Laptops' Academic Effects Remain Unclear

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Programs that provide students with laptop computers help improve their attitudes and writing skills, but don't have much effect on standardized-test scores, according to a study expected to be released this month.

"Academic achievement was mixed. Some of it was up, and some of it was down. There's no way of crediting it to the laptops alone," said Saul Rockman, the president of Rockman Et Al, an independent research firm in San Francisco, and the lead researcher for the study.

The study, which was paid for by the Microsoft Corp., examined 12 programs that have provided laptops to every student in a class, grade level, or school for at least two years. All of the programs bought their laptops through Microsoft's Anytime Anywhere Learning project.

Mr. Rockman presented preliminary findings from the study at a meeting held in February in Seattle for educators participating in such programs.

One reason why the programs did not result in higher test scores, he speculated, is that standardized tests might not measure the skills that students acquire by using laptops.

The study did show other positive educational effects of laptop programs, however.

It found, for example, that laptop-using students produced higher-quality writing than their peers who didn't have laptops, based on comparisons of essays the researchers asked students to write.

Students with laptops also were more likely than those without them to say that "computers make schoolwork more fun/interesting," and that "computers help me improve the quality of my schoolwork," according to a survey of 465 students.

Laptop programs may also contribute to changes in the way teachers lead their classrooms, the study suggests. Teachers in one-laptop- per-student classrooms said they spent more time using group work, multiple activities, and independent study than they did three years ago. They spent less time using direct instruction.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Vol. 19, Issue 39, Page 14

Published in Print: June 7, 2000, as Laptops' Academic Effects Remain Unclear
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