The initial reaction to this question by many people is, “What a ridiculous question!” However, there are many key issues to consider, like cost, ease of use (is the computer screen too hard on our eyes for extensive reading?), maintenance and repair (if students carry them from class to class, will they break?), but most importantly, student learning (what is the best way to help students learn?). In order to come to a conclusion on the subject, all of these issues must be explored.
First let’s look at cost. Publishers can create a CD of their textbooks, and at a greatly reduced price because there is no need for paper, printing and binding. However the costs can be spread to the purchasers in other ways. The need for the technology to use the CDs is the largest expense. However, most districts spend money on technology already, and with the purchase of a laptop for each student, the need for computer labs should eventually become minimal or obsolete as laptops are purchased.
This should be considered when looking at costs of purchasing laptops and text CDs. Another side effect of giving, renting or requiring student purchase of laptops is that other computer functions like word processing and PowerPoint should be included with the initial purchase, and all students will have similar ability to access programs to complete homework assignments. Reading a computer screen can be difficult for long expanses of text, so I think that the cost of printing saved by the publishers will be passed on to the owner of the printer to which student computers are connected, though the cost will be considerably less than binding a textbook.
Some students may not be organized in keeping pages in order, or throw away the chapters after they are finished, so if students want to refer to the book in the future, they may find a need to reprint parts of the book.
Paper will inevitably be wasted. The actual cost difference may be hard to discern, but it is likely that a laptop with digital text combination, in the end, will be more expensive. The question is, what are the priorities of the school district? Should school districts sacrifice student learning in the interest of a cost savings? Some computer companies offer special programs,
or quantity discounts. Some districts may require parents to purchase laptops. Henrico County Public Schools in ia, offers insurance on laptops, which the school system owns, to parents for $50.
Tracy Unified School District in California at their charter school, Discovery Charter School, has implemented a laptop program, and replaced their textbooks with laptops for 20% more than the cost of textbooks. They expect the costs to decrease because, in the future, they will only need to replace laptops that are broken, and purchase new discs for their textbooks
Ease of use
Next, consider ease of use. If a school can hook up a wireless network, students should be able to access online sources from most places in the school, including study hall. Teachers should no longer hear that students could not get into the library or lab to complete assignments, and students will be free to explore the ability of the technology more completely.
In fact, teachers may find themselves changing their method of teaching to best utilize the technology. Schools that implement a laptop program should employ technology people to teach students and teachers how to use them, to maintain the machines, as well as keep networks in order. This is very important to help minimize frustration on the part of students and teachers. It is very frustrating to have a lesson planned and not be able to go forward because things out of your control are not working properly.
Student learning is the most important thing to consider when deciding teaching methods. Laptop computers allow for more interactivity with subjects by using multimedia methods. Publishers Holt, Rinehart and Winston show concepts like photosynthesis using animation which enhances printed words on the subject. Students can also reach WebQuests and other simulations such as frog dissections on the Internet. Students can create projects using PowerPoint and many other programs to illustrate what they have learned. All these things support a constructivist atmosphere which has been shown to enhance learning.
Pros and cons
A good way to analyze the question is to create a list of pros and cons on the subject. In the category of pros:
The ability to replace outdated and incorrect information quickly and inexpensively.
Computer literacy, which can be important in the job world, becomes second nature to students who have constant access to a computer.
Interactivity is enhanced with laptops and a constructivist atmosphere is fostered.
Use of laptops allow a student led atmosphere by instituting a more project-based method of learning, also promoting a constructivist atmosphere.
Concepts are easier to grasp when presented in a multimedia way.
A laptop for each student builds a bridge across the digital divide.
Giving students an expensive piece of equipment encourages responsibility for the equipment.
Many students and teachers who have been part of laptop programs in schools report increased organization capability.
Students can “trade” places with teachers, offering new information that was not known to the teacher or class, fostering a sense of pride and self-esteem.
Some texts offer students the ability to highlight and annotate while studying.
Teachers in laptop schools report that students create longer and more well written assignments because they need not use resource books to locate
spelling and grammar mistakes. Students report that they learn about writing styles better because of the instantaneous corrections.
If the district uses digital texts, students will not need to carry huge and heavy textbooks from class to class. Backpacks will be lighter and damage to spines will be less likely. Students also may need to spend less time in their lockers. The cons are not as numerous, but contain more “weighty” items:
The possibility of theft (will the laptops make students a target?)
Breakage and maintenance are expensive and can cause students to lose time on projects.
The laptops themselves are expensive, although some vendors offer huge discounts to schools and for quantities purchased.
There is a need to have a good connection to the Internet, preferably a wireless one.
The teachers must be on board, or they will not utilize the laptops and the resource will be wasted (and the money spent will be wasted).
Plagiarism is a greater temptation with easier access to the Internet.
Students may become distracted and get off task more easily.
Technology failure, of all types.
In fact, on a survey given to teachers at Piscataquis Community High School in Maine on their One-to-One Laptop Program, there were only three main complaints after two years of involvement in the program: 1) Laptops causing distractions, 2) inappropriate use of the computers, and 3) technology failure.
One perspective to consider is that when school districts buy textbooks, students have a few activities they can accomplish using them. They can read and study to learn. They may find practice quizzes and further resources in textbooks but they must take the initiative to go to the library, or search for information, and grade their quizzes.
The functions of a textbook are few, though important. When a school districts buys a laptop and digital information for a student, the student finds him/herself able to not only read and study to learn, but able to fully synthesize the information with interactive quizzes, and links for further information, as well as an ability to produce a paper or other end product. Students will not need to have a computer at home, or visit a public library or computer lab to complete their assignments.
As well, all students will be using the same programs. The most useful places to find information about laptop programs is from schools that have implemented them for three years or more, so the Hawthorne affect has diminished, since most of them have been in the news, studied or scrutinized in some way. Also by then, the novelty of using new technology, which can inspire students to study more, has worn off. In Maine, standardized test scores for eighth graders have been only slightly elevated or the same over non-laptop schools.
In an article by Andrew Speyer called “Technology in Schools: Why Laptops?”, Mr. Speyer states that “A laptop in a classroom will not result in students having higher SAT scores. It will not guarantee that students will have higher grades, better attention, or learn the daily material more completely. . . Control will shift from a teacher-based experience to a collaborative experience. If there is any single argument for the use of laptops in a classroom this would be it.” Even with no significant improvement in scores, laptops are still worth having because they support constructivist methods, which has been shown to improve learning.
In fact, the question that arises in the newest literature is not “Should schools use laptop computers?”, but “Can hand helds replace laptops?”
Laptops can not only replace textbooks, but can enhance student learning overall. Using computers on a consistent basis can move a classroom toward a more collaborative method of learning. With laptops students would be able to have access to the Internet for research, word processing, and PowerPoint programs anytime, even in study hall.
If a school district can take the money they would normally spend on textbooks and add some of their technology money, they may be able to achieve a goal of providing a laptop computer for each student over time. Even if standardized test scores remain the same, there are still advantages to having a laptop for each student.
Regular Ed students write longer, more complete assignments, possibly due to ease the of using word processing and better resource searching ability. Buying laptops and digital textbooks may be a huge step to take, but a district may be able to work their way into them slowly by introducing laptops a grade level at a time, or in various other ways. If the goal of the district is to maximize student learning, individual laptops may be a good way to do it. Laptop learning supports constructivist activities, which have been shown to improve learning.
Activities which students have a say in choosing for themselves, and choosing their own methods to complete, allow them to become more enthusiastic and involved with their learning. They can become more like partners in their own learning, rather than fairly inactive absorbers. With a laptop a complete project can be accomplished, but with a textbook, only half of a project can be accomplished.
AUTHOR: Alisa Humphrey
Curtis, D. (2003, December 16). The Maine Event. Edutopia Online. Retrieved October 10, 2004 from http://www.glef.org/php/article.php?id=Art_1119. Chapman, G. (1998, June 15). Push to trade class textbooks for laptop PCs is a misuse of technology. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 6, 2004 from http://www.utexas.edu/lbj/21cp/laptops.htm. Cook, G. (2002, July). Laptop Learning. ASJB.com. 189 (7). Retrieved October 9, 2004 from http://www.asbj.com/2002/07/0702coverstory.html. Harris, Walter J. & Smith, Lori. (February 2004). Laptop use by seventh grade students with disabilities: Perceptions of special education teachers. Maine Education