One-to-one computing programs only as effective as their teachers

Studies show that 1:1 success depends more on teachers than on the equipment itself.

Studies show that 1:1 success depends more on teachers than on the equipment itself.

A compilation of four new studies of one-to-one computing projects in K-12 schools identifies several factors that are key to the projects’ success, including adequate planning, stakeholder buy-in, and strong school or district leadership. Not surprisingly, the researchers say the most important factor of all is the teaching practices of instructors—suggesting school laptop programs are only as effective as the teachers who apply them.

The studies were published in January by the Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, a peer-reviewed online journal from Boston College’s Lynch School of Education.

Despite growing interest in school 1-to-1 computing programs, “little published research has focused on teaching and learning in these intensive computing environments,” say editors Damian Bebell, an assistant research professor at BC’s education school, and Laura O’Dwyer, an assistant professor of education.

According to Bebell and O’Dwyer, a big mistake that both researchers and educators make in talking about 1-to-1 computing programs is assuming that by adding computers to the classroom, nothing else has to change.

One-to-one computing “refers to the level at which access to technology is available to students and teachers; by definition, it says nothing about actual educational practices,” say the editors.

The studies they present are intended to shed more light on how 1-to-1 programs influence, and integrate with, teaching practices.

The studies found improvements in student engagement and modest increases in student achievement among classes using laptops effectively. But results varied widely among the various programs.

For example, in a study of laptop programs in five public and private middle schools in western Massachusetts, Bebell and Rachel Kay, a doctoral candidate in the Educational Research, Measurement, and Evaluation program at BC’s Lynch School of Education, found that teaching and learning practices changed when students and teachers were given laptops, wireless learning environments, and other ed-tech resources.

Bebell and Kay found that while the implementation and outcomes varied across all five schools and across the three program years, access to 1-to-1 computing led to measurable changes in teacher practices, student engagement and achievement, and students’ research skills. Specifically, seventh graders in the second year of the program showed statistically significant gains on state test scores in English and language arts after controlling for prior achievement.

But one school struggled with laptop implementation so much that students weren’t using technology any more frequently by the third year of the program than were students in non-laptop classes.

It’s “impossible to overstate the power of individual teachers in the success or failure of 1-to-1 computing,” Bebell and Kay write. “Teachers nearly always control how and when students access and use [the] technology during the school day. In addition, teachers must make massive investments in time and effort to adapt their teaching materials and practices to make the 1-to-1 environment effective and relevant.”

Similarly, a study of laptop use in 21 high-need Texas middle schools noted that “teacher buy-in … is critically important, because students’ school experiences with [the] technology are largely dictated by their teachers.”

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Can social media cure low student engagement?

Students can access an array of education applications of Facebook Courses.

Students can access an array of education applications from Facebook Courses.

Keeping college students and their professors connected through social media outlets could be key in boosting graduation rates, education technology experts said during a panel discussion at Social Media Week in New York.

Social Media Week ran through the first week of February in five cities worldwide—New York City, San Francisco, London, Sao Paulo, and Toronto—and authorities from the business world, academia, and other fields discussed how social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are shaping global culture.

During a Feb. 6 session called “The Future of Social Media in Higher Education,” a five-person panel explored how colleges can use social networking to communicate with traditional and nontraditional students, what impact the new Apple iPad might have on student-faculty communication, and why Blackboard is not meeting some students’ social media needs.

Read the full story at eCampus News

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Google tweaks Buzz social hub after privacy woes

As it introduced a new social hub, Google quickly learned that people’s most frequent e-mail contacts are not necessarily their best friends, the Associated Press reports. Rather, they could be business associates, or even lovers, and the groups don’t necessarily mix well. It’s one reason many people keep those worlds separate by using Facebook for friends and LinkedIn for professional contacts, or by keeping some people completely off either social circle despite frequent e-mails with them. Google Inc. drew privacy complaints this week when it introduced Buzz and automatically created circles of friends based on users’ most frequent contacts on Gmail. Just days later, Google responded by giving users more control over what others see about them. Google introduced Buzz on Tuesday as part of its existing Gmail service. The service includes many of the features that have turned Facebook into the Web’s top spot for fraternizing with friends and family. Like Facebook, Buzz lets Gmail users post updates about what they are doing or thinking. Gmail users can also track other people’s updates and instantly comment on them for everyone else in the social circle to see. But while Facebook requires both sides to confirm that they are friends before making that relationship public, Google automatically does so by analyzing how often they’ve communicated in the past. Those frequent contacts become part of the circle of people you follow and who follow you.

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Higher Education: Four-year education … Is it really necessary?

As costs rise, the reality of paying for an education looms larger for students and parents, changing their approach to college searches and their perception of the college experience, high school counselors say in a report by The Saratogian. Increasingly, the decision of whether to opt for a two- or four-year college is going hand in hand with the cost. Kathy Kennedy, Saratoga Springs High School’s guidance department director and a counselor for 25 years, said students and parents today are more price-tag conscious and savvy. “They’re definitely more sophisticated about the price,” Kennedy said. Laurel Logan-King, Ballston Spa High School coordinator for careers and counseling, said she sees costs increasingly playing an overriding role as students and parents try to map out the steps following graduation. “When the rubber meets the road, they’re pretty good with the decision-making,” Logan-King said. Finances are “the number one decision between the kids and their families.” As a result, more families are considering community colleges. When deciding between pursuing a two-year or four-year degree, local experts at high schools and in higher education are hard-pressed to tell students that one is better than the other. Each has its benefits and drawbacks.

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Microsoft unveils new mobile software platform

Microsoft unveiled on Monday an upgrade to its mobile operating system as the US software giant seeks to regain lost ground in the competitive handset market, according to an AFP report. Windows Mobile 7 was made public on the first day of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, ending months of speculation about what Microsoft had in store for the industry’s biggest trade show. The new system, which follows the launch of Windows Mobile 6.5 in October, is “a major new step in our strategy,” Nicolas Petit, director of Microsoft’s mobile division in France, told AFP. “It is a total break from what we were doing before,” Petit said. Microsoft completely changed the platform’s interface, with a “dynamic screen” allowing users to install his or her favourite icon, from music, to contacts and social networks, he said. It was inspired by the design of Zune, the Microsoft MP3 player that is only available in the United States at the moment.

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Schools face big budget holes as stimulus runs out

The nation’s public schools are falling under severe financial stress as states slash education spending and drain federal stimulus money that staved off deep classroom cuts and widespread job losses, reports the Associated Press. School districts have already suffered big budget cuts since the recession began two years ago, but experts say the cash crunch will get a lot worse as states run out of stimulus dollars. The result in many hard-hit districts: more teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, smaller paychecks, fewer electives and extracurricular activities, and decimated summer school programs. The situation is particularly ugly in California, where school districts are preparing for mass layoffs and swelling class sizes as the state grapples with another massive budget shortfall

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Twists multiply in Alabama shooting case

On Friday, this city of rocket scientists and brainy inventors was stunned when a neuroscientist with a Harvard Ph.D. was arrested in the shooting deaths of three of her colleagues after she was denied tenure, The New York Times reports. But that was only the first surprise in the tale of the neuroscientist, Amy Bishop, who was regarded as fiercely intelligent and had seemed to have a promising career in biotechnology. Every day since has produced a new revelation from Dr. Bishop’s past, each more bizarre than the last. On Saturday, the police in Braintree, Mass., said that she had fatally shot her brother in 1986 and questioned whether the decision to dismiss the case as an accident had been the right one. On Sunday, a law enforcement official in Boston said she and her husband, James Anderson, had been questioned in a 1993 case in which a pipe bomb was sent to a colleague of Dr. Bishop’s at Children’s Hospital Boston.

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AASA keynote: Focus on children, or risk nation’s status

We need to rethink our priorities as a nation, Canada said.

We need to rethink our priorities as a nation, Canada said.

Referring to the significant challenges facing public education today as a crisis that threatens the nation’s status as a global leader, educational trailblazer Geoffrey Canada urged school leaders to push for more funding and do “whatever it takes” to make sure all students succeed.

“I am convinced that if our country continues to treat its children the way it has, we will no longer remain a world superpower,” Canada said in a Feb. 12 keynote speech at the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education in Phoenix. “In fact, we won’t even be in the top 10.”

Canada is president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a project that the New York Times described as “one of the most ambitious social-service experiments of our time.”

The nonprofit program, which relies on grants and donations, follows children in a 97-block area of Harlem from birth through college, providing a broad range of educational and social services to ensure that its high-risk participants graduate with the skills they’ll need to thrive in a global economy.

One of the project’s main focal areas is to rebuild the community, getting adults engaged and transforming the “street” culture that says it’s not cool for students to achieve. Another is to intervene early in children’s lives to prevent developmental delays.

“We know from the start these kids are at risk” of entering school already behind grade level, Canada said. So, “why do we wait until they’re five before we intervene?”

One of the services the Harlem Children’s Zone provides is a pre-K program that gets kids ready to enter kindergarten. Classes have a child-to-adult ratio of 4 to 1; they teach English, Spanish, and French, and they run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. There are three of these pre-kindergarten sites, serving 200 children in all—and only one of these children has ever failed to enter kindergarten achieving at grade level, Canada said.

Providing such an extensive net of social and educational services costs money, and budgets are often a barrier to progress, Canada acknowledged. But he challenged policy makers to get their priorities straight if they care at all about the nation’s future.

“You hear things like: We don’t have the money” to fund efforts like the Harlem Children’s Zone, Canada said. His response to that is: “What? We’re fighting two wars, but we don’t have the money for America’s future?”

Global competitiveness “has so changed the nature of our economy that you are not going to get a job” unless you graduate from high school, Canada said. He said the unemployment rate for people without a high school diploma is now over 50 percent—and for African Americans, it’s 69 percent.

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Duncan offers ‘guiding principles’ for rewriting NCLB

“We should be tight on standards … but loose about how to get there,” Duncan said.

“We should be tight on standards … but loose about how to get there,” Duncan said.

Calling No Child Left Behind a “blunt instrument” that placed more emphasis on defining failure than encouraging success, Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Feb. 12 outlined the Obama administration’s vision for rewriting the nation’s education law.

Speaking to school superintendents during the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education, Duncan identified three principles that will guide the administration’s approach toward rewriting NCLB: (1) higher standards, (2) rewarding excellence, and (3) a “smarter, tighter federal role” in ensuring that all students succeed.

“I’ll always give credit to NCLB for exposing achievement gaps and advancing standards-based reform. But better than anyone, you know [the law’s] shortcomings,” Duncan told the assembled education leaders. “NCLB allows, even encourages, states to lower their standards. In too many classrooms, it encourages teachers to narrow the curriculum. It relies too much on bubble tests in a couple of subjects. It mislabels schools, even when they are showing progress on important measures.”

He added: “NCLB required you to intervene in schools in a prescribed way, and the accountability system didn’t measure growth. It didn’t differentiate between a school in a little bit of trouble with a handful of students and a school that was in educational meltdown.”

Duncan said he and President Obama believe “we should be tight on standards … but loose about how to get there.”

States should set the bar high when establishing their academic standards, he said, adding that all students should graduate from high school “career or college-ready, without the need for remediation.”

But schools should have more flexibility in how they get all students to achieve, he said, noting: “The federal government needs to help strike the right balance between flexibility and accountability—offering support, not prescriptions.”

For chronically underperforming schools—the bottom 5 percent of all schools—“we are going to ask for rigorous change,” Duncan said. But in most schools, he said, administrators “will have more flexibility than under NCLB to improve educational outcomes.”

And the top-performing schools—which have been largely ignored until now—would receive incentives to “help lead the way to replicating academic excellence,” he said.

In striking a balance between flexibility and accountability, the administration wants to reward excellence “to encourage state and local educators to challenge themselves and hold themselves accountable,” Duncan said. “To compete in the global economy, we are going to have to fund what works, revisit conventional wisdom, and move outside comfort zones.”

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Duncan: Superintendent prep programs must change

Even more than theory, superintendents need hands-on vocational training, Sec. Duncan said.

Superintendents need hands-on vocational training, Sec. Duncan said.

States and school systems, with the help of the federal government, must work harder to improve the way superintendents are trained and prepared to lead the nation’s schools, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told attendees of the American Association of School Administrators’ annual conference Feb. 12.

Duncan, himself a former superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools, said policy makers should question whether the requirements in superintendent certification programs accurately reflect what we know about effective school district leadership.

“Successful superintendents don’t just need a Ph.D. in educational administration,” Duncan said. “Even more than educational theory, superintendents need hands-on vocational training. Superintendents require business skills, expertise in dealing with the media, the ability to negotiate with a variety of stakeholders, and a command of budgeting. Those skills are hard to acquire in a classroom.”

Duncan cited the example of Thomas Payzant, the former superintendent of Boston, who served as superintendent in five different states. Each time, Duncan said, he had to take a new course to be certified as a superintendent.

“Once, he took a course in special education, a subject he could have taught better than the instructor,” Duncan said of Payzant. “In another state, he took a textbook-based course in how to teach elementary reading, where he filled in bubbles on multiple-choice quizzes. Those courses were a waste of his time.”

Superintendent prep programs should be more outcome-based and grounded in evidence of what really works in the classroom, Duncan said. They also should do a better job of tracking the effectiveness of superintendents after they leave the program, he added.

“The truth is that few superintendent preparation programs track their graduates to see how many actually become superintendents,” Duncan said. “[And] no preparation program—with the exception of the Broad Academy for Superintendents—tracks the impact of superintendents on student achievement. That has got to change.”

President Obama has included a new program in his 2011 budget proposal to help improve preparation for school district leaders, Duncan said. The Teacher and Leader Pathways program would set aside $170 million for training principals and other school district leaders—more than five times the funding available last year for leadership programs.

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