While some educators are championing laptops as the latest answer to encouraging widespread use of computers by secondary students, real-world experience on the part of schools that have distributed laptops shows that things don’t always work out as planned.

Many obstacles remain, according to educators at the Mott Hall School in Harlem, which has been showered with federal and private funds that have put laptops into the hands of a substantial percentage of its middle school students.

For example, some of the school’s teachers have not yet chosen to incorporate computers into their curricula, either through assignments given to children or in their own classroom lectures and projects. Also, the laptops are more effectively incorporated into certain courses than others, such as science courses, in which data manipulation and special effects that computers can display are more obviously technological than material in an English class.

With today’s school curriculum offering a variety of educational and community service experiences, only some aspects of the typical day or week require computers. For example, Mott Hall students perform community service every Monday afternoon, so they generally don’t bring their computers to school for what amounts to a half-day or less of academic work.

Teachers explain, too, that laptops are not foolproof. They break, they don’t connect with the network, and so on.

When these obstacles are surmounted, teachers say their students do benefit from access to computers—particularly in a situation such as the one at Mott Hall, where parents often are unable to afford computers and internet connections in their homes. Students are not only more excited about school work and homework, but they also gain valuable experience in researching information and presenting what they have learned, teachers say.