Removing Laptops and iPods from School

Today’s New York Times has a story about an increasing trend that schools around the country are removing laptop computers from the school. Not only computers distract students from learning, but they have not enhanced the testing scores, according to the article. Here are some really neat quotes from the article.

“After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool, one of the first districts in New York State to experiment with putting technology directly into students’ hands. “The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.”

“Last month, the United States Department of Education released a study showing no difference in academic achievement between students who used educational software programs for math and reading and those who did not.”

Mark Warschauer, an education professor at the University of California at Irvine and author of “Laptops and Literacy: Learning in the Wireless Classroom” (Teachers College Press, 2006), also found no evidence that laptops increased state test scores in a study of 10 schools in California and Maine from 2003 to 2005. Two of the schools, including Rea Elementary, have since eliminated the laptops.

Well, have these people considered their way of teaching might have to do with this? Sure, when you teach kids exactly the same way and for the exactly the same outcome (standardized test), sure, there will be no change. Why would there be any change?

But, then I came across an article by Mike Elgan, about the growing trend of school’s banning iPod in the school (I see a trend here. I guess anti-technology is cool among school administrators in some parts of the country. It will be interesting to see what will be banned next.) At any rate, in that article, Mike Elgan argues that schools in fact should encourage students to use iPod during the exam.

“So many college students I’ve met — even at some of the nation’s top universities — are there because they have an aptitude for memorization. Many straight-A high school students have few interests, little curiosity and zero inclination toward intellectual discovery. Our system rewards the memorizers and punishes the creative thinkers. An iPod, when used during tests, is nothing more than a machine that stores and spits out data. By banning iPods and other gadgets, we’re teaching kids to actually become iPods — to become machines that store and spit out data. Instead, we should be teaching them to use iPods — to use that data and to be human beings who can think — and leave data storage to the machines. By banning iPods, we’re preparing our kids for a world without the Internet, a world without iPods, a world without electronic gadgets that can store information. But is that the world they’re going to live in?”

I love the way he thinks. This is from Professor Makr Warschauer in that NYT article.

“Where laptops and Internet use make a difference are in innovation, creativity, autonomy and independent research,” he said. “If the goal is to get kids up to basic standard levels, then maybe laptops are not the tool. But if the goal is to create the George Lucas and Steve Jobs of the future, then laptops are extremely useful.”

Few years ago, there was a big scandal in South Korea, when few high school students were found cheating using SMS during the national college entrance qualifying exam (like SAT). They criminalized the students and their collaborators. And I agree that students who unfairly cheat during the exam should be penalized. Yet, a bigger question that should have been asked is this. Given that one can easily answer the question by using SMS, shouldn’t we ask ourselves whether we are asking the right kind of questions to these new kind of kids who grew up with technologies in their entire life? While the ethical dimension of this problem is not insignificant, equally significant is the structural aspect of that incident. That is, schools are not asking the right kind of questions. The schools should be asking the type of questions that cannot be answered easily by simply pressing few buttons on your cell phone. If one can get the “right” answer that way, that question is not worth asking to begin with. Again, Mike Elgan ends his article this way:

“A revolution has occurred. In one generation, we’ve transformed a world where information is scarce and hard to find to a world where nearly all knowledge can be available to everyone, all the time. Instead of pretending that revolution never happened, let’s take advantage of it to propel students into a successful future. Let’s teach them how to deal with the new problem of too much information. Let’s stop banning iPods and start requiring them.”

With that spirit, watch this video.

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