Howard Levin is a friend (my blogging “career” began in his “classroom” at Urban School CIT), and I greatly admire his vision and  leadership regarding laptop integration.  I first saw him present his outstanding program, making the laptop disappear, back at a conference in June 2006, or thereabouts, and more perhaps than any other single session, it transformed my view of education.

A friend asked me about whether I knew of independent schools which were succeeding greatly in 1:1 laptop integration, and of course I thought of Urban School.  In doing so, it brought me again to Levin’s fine body of work on the topic.   I want to draw upon his wisdom in two excellent articles, one entitled Laptop Program Update in this post, and the other Here and Now in the School of the Future in a subsequent post.

Levin’s update article is already five years old, but it remains valuable.   Two years into his program’s implementation, he reports, “teachers are now having students use their laptops to do more of what was previously impractical or impossible… Few question the wisdom; nearly all are finding effective and innovative ways for laptops to support learning.”

Levin reports on how learning has improved in four key areas: communication, organization, information, and production.    About communication, he writes, there is now “soaring levels of communication… the ability to ask clarifying questions to both teachers and peers is at students’ fingertips…Likewise, collaborative work is also supported.”

As for organization, “More than half of our students report that their organization for school has improved since receiving a laptop (3% report a decline).”

Central electronic access is supported by the rapidly growing practice of scanning paper documents directly into PDFs and uploading them into course conferences. Students have one place to access nearly all the information that in the past was lost or simply never recorded in their notes. Says English teacher Tilda Kapuya, “Students’ comprehension is enhanced by having more continuity between what happens in the classroom and what happens at home. Homework now serves to build upon class work more than ever because the laptop holds all the information together in one place.”

Tony Wagner among others has declared that accessing and analyzing information is among the very most vital of contemporary skills schools needs to teach, and laptops, Levin writes, facilitate this greatly:

Teachers also often take advantage of current and immediate access to information on the Internet to add meaning and relevancy to assignments. For example, while students in Murphy’s class were studying juvenile death penalty cases, he discovered a current case, Simmon v Roper, that had yet to be decided by the Supreme  Court. He had his students review the briefs from both sides—all available online—write their own opinions, and then compare their thinking with the actual opinion when it was released by the court just days later. “The students had anticipated key arguments,” says Murphy.ray of assignments that give students more opportunities to practice in meaningful ways, and this leads to observable improvements in student sophistication.

One of my passions is seeing our students create and produce real contributions as they learn, and Levin explains that student production has soared at Urban School since the introduction of the laptop.   This entire section bears reading, and I encourage everyone to see the article, but here are a few quotes:

Teachers report specific improvements in students’ ability to express more ideas and to better edit their  work. “Essays are more tightly written than ever,” reports history teacher LeRoy Votto. At the same time, Votto  points to students’ increased attention to the craft  of editing. “I definitely see more output—that is more words and ideas per writing assignment with the computer,” says Votto.

Science teachers also report that student data analysis from labs is often much more sophisticated and authentic now that they have own laptops with powerful soft ware and communication tools. Students often transport their active data into Excel or directly into Word. This helps them determine which data are the most valid since they often continue to work computations within spreadsheets as they take shape in the final report. Editing continues throughout the process, and editing is direct evidence of student thinking.

At the end of Levin’s article, he discussed the fact that students new to laptops in learning do become distracted by on-line gaming and the like, but the novelty wears off and students become acclimated to the environment of laptops for learning.

Although we do not filter or restrict access in any physical ways, we periodically remotely monitor use and report students caught gaming during class to their classroom teacher. In more extreme cases, the Dean of Students becomes involved, because we treat this not as a technology issue, but as a behavior/focus issue.