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Do one-to-one laptop programs improve learning?

By Laura Devaney, Director of News, @eSN_Laura
May 25th, 2016

laptop study

A Michigan State University study found surprising results when researchers analyzed laptop programs

Students who receive a laptop computer from their school tend to see a noticeable increase in academic achievement, a Michigan State University study reveals.

Michigan State University’s Binbin Zheng and colleagues analyzed past studies on one-to-one laptop initiatives, and Zheng’s own research, and found that such programs that take a comprehensive approach, including offering one-to-one program support to both students and teachers, saw higher test scores in English, math, science and writing, along with other benefits.

“In the past couple decades, one-to-one laptop programs have spread widely, but so has debate about whether they are cost-effective and beneficial to educational outcomes,” said Zheng, assistant professor of educational technology and lead author on the paper. “I believe this technology, if implemented correctly, is worth the cost and effort because it lifts student achievement, enhances engagement and enthusiasm among students, improves teacher-student relationships and promotes 21st century skills such as technological proficiency and problem solving.”

Correct implementation is key, Zheng emphasized, and simply distributing laptops to students will not boost achievement.

“Just putting a laptop before a student doesn’t really help them with anything,” Zheng said. “Technology should not be implemented for technology’s sake.”

But one-to-one laptop programs in which each student in a class, grade level, school or district gets a computer, can improve educational outcomes when there is teacher buy-in, suitable technical support and professional development for teachers, and appropriate implementation with the curriculum.

In addition to improved scores on standardized tests, students involved in successful one-to-one laptop programs also saw improved writing skills.

“Students received more feedback on their writing, edited and revised their papers more often, drew on a wider range of resources to write and published or shared their work with others more often,” Zheng said.

The researchers reviewed nearly 100 academic studies on one-to-one laptop programs dating back to 2001, although only 10 of the studies were scientifically rigorous enough to use in a statistical “meta-analysis” in the paper. Zheng said more in-depth studies are needed to further identify what works and what doesn’t with one-to-one laptop programs.

With the price of some laptops now falling below $200 and schools in the United States and other countries using more computerized assessments, a growing number of schools are considering implementing individualized laptop programs.

“Knowing the general impact of these programs,” the study says, “can help school districts better shape their technology policies.”

The paper appears online in the Review of Educational Research. Zheng’s co-authors are Mark Warschauer, professor at the University of California, Irvine; and Chin-Hsi Lin, assistant professor, and Chi Chang, doctoral candidate, both at MSU.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

About the Author:

Laura Devaney

Laura Ascione Devaney is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura