.” “The fact that we’re not seeing large-scale increases in student learning leads us to suspect we still need to do some work with helping schools and teachers understand and keep up with the best ways to use technology for student learning,” says Amy Johnson, who researches education policy at the University of Southern Maine.

James Welsch, who teaches American politics at Gorham High School, uses technology to “put the world on the desk of each kid.” It’s great for discussions, writes Feinberg. “His students write blog posts, read each other’s work, and share videos and articles — all online.”

But technology can undercut writing skills, Welsch believes.

Then he started to notice that when some students turned in their essays, the writing wasn’t as fluid as it was when the students were putting pen to paper. “You could also see an increase in copy-and-paste,” he says. . . . Because of that, he says, in some courses he requires his students to write out their essays by hand.

Utah and Nevada are implementing “one to one” (one laptop per student) programs based on research showing well-implemented programs improve learning in writing, math and science, writes Feinberg.

“Well-implemented” is the key. Maine has stinted on teacher training.

Some college professors are banning laptops in lecture classes: Research shows “allowing computer use in the classroom, even with strict limitations, significantly reduces students’ average final-exam performance.”

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