Laptop computer technology is just like any other tool: it can be abused and used poorly or it can be leveraged powerfully to engage students. The major difference is the instructional philosophy with which the teacher approaches the educational enterprise. Why are we here in school? Do we just want students to fill out a virtual worksheet on the computer instead of a xeroxed worksheet with a pencil? Hopefully not. We need to use computer technologies in schools to help students cultivate REAL relationships with real people. We need to help students develop authentic literacy skills, not just good test-taking strategies valued only in the context of classrooms focused on high-stakes accountability.
Just yesterday I tried to make the same point to someone who emailed me about a 1:1 handheld implementation. I closed the email with “the most important factor in the success of a handheld implementation is your teachers.”
Professional development can (and in the case of the grant I managed, did) help. In retrospect, though, I would start out by targeting educational philosophy rather than technical skills. We were several months into the project when I realized what was wrong. We were helping teachers learn the Handheld Learning Environment, which is what I was asked about over email. The idea was that teachers could use this suite of interconnected open-ended applications for project-based learning with their students. During one training I was shocked to have a teacher say to me, “why do we need to go through all this? Isn’t it more efficient for me to write things on the board and for the students to copy them down?”
I remember thinking, “what planet is this person from?” But of course, we were just approaching the whole idea of educating middle school students from entirely different educational philosophies.