Technology-rich Classrooms: How Districts Can Infuse Laptops into Classrooms in a Cost-effective Manner

Mike Keppler
Spencer C. Weiler
Dan Maas

University of Northern Colorado

 Keppler.jpg

 Mike Keppler

 weiler

 Spencer Weiler

 DanMaas.jpg

 Dan Maas

Technology’s potential in revolutionizing instruction and learning has long been extolled, but many proponents have failed to realize the fiscal limitations associated with traditional one-to-one laptop infusion programs. Littleton Public Schools (LPS), in Littleton, Colorado, recently unveiled an alternative approach to purchasing every student a laptop and this program, called Inspired Writing, is generating noticeable increases in student achievement and positive impacts on classroom instruction. 

The LPS Inspired Writing Program

District personnel sought to develop a technology program that would improve student writing.[1] The Inspired Writing Program was developed to provide students with greater access to technology in the classroom and to improve student writing. The program provided all language arts teachers[2] with classroom sets of netbook computers. Netbook computers are significantly less expensive than traditional laptops. The reduced cost associated with purchasing the netbooks allowed LPS instructional leaders to allocate additional resources toward a targeted professional development for teachers.

Inspired Writing and Student Learning

The Inspired Writing Program positively impacted student learning in a number of different ways. For example, teachers and students found the netbooks made it easier to revise and edit students’ compositions. The netbooks augmented differentiation in the classroom setting as students were able to work at different paces and develop greater independence in the learning process. As one student stated, “Like if you forgot the directions, you can just look back at them (in Google Docs), like the kids don’t have to go ask the teachers for directions again.” 

The use of netbooks more effectively engaged the students in the learning process. A student offered the following observation, “I’m more interested because I’m a lot better at computer than just watching a teacher because watching the teacher for like 15 or 20 minutes makes me really bored.” 

Students using the netbooks began to rely on peer-to-peer editing before assignments were submitted for formal assessment. The overall quality of the written submissions increased directly as a result of the authors knowing their peers would be reviewing what they wrote electronically through the peer editing process. 

Finally, netbook use allowed for an expanded audience for student writing. Submissions were no longer only viewed by the teacher and parents. Now, the submissions could be shared with a multitude of people through the use of blogs and wikis. A student summarized the impact that the netbooks were having on student learning with the following statement, “when we do our netbooks, we’re not just watching our teacher…we’re actually doing stuff.”

Inspired Writing and Teaching

The LPS teachers using the netbooks altered roles in the classrooms from the traditional “sage on the stage,” to a true facilitator of learning. The teachers using the netbooks in an effective manner provided brief instruction to the classes and then allowed students to access the pertinent information on the netbooks. As one teacher observed, “[The netbooks] have to change the way you teach and that’s what makes the engagement.” However, a key point is that teachers and students must be afforded the opportunity to go through trials and errors with the proper technical support. 

The Inspired Writing Program also altered the expectations for administrators. Building principals, for example, now needed to provide teachers with direct feedback on how to effectively use the netbooks in the classroom. In addition, the investment in professional development by LPS cannot be overstated. LPS recognized early on in the project that simply infusing laptops into the classroom and hoping the tool improves student achievement is ineffective instructionally and an inefficient use of limited resources. Any investment into technology must come with an appropriate commitment to professional development to ensure the educators entrusted with this learning tool fully understand what is expected of them and how to best maximize the tool’s potential.

Cost-effectiveness of the Inspired Writing Program

The LPS Inspired Writing Program was compared to a traditional one-to-one laptop program to determine which approach was more cost effective. The analysis of the two programs consisted of dividing the total cost of the program by the number of students the program served. Table 1 presents the differences in costs over three years. 

Table 1: Three-Year Comparison

School Year

LPS Inspired Writing Program

Traditional one-to-one infusion School District[3]

2009-10

PPE Infusion[4]

$101.26

$824.85

2010-11

PPE Infusion

$92.47

$404.90

2011-12

PPE Infusion

$77.99

$260.62

Table 1 clearly illustrates that the LPS Inspired Writing Program is far more cost-effective than the traditional laptop infusion program.

Conclusion

The LPS Inspired Writing Program is a model that other school districts should replicate. The LPS effort increases student learning, improves classroom instruction, and is more cost-effective. The principle reason for the success of the LPS program is its focus and support for teachers to impact the student writing process. This emphasis provides direction for all educators in the school district to utilize netbook technology in an effective manner.

 



[1] Student writing scores in the district were the lowest of all the content areas being tested.

[2] The Inspired Writing Program is limited to fifth through twelfth grades.

[3] This particular school district entered into a contractual agreement with Apple Computers to provide all of its secondary students with MacBooks.

[4] PPE Infusion = total cost of the infusion program divided by the number of students served by the laptop infusion program