Sunday, August 20, 2006

Laptops and Schools in TX

As coincidence would have it, a few hours after posting about "technology in the classroom" I find a reference to this article in my email inbox. So now we go from my philosophy directly to practical application. Let's see what we can learn.

Irving's Lorenzo de Zavala Middle School and Lively Elementary are rich in technology, equipped with wireless Internet and laptops for students.

But their students also are among the state's neediest, with many poor and learning English as a second language.

Both were recently flagged for poor test scores.

But the technology gods should overcome those hurdles and fix that, right?

Two years later, the extent of academic gains is unclear – though students widely report being more excited about school because of the technology.

"We already know it has an impact on student engagement," said Anita Givens, the Texas Education Agency's senior director for educational technology. "But over time, we'd also like to see an impact on student achievement scores."

What's the point of being excited about school if you're not learning what you're supposed to?

See, I hear this argument made all the time. "If it weren't for football/wrestling/drama/shop/whatever, this kid wouldn't even come to school." But if they're failing every class but football/wrestling/drama/shop/whatever, what good are we doing? We truly need to determine what the mission of a school is, and I don't just mean that b.s. mission statement that we haggle over every couple of years, the one that talks about safe environments and creating lifelong learners and all that unmeasurable fluff. If the school exists to keep kids off the street, then the argument above holds water. If we're supposed to teach them something, then it does not. Seems pretty simple to me.

The study compared math and reading scores of sixth-graders at 22 schools in the Texas Technology Immersion Project with those from 22 schools without the technology. "In fact, students in immersed schools had slightly lower scores than comparison students," the study noted.

Interesting. Needs more study.

"Overall, it's not just how often you use the technology – it's how well you use it," said Kelly Shapley, director of the Texas Center for Educational Research, which conducted the study.

"We did see some significant effects on student technology proficiency and school satisfaction. But it didn't translate into academic achievement in the first year."

Regarding the first sentence--duh. Technology is a tool, nothing more. Regarding the second--let's continue this study and see if there's any improvement. I hope you taught the teachers, and well, how to use these tools, or you'll get no improvement at all.

Students and teachers expressed concern about how distracting they can be during class.

"I play policeman more often than not when my kids are online," a teacher in the survey wrote. "I'm not able to help students because I'm always shutting down instant messaging and e-mail sites."

This doesn't surprise me at all. It might also be a part of why there hasn't been test score improvement; they've made it easier for the students not to pay attention!

And from the mouths of babes we get:

One student suggested using the money spent on laptops on "textbooks and better teachers to raise student's GPAs."

He (or she) said it, not me!

There's plenty more in the article. It's fairly balanced in coverage between pro and con, although to me the cons outweigh the pros. You're free to make your own call, and post your comments on the topic here at Right On The Left Coast.


Onyx said...

I'm not surprised. The technology may be in place but the teachers do not have the expereince to actually teach all the programs that we are expected to use. I spent TWO days learning how to make a 3 minutes presentation using a new program. I'm not sure it was worth all that effort for a 3 minute presentation. I'd be happier if they could do basic math without a calculator

Anonymous said...

Most people, teachers included, probably have basic computer skills. Those who want to know how to do more than send e-mail, surf the web, word process and do spread sheets, etc, will take the time to either play around with their computer and figure things out or will take classes to learn how. However, like the previous commenter brought up, it takes time. For teachers to really learn how to effectively utilize computers in their curriculum and to feel comfortable instructing students in how to use this as well, I believe it would take at least an entire summer of training and then follow-ups throughout the school year. As an aside, I agree with you, Darren, that computers are not the magic pill to fix underperforming schools and students. It's just the latest fad.

Anonymous said...

I suspect you know what I think about it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised either, and I've been negative on the "more computers for the classroom" mantra since the 1980s. I use computers daily, and I cannot see how just using computers can ever take the place of, say, memorizing the multiplication table. And from my own experience, word processing really does not facilitate the creative process; it would be best if a would-be writer formulates what he wants to say in his head FIRST instead of splaying words onto the screen shotgun-style and trying to assemble it into something logical later.

Ellen K said...

I have to say that my Texas district offered a laptop initiative for teachers, which I have taken advantage of and used. I have a multimedia projector and I do use quite a bit of internet material for explanation or enhancement. But it doesn't take the place of barebones learning. The district where my son attends high school tried a similar program where a computer company offered laptops and parent instruction and all sorts of gimme's to a school with low scores, low English acquisition, etc. While there were some marginal gains, so many of the computers ended up riddles with spam, hacked into and stolen, that the program was discontinued. Strangely enough, the former education commissioner for State of Texas wanted this programs to be law state wide. He wanted to substitute technology for teachers with the idea that anyone could learn from a computer. Any decent computer tech will tell you that GIGO-Garbage In/Garbage Out is a basic precept for using the device. It's a machine, not intuitive and despite the most sophisticated programs, unable to determine when a student has actually learned something. This guy was voted out. Thank God.

Ellen K said...

When I returned to work in 1999, I was a school computer tech. Lowly paid and with low esteem on the totem pole that is the public high school. I had teachers who had been successful for year, shelve computers in the corner only to trot them out for observations. I had the head of the math department tell me she would gladly get rid of the entire computer lab if she could limit her classes to 20 and actually teach them. I had foreign language teachers laugh at the programs they were supposed to use because they were so stilted and out of touch. Sure technology has move on in 7 years,but it still won't replace an human teacher.

Anonymous said...

I've seen highly successful teachers borrow from their teaching time to allow for computers to teach the same curriculum (ie. how to write an essay), either by pressure or because they hoped that the computer program would enhance what they already do, and then have their students' writing scores go down. Don't fix what is not broken. If you have teachers in the classroom who cannot teach without computers than maybe that is a problem.