As the debate over the impact of one-to-one computing programs in schools wages on, educators throughout Texas are reporting some encouraging results. Less than three years after launching the Technology Immersion Pilot, or TIP, an experimental pilot project that provides select middle school teachers and students with their own portable, wireless machines, educators and technology leaders throughout the Lone Star State say learning is on the rise; students are more engaged now than ever before; and teachers are finding it easier to do their part in preparing students for the challenges of the 21st century. Schools were invited to participate in TIP through competitive grants under the Title II, Part D (“Enhancing Education Through Technology”) section of No Child Left Behind. TIP includes 22 immersed middle schools and 22 control schools as part of the evaluation study funded by an “Evaluating State Educational Technology Programs” grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The goal of the program is to increase the academic progress of students and prepare them for the global economy. This includes teaching students to communicate, solve problems, and access, manage, integrate, evaluate, and create information to improve learning in all subject areas. In the process, participating students acquire technology knowledge and skills.

One of the major concerns of teachers and parents was how well students would take care of their laptops. Providing laptops on carts at school was a familiar practice, but allowing students to take laptops home was a fairly new concept. Before issuing laptops to students, schools developed acceptable-use policies that included guidelines for bringing laptops to class, charging batteries, appropriate internet use, and care of the laptop and its accessories. Schools invited parents to orientation meetings to ensure expectations were clearly communicated, and parents and students signed the policy documents.

Students stepped up to the challenge and have demonstrated increased responsibility not only for the laptops, but for their own learning as well. In the early months of the project, schools reported such advantages as increased engagement, greater student and teacher enthusiasm, more parental involvement, and fewer discipline problems.

One TIP principal reported, “Our campus has gone from being designated a ‘Low-Performing’ campus for not making Adequate Yearly Progress to ‘Recognized, Meeting AYP.’ There is no doubt in the minds of our students, teachers, administrators, and parents that this would not have been achieved without TIP. The students have become more responsible for their learning, more active in their participation in the classroom, and much more knowledgeable about the role of technology in problem solving and learning.”

A TIP teacher reported, “My students have much more interest in writing now that they can do it on the computer and get it graded instantly. The feedback is immediate, and the students seem to take more responsibility for their mistakes and their grades than before.”

Many TIP schools report that their students come to school early, stay late, and even visit the school parking lot on weekends so they can connect to their school’s wireless network. The ability to turn in class assignments and homework electronically reportedly helps students stay organized and complete their work on time. Some TIP schools are holding special technology classes for parents; community members and students are learning basic computer repair and trouble-shooting techniques. Laptops are collected from students at the end of each school year and issued again in the fall. At most schools, returning students receive the same machine they had the previous year–a practice that helps students recognize the importance of taking care of their equipment.

So far, feedback from the community has been encouraging. Said one parent recently: “The biggest advantage of the laptop is that my child has constant access to technology. Because her access isn’t dependent on the number of computers in a classroom, she has the opportunity to develop fluency in the use of computer applications. I’ve seen her research and communications skills improve, and the laptops make it easier for students to share information as they work on collaborative projects.”

Data from an evaluation of the project conducted by the Texas Center for Education Research has confirmed these early results.

Engagement

Teachers consistently report that students are more engaged in learning when lessons incorporate laptops. Teachers also contend the laptops have helped improve students’ vocabulary, creativity, and communication skills, as well as the reading skills of English as a Second Language students.

Students say the laptops have enabled them to find more information for reports or projects, do better research, complete work more efficiently (by typing rather than writing), submit their assignments or receive information from a teacher, and become more organized through electronic storage of their work. In the words of one student, “Laptops give you the possibility and chance of learning good things.”

Student responsibility and discipline

Teachers on some campuses say having the laptops has improved students’ responsibility and attention to their work. Many agreed the machines constitute a useful “carrot” for improving discipline and say the threat of losing laptops is sufficient to remedy most behavior problems. Some educators have reported that student attendance has improved and discipline referral rates are on the decline. In many cases, they say, students are behaving better since the program began. “The kids just act better when they’ve got a computer,” explained one educator.

Many students also believe having a laptop has forced them to act more responsibly. Said one student: “You have a bigger responsibility to take care of laptops, because they told us that once they’ve been issued to us, they are our responsibility–and that if we break them, or do something to them, then we have to pay for them.”

Schools reporting the highest success rates thus far have established clear rules for laptop use and logical consequences for rule infractions. Students in these schools are well aware of expectations for behaviors such as keeping their laptops charged, avoiding inappropriate web sites, attending to proper laptop care, bringing their laptops to school each day, and not leaving their machines unattended. Students also believe their teachers are holding them accountable for higher-quality work because of the increased availability of computers and informational resources, our research has found.

Disciplinary occurrences reported by immersion and control campuses for the 2005-06 school year confirm educators’ and students’ perceptions. Immersion schools reported significantly fewer disciplinary actions that resulted in the removal of a student from any part of the regular academic program than did control schools for both the sixth and seventh grades. Specifically, sixth- and seventh-graders at immersion campuses had an average of 0.53 and 0.76 disciplinary actions, respectively, compared with 0.69 and 0.90 for students at control campuses.

Proficiency and equity

As a measure of their technology proficiency, students in immersion and control schools were asked to rate their skills in using technology applications on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (“I can do this not at all or barely”) to 5 (“I can do this extremely well”). A comparison of sixth-graders’ initial proficiency status in fall 2004 and their growth across two years (measured in spring 2005 and spring 2006) revealed that both economically advantaged and disadvantaged students at immersion schools reported higher levels of proficiency at a significantly faster rate than their student counterparts in control schools.

The yearly rates of change in technology proficiency for advantaged and disadvantaged students in immersion schools were 0.41 and 0.47 scale-score points, respectively. This compares with 0.21 and 0.27 scale-score points, respectively, for advantaged and disadvantaged control students. Economically disadvantaged students in immersion schools who began with lower levels of technology proficiency surpassed advantaged control students in proficiency by the end of seventh grade, results showed.

Some educators believe students’ stronger technology skills support the case for more sophisticated laptop use. For example, students in some schools used their laptops to take notes in class, even in classes where they had not taken notes previously, or went to the library at night to access the internet for research. Some students also developed the ability to troubleshoot laptop problems and solve them without requiring technical support.

Preparation for the future

Educators on many campuses believe technology immersion is preparing students for the future, noting that students in immersed schools will be better equipped for the technological demands of high school, college, and the workplace. Teachers in small towns also said the laptops provide students with greater access to the world than they might otherwise have. One technology coordinator explained: “Our students have a much greater awareness of technology in terms of knowledge and skills. … It’s given them the opportunity to see things that students in a small, rural community like this do not have the opportunity to see … They’ve got a whole different perspective of the demands that are going to be placed upon them as a result of living in such a technological age like we do.”

Recognizing that educational goals are not limited to test scores alone, one teacher said, “If the goal was to educate and to facilitate and open these children’s minds to other things outside the world of our rural town … that’s happening with computers. We’ve been all over the world.”

Links:

Technology Immersion Pilot
http://www.txtip.info

“Interim Report on the Technology Immersion Pilot”
http://www.tea.state.tx.us/technology/lrpt/InterimReportTIPDec06.pdf

Evaluation of the Texas Technology Immersion Pilot
http://www.etxtip.info

Anita Givens is the senior director for Instructional Materials and Educational Technology at the Texas Education Agency.