November 23, 2010

Reason #1: Autonomy and Ownership

[The first installment of the series which examines the question Is a one-to-one laptop program essential to improve student learning for today’s learners?]

Reason #1: 1:1 laptops allow for autonomy and ownership of student learning.

Imagine for a second that you had to give up your laptop and go back to a shared desktop computer in a lab setting. What would you lose? What would frustrate you about that sacrificial shift?

A laptop will provide students with a sense of ownership—not just of the machine—but of their own learning. A few examples….
  • Software: Particularly programs which allow them to collect, process, and share the elements of their learning. OneNote, for example, is a powerful note-taking and organizational tool that allows students to catalog and organize all their notes for class, supplementing typed notes with hand-written or hand-drawn elements (if they have a tablet), relevant web-clippings and visual media, audio recordings from class discussions or group work. Students can create a set of notes for each class, unit, and lesson, that includes the visual and interactive aspects that best help them learn and remember. For research, the program will allow for collecting all sorts of offline and online material and sources, often linking back to the original web source, and allowing for robust organizing and processing of material into coherent reports and projects. OneNote also lets students and teachers share pages or entire sections, enhancing the collaborative environment for learning. OneNote is amazing and can take note-taking and research way beyond the usual outline and note cards. (I’ve said more than once that I wish I had this during my grad program!)
(Note to my colleagues: If you don’t have OneNote installed on your PC laptop…get it! Call or email the help desk and she’ll get you set up.)
  • Storage: Students become completely responsible for storing and organizing their documents, photos and video, presentations, etc. It means they have it with them at all times, but it also means learning how to manage all their digital content themselves…including backup plans. Something all of us need to learn a little more about?
  • Personalization: You know that feeling you get every time your laptop is “re-imaged”? You log on and things aren’t where you left them. That’s what our students do each time they log onto a lab machine. Individual laptops allow each student to create an environment that works smoothly for him or her. Their bookmarks, desktop shortcuts, and Start Menu buttons are always there. They can create templates for common tasks (lab reports, online posts for class, class notes, etc.) in a variety of programs. The “recently used files” feature is actually useful to them on their own machine. Contacts in Outlook, default font styles in Word, their Skype account information, their saved login passwords, useful plug-ins and add-ons in their browser…all of these just “work” when students are working. None of these are present on a common lab computer.
  • Care: Successful 1:1 programs report that when students 'own' the device, they care for it so much better than the previous lab machines. Beyond just the physical treatment of their personal device, student learn the need for power management, virus protection updates, regular backups, and all the other necessary skills for functioning effectively in a digital world.

Next post: Reason #2…Provides convenience and ready access to resources.

[I would invite and welcome comments on this particular point. When commenting, please keep in mind that there are other reasons coming and other opportunities to express your thoughts on specific topics. Please try to avoid comments which are too general. Thanks!]


  1. On the other hand--a shared way of taking notes means that just one person in the class "needs" to be learning note-taking--much as the current state of "doing homework" by copying someone else's. This reduces the learning for many students, and most often it reduces the learning by those who can least afford it.

  2. An advantage related to ownership that comes to mind is the students' preparedness for any given presentation based on what home computer they used or how they saved their work. In that light, I do see a great advantage to owning these laptops. No one can have an excuse, as they all have the same machine with the same software installed, the same updates, etc. There is, of course, a consequence to that benefit. We are essentially shifting the students' responsibility of problem-solving away from them. I would love to not have to deal with students' excuses when their projects do not show up, but I also think that it is a good lesson for them to have to go back and figure out another way to make it work. How did you save your document? Where did you save it? Can you try this?

    Also, while I very much agree with the "care" argument, I am concerned about how these laptops will be stowed and toted around the school. I would hate to see the laptops partake in the piles of overstuffed backpacks that are strewn about the corridors! Yikes!

  3. Having used OneNote this year, I can agree with Cory's assertion that it allows a student the opportunity to organize their materials effectively. However, what will not change with the addition of a laptop program-- or any other program for that matter-- is the nature of our students and the nature of our challenge in educating them.

    For the most part, I would say that most of our students are exceptionally well organized already. And while a laptop equipped with OneNote or any other software will certainly present another organizational option, my expectation is that those students who are "manually" disorganized will find ways to be digitally disorganized. Instead of sifting through crumpled papers in a backpack, they will search through folders and OneNote tabs to find oddly titled documents. We could certainly use digital tools to teach them organization, but is this essentially different from teaching them a more "old-fashioned" method of organization? Isn't the principle what we are after, and isn't it essentially the same either way?

    A similar concept strikes me with regard to the research and collaborative potential in shared software. These represent truly amazing opportunities, but I find myself as a high-school teacher primarily concerned with basic research principles: the evaluation of sources, incorporating data into an argument, proper citation. Without question, all of these could be accomplished using a shared platform, tablet PCs and projection, but a front and back photocopy of 3 or 4 sample articles teaches the same principle. Learn to use the SmartBoard to save paper.

    Without question, our strongest and most motivated students could do exceptional things with this technology. I wonder, though, if the majority of our students' educations will be significantly improved-- to justify not only the expense but the time commitment we will be asked to contribute.

    With regard to storage, personalization and care, I don't see any improvement of my current courses in these points. I already hold my students "completely responsible for storing and organizing their documents, photos and video, presentations, etc." I presume that personalization features are currently available to any students who use their own laptop in my class, and not of concern to those who do not. And I suspect that our very responsible students will learn to care for their electronic equipment with time and experience, as they have learned to care for the many expensive devices their parents currently entrust to them.

    I am all for the use of technology in the classroom, including individual laptops for those students who accept the challenge of using them responsibly. I am excited about different and emerging technologies' potential to enhance my teaching and improve my students' abilities to think and write clearly and effectively. I am skeptical as to the potential of a one-to-one laptop program to uniquely improve those abilities. I am concerned that this program (which IS coming) will only make the increasing challenge of cultivating those abilities even greater.