Fulton Middle School
Case Site and Community
Fulton Middle School is one of 15 schools in Hickman County school district in a mid-Atlantic state. The school was consolidated in 2003 from the merger of two former middle schools as a result of financial retrenchment and serves approximately 1,000 students. The school district's mission statement boasts that it "has long been committed to meeting the challenges of preparing students to function and compete successfully in a technological society." The school's laptop program is part of a larger district initiative motivated primarily by the collapse of the region's manufacturing economy and need to educate students for the changing workplace and by pressures to meet state and federal accountability standards. This case study examined the technology use among the school's approximately 330 eighth grade students.
The goals of the Hickman County Public Schools laptop initiative are multifaceted and tied to the county's historical and social context. One of the initial primary goals of the initiative was to respond to economic conditions brought on by the massive collapse of the region's primary industrial base. When thousands of jobs were relocated from the area, administrators, teachers, and the community viewed the technology initiative as a vehicle for retooling the workforce with the technology skills necessary in a changing economy. Also influencing the initiative was the state's educational accountability movement's emphasis on the attainment of basic content skills as measured in the state standards of Learning (SOL) assessment program. Thus the district also envisions the laptop initiative as a way to enhance its SOL-driven curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
These environmental conditions led the district to first adopt a one-on-one laptop program that would provide every fourth and eighth grade student with their own laptop for use at school and at home. Changing community and financial pressures later forced the district to shift to a ubiquitous computing model in which laptops are organized into carts with wireless access to be shared by teachers within instructional teams in each school. This is the ubiquitous computing initiative currently being implemented by Fulton Middle School, a school of 1,000, which, as part of a fiscal retrenchment, was recently created from the consolidation of two preexisting middle schools and housed in a former high school. The 2004-05 school year was its first year in operation as a merged middle school. The move to the new facilities has created both technical and organizational challenges that have negatively affected the implementation of the technology initiative.
In 1998, Hickman County School District established its laptop initiative program with a purchase of 1,615 laptop computers in order to provide every fourth and eight-grade student with an individual laptop for use at school and home, with the intention of expanding the program to other grades in the future. During the first two years of the project, the county used approximately $3 million of county and local funding for equipment and infrastructure purchases. According to the superintendent, "At that time, there was local money to help fund that, and local will beyond the school system, within the community. . . . It ended up being about $3 million dollars of funding above and beyond the school budget and above and beyond any state funds." In 2000, however, financial constraints, a public scandal, and aging equipment forced the district to refocus the project from providing universal access to laptops for individual students to a less ambitious project of providing wireless technology for desktop and laptops housed in portable carts to be shared within instructional for instructional use. The main catalyst behind the original laptop initiative was the vision and leadership of the then-superintendent. According to the current superintendent, her predecessor "really had a vision that technology was the way to better the children's lives." This vision, she noted, was largely in response to a dramatic loss of jobs in the community when its leading industry moved operations to overseas locations.
I think the initial laptop initiative [in the district] had to do with the community's commitment to creating a competitive education in [the county], and there was a lot of support for, the conditions here were unique, in that we've lost 10,000 jobs in the last 5 years. . . . That this was a way for the community to reinvent itself, that was the idea: to harness technology to give the community an edge--you know, you've got to compete. And so let's use the power of the Internet and let's get a jump on everybody else and let's put a laptop in every kid's hands in fourth and eighth. Well, just little over half of the adults in this community have a high school diploma or more, okay? So it's like, the writing's on the wall, this is not hard. It is an industrialized community that has to shift from manufacturing to something else, and I think this was a rather farsighted project to facilitate that inevitable decline that, in fact, happened.
In addition to worsening financial woes and aging equipment, the restructuring of the project in 2000 was precipitated by public perceptions about the effectiveness and utility of the laptop program. Because of the educational and economic characteristics of the community, students' access to technology in the home is limited. According to school personnel, there is both a sense of "technology phobia" among the community at large and community support for retraining students for the demands of changing economic conditions.
But as economic conditions continued to worsen, parents began to question the relative advantages of the laptop program and to complain that the laptops were not being used widely enough by students. As more jobs were lost, public support began to wane due to the large expenditures needed to establish and maintain the laptop project. In addition, a county administrator who had been a vocal proponent of the program was indicted for embezzlement, casting a pall over the project and further eroding public support. According to the superintendent,
We're losing our financial support because that's when things really start going to hell around here financially, and then we have this other issue with the county administrator, which compounded it, which means they had no discretionary money to continue to support the original initiative.
The technology director added that
Another challenge, too, when we started this program after we had it a couple of years, was the fact that when all the factories closed down that the parents lost their jobs and they went back, well, "The county spent all this money on the laptops and now we have no food."
The district leaders realized that under these conditions, maintaining the universal laptop program and expanding it to other grades was no longer feasible. In response to this pressure, the district moved to a wireless, whole-school access model in which older machines were upgraded and the laptops were made available to classrooms on a school-wide basis. In the summer of 2001, the district secured grant funding to establish a wireless network throughout the county. The current superintendent and technology director capitalized on this opportunity to refocus the original laptop initiative and rename it to the Laptop Project. Explaining the reasoning and benefits of the shift, the superintendent said,
So that's why we shifted to wireless technology, because we could use older computers, frankly. I mean, we're using stuff that's 8 years old at this point, and it's still doing its job because we're able to put the cards in it and hit the wireless and get on the Internet and do some research with it, and because we're able to use some of this original expenditure. It really pulled it out, because the new technology of making it more universal for everybody and not limiting to just those grades, and make it more of a teacher using it as a tool and then being able to use the older machines, brought it back.
The technology director also noted that
If it was truly going to . . . become part of the instructional program, so that's when we made the shift from the dedicated space of labs and shifted to, initially to laptops and then from that to wireless laptops, so that any class in any school at any time could become a computer lab.
In making this transition, the district leadership was responding to demands from the community for wider use and access. The district was under constant pressure to provide evidence that the investments in the laptop and wireless technologies were worthwhile. Moving to the wireless model made more machines accessible to more students by expanding access beyond the specified grade levels.
The district's current ubiquitous computing initiative has been a result of a top-down vision originating from the superintendent's office. The superintendent has mandated use of technology by teachers. The first step in this effort was to change certain forms of administrative communications so as to pressure teachers to learn and use the technology. The technology director described this incremental, top-down, and largely covert process of increasing teacher use:
We started out very subtly, with each person in the county is going to have an email account and we're going to email them once a week, copy me on your email, [so] the teachers started using technology. They don't know that that was our goal. The principals knew it.
The next phase of this strategic plan calls for each staff member to author his or her own web page. Encouraging the teachers to use the technology in their teaching, however, remains a challenge for the school district.
While the laptops and desktops are not used at the middle school for online state standardized testing, the promise of such use was one of the selling points of the initiative to parents, according to district leaders. The superintendent explained why she and the principals prefer online testing: "Because it solves thousands of problems, the security issue, it solves the paper test. It's wonderful, I mean I would give them to third graders on line if I could." Another benefit is the instant feedback, as the technology director noted: "Instant return. Like if you have a history class that four or five fail, they can take it like the next day if they want to." The laptops have been used for test preparation.
The implementation of the ubiquitous computing project in Fulton Middle School is occurring within a context of increasing accountability pressures, at both the national and state level. These accountability pressures are influencing the direction of technology initiatives in general and the ubiquitous computing specifically, in Hickman County and across the state. The federal No Child Left Behind legislation (NCLB) has increased the pressure to implement the state level accountability system with increased emphasis on standardized test results, which in turn has affected the implementation and classroom use of the laptop technology.
In the 1990s, the state adopted statewide curricular standards known as the Standards of Learning (SOL) and purchased a criterion-referenced assessment system. Stakes such as denial of promotion and graduation were recently added to the accountability system, and students not passing the accountability tests by the end of their senior year were denied graduation in 2004. The county superintendent is committed to implementing the state's accountability and testing program and exerts pressure on the schools to perform.
Principals and teachers report feel increasingly pressured to teach to the test and worry that their performance is being judged solely on their students' SOL scores. Fulton's principal commented that "It is unrelenting, it really is, the pressure. . . . As an administrator, you have to get the scores. There's no excuse not to." With the strong emphasis on accountability at the state and federal level, district administrators saw the shift to a county-wide wireless network as an opportunity to shape and increase teacher computer use in the classroom in order to increase student achievement scores on the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. In this way, state initiatives in online testing have been used by many districts, including this one, to garner support for technology infrastructure. According to the superintendent,
So the standards and accountability movement actually gave me the big stick I needed. . . . So I used the old eighth grade SOL technology objectives like, "Well, we've got to have this in order to teach this," and then when those kind of wore out, I used the old, "Well, we're going to be doing all these tests online, the state says that these SOL tests are going to be all done by computer. Okay, and if you're doing it and they're going to test, if they think it's important enough to test, then by golly, that's what we're going to do and it's going to get measured and they're going to see that we're doing it." . . . And I loved it because . . . this stuff fits really well with what computers do.
While the genesis of the laptop initiative program in the county public schools was rooted in giving students technological skills to compete in an increasingly technological work place, the current objectives and criteria for success focus primarily on increasing student SOL achievement scores. Even though the middle schools do not conduct online state accountability testing, preparation for the tests is used as support for the technology initiative at Fulton. According to the district's technology coordinator, "Once you gear the laptops to testing, then the parents are going, 'Oh, that's what we can use them for.'" The superintendent encourages the use of the laptops for SOL preparation: " We use it for some in-house testing also. . . . There are some websites. . . . Some teachers have gotten very industrious in this state, there's a website where you can actually do practice testing." The technology coordinator specifically noted "a site called Learnstar that . . . we're putting into the middle schools that actually have tests for every curriculum-based area, and also the teacher can create their own tests and put them on line."
These district-level intentions for the program have framed classroom use of the laptops in the school. When considering the expansion of the technology program, the superintendent always ties it to improvements in test scores: "And I say, 'How is this going to improve our test scores?'" At the same time, the use of the laptops is also seen as a way to meet other criteria for success at the classroom level, including instructional differentiation, lesson reinforcement, individualized instruction, and student motivation. An eighth grade math teacher clearly saw the connection between the accountability pressures and the individualized instruction and reinforcement opportunities provided by use of the laptops:
Basically, to me I think is to, of course have higher SOL scores, and I think my students accessing the laptops, especially students who do not catch it the first time as far as instruction, you know, direct instruction in the classroom, when they utilize the laptops then it definitely helps them because it's more of a one-on-one situation.
Interview and survey data demonstrate that the accountability policy has had an impact on the school's curriculum and its teachers' creativity. Teachers overwhelmingly described the stakes associated with the state's accountability system as high stakes. About two thirds (62.5 %) of the teachers surveyed felt that they were under a great deal of pressure to teach to the state test, and 84% indicated that the high-stakes accountability pressure has influenced their teaching a great deal. (See Tables 1 and 2.)
Table 1. Teachers' Perceptions of the Stakes Associated with Their State Accountability System
|Low stakes (%)||Neither low nor high stakes (%)||High stakes (%)|
|How would you describe the nature of your state's accountability and testing system?||0||25.8||74.2|
|How would you describe the nature of the accountability system in your content area?||3.2||22.6||74.2|
Table 2. Teachers' Perceptions of the Influence of the State Accountability System on Their Teaching
|A great deal (%)||Somewhat (%)||None at all (%)|
|How much pressure to teach to the state accountability test do you feel yourself to be under?||62.5||34.4||3.1|
|To what extent does the state's accountability teaching influence your teaching?||84.4||9.4||6.3|
The principal expressed a fear that the accountability pressure has negatively influenced "the creativity in expanding a topic beyond what you need to get it covered":
A real good example, one of the SOLs in sciences involves genetics. . . . You teach them how to do the Punnett squares, you do a couple of basics, da da da, and you move on and you spend maybe a day on it. I mean, there's so much you could do with that. You have your little fruit flies growing in the little medium and you could be, I mean, you could spend a month on that kind of stuff and the kids would have a much greater, deeper sense of genetics and all the kinds of . . . and a whole controversy on genetic engineering and cloning, and again that more global knowledge, but you can't do that because you've got to get genetics and Punnett squares done today because tomorrow you've got to move on to parts of the cell and it's time to go, you don't have a chance to go back and do that. Really cool programs on the computer, too, where you can do crosses and stuff, it's great, but you don't have time for it because you've got to go on to the next.
Teachers reported that the accountability pressure also restricts their use of the laptop technology. When surveyed, only about 10% of the teachers responded that the state's accountability system facilitated their teaching with technology somewhat or a great deal, and nearly half thought that it actually hindered their use of technology. In terms of the accountability tests themselves, however, 45% reported that the tests encouraged them to use technology in a variety of ways. (See Tables 3 and 4.) Discussing the impact of the accountability tests on teachers' practices, the principal noted that "a certain amount of pressure is good but it can stifle creativity."
Table 3. Teachers' Perceptions of the Influence of the State's Accountability System on Teach-ing with Technology
|Hinders a great deal (%)||Hinders some-what (%)||Neither hinders nor facili-tates (%)||Facilitates somewhat (%)||Facilitates a great deal (%)|
|To what extent does the state accountability system hinder or facilitate your ability to inte-grate technology in your instruction?||16.1||32.3||41.9||3.2||6.5|
Table 4. Teachers' Perceptions about the effects of Accountability Testing on Technology Inte-gration
|Strongly agree (%)||Agree (%)||Neither agree nor disagree (%)||Disagree (%)||Strongly disagree (%)|
|I would like to use technology for a variety of instructional uses but there is not enough time because I must prepare students for state tests.||29||19.4||32.3||12.9||6.5|
|The state mandated tests encourage me to use technology in a wide variety of ways.||12.9||32.3||32.3||16.1||6.5|
In interviews, some teachers again claimed that the SOL pressures have inhibited their ability to access and use the laptop technology in their instruction. One teacher commented that "Some of the technology that I have been using, so far this year I haven't found the time." Another teacher reported that because technology skills were no longer tested by the SOLs, the "focus on technology is . . . not what it used to be when we were tested on it because . . . funding and everything else is dependent on your SOL tests and the AYP of No Child Left Behind; your funding and accreditation . . . is dependent on those scores."
Another teacher described how SOL pressure inhibits the type of instructional approaches that work best with technology:
We don't have time to waste. . . . It affects what you do, you make sure everything relates back to an SOL, there's no hobby-teaching, project teaching. . . . Looking at websites and stuff that would be really cool, we don't have the time. I like research, I just took a class last semester, we did one of these Isearch-wouldn't that be fun, wouldn't that be cool? And I thought, we're looking at two weeks, we'd use the internet, we'd research. . . . I thought, I don't have two weeks, so I can ditch the idea.
The principal concurred that testing pressures inhibit the effective use of the laptop technology:
I think it hinders the use of technology because . . . it doesn't allow the teachers to be as creative with their lessons perhaps as they would like to be because they simply do not have the time to go that extra mile on a certain subject, they've got to cover the material. So I think in a lot of ways [the accountability program] hinders it.
These opinions were shared by a teacher who replied, "My first SOL test is in March and I've got to get them ready for that. So unless it helps me with those objectives, them learning, I don't waste my time."
Ultimately, the SOL-driven objectives are geared towards providing the county and school student population with a competitive edge that will benefit them in the future job market. The superintendent summed this up well:
We want the youngsters from [our county] to have an edge when they go to college, when they go to work, when they go to a their life, and they're going to have an edge that they know just a tad more about how technology can be used in lifelong learning than the kids from [a neighboring county].
Thus regional economic conditions and the state and local accountability context has influenced division leaders' and teacher' implementation of the ubiquitous computing initiative at the school. Teachers have come to see the laptops primarily as a way of enhancing instruction geared to SOL test preparation.
Technology leadership is distributed across a number of staff at the district and school levels, including the district's superintendent and director of technology and the school's principal and one of its two technology coordinators.
The need for technology leadership at the district level is mainly technical in nature, as reflected in the superintendent's description of the main goal of its Laptop Project as "instant access anywhere for any student at any time."
The leadership style of the superintendent has set the tone for the interactions between her and the technology director. In describing the superintendent's work style, the technology director said, "She just says 'We're going to do this. Implement it.' She does that quite frequently." The superintendent laughed and said she was inclined to direct staff members to "Here, make it happen. Come back to me when you've got it done," and later claimed that "I'm not a process person, I'm a product person." The technology director has held that position from the outset of the laptop initiative in 1998, and since the current superintendent was hired in 2001, their mutual work has been concerned mostly with issues of access and infrastructure. In 2001 a budget shortage forced them to consolidate the laptops into carts, instead of checking them out to students; the following year they initiated a wireless network across the entire district. Their leadership efforts to increase teacher and student uses of technology have included establishing that the required state tests be taken online and requiring teachers to use email, and more recently, the superintendent has asked all teachers to establish their own web page. In a joint interview, the two of them agreed that this was perhaps too big a stretch considering where teachers currently were in their technology use, but that asking for bold steps was characteristic of the superintendent.
To help carry out the superintendent's directives, the director of technology has two colleagues who offer some technology integration classes for teachers and a handful of support staff who administer the network and circulate to schools to provide technical support. The director's technology leadership interactions with Fulton Middle School are mostly with the school's technology coordinators. She meets with the all of the district's technology coordinators once a month to prepare them to help teachers at their respective schools following a train-the-trainer model. One of the middle school's technology coordinators reported that these meetings were very helpful and that she was able to get necessary technical information and questions answered, but that otherwise she didn't communicate with the district technology office because "I know they're busy, and unless I have a major problem that we can't solve here, I try not to bother her."
The technology leaders at Fulton Middle School follow very closely the direction from the district's technology leadership. The school's technology leaders are two full-time teachers who are paid an extra stipend to serve as technology coordinators, troubleshoot computers, and aid teachers with other technical support they require. While school's organization would allow individual teachers to come forward as technology leaders and share their expertise, as of the fourth month in the school year, that had not happened. Although the laptop program's goals center on student achievement, they and their parents were not otherwise involved in the technology leadership practices.
The school's principal described herself as involved with technology leadership to the extent that she meets regularly with the technology coordinators, but she said she is not actively pushing for technology use by the teachers. This was a conscious decision on her part, as she felt it was not fair to push teachers to use technology when she could not provide adequate support and training for them to do so. Furthermore, she felt that her staff, only a few months into their first year together as a result of the consolidation of two middle schools, had not yet coalesced enough for her to successfully put technology integration demands upon them: "I have to establish the culture in the building before I can start establishing norms . . . and so, honestly, this year technology is taking a back seat to that." She explained that at her former school she did "push the use of technology and to show them how great it is," but in the face of the high levels of teacher frustration about the technology getting set up and running this year, she had definitely backed off. She reported that she did meet regularly with the school's two technology coordinators, whom she complimented as doing a great job under the present circumstances, but that she didn't expect to increase the scope of her technology leadership practices that school year.
To check teachers' perceptions of who serves as technology leaders at the school, we distributed a survey that was completed by 26 of the teaching staff. In it they were given four blank lines on which to list the name and title of the technology leaders in their work environment and asked to check all the technology-related roles that each fulfilled: leading professional development, providing technology support, serving as a expert on some aspect of educational technology aspect, assisting in working out instructional uses of educational technology, or other, which they were asked to describe. While the survey instructions indicated that respondents could add more names on the blank backside, no one did.
Ten different names were listed, which included not only the two technology coordinators and the district director of technology, but also the assistant principal and six teachers. The role that teachers most often saw the technology coordinators as filling was providing technical support, with 33 mentions between the two of them, followed by providing instructional support, although this function received only about half as many mentions as providing technical support. Serving as an expert and assisting teachers with instructional uses of technology each received 15 mentions. Teachers reported far fewer technology leadership functions being fulfilled by administrators and teacher leaders. The assistant principal was mentioned by five different respondents and mentioned several times in each of the four functions. The district director of technology was mentioned by a couple of respondents. Six teacher leaders were mentioned by a handful of their peers, although one respondent alone accounted for four of these mentions. Both of the two other teachers named were identified by a couple of their peers as providing technical support, serving as an expert, and assisting with instructional uses. In addition, respondents wrote in other responses such as sharing ideas and being an example of a frequent technology user. (See Table 5.)
Table 5. Number of Mentions of Technology Leadership Roles Fulfilled, by Job Title
|a) Lead Prof. Dev||b) Provide Tech. Support||c) Serve as Expert||d) Assist with Integration|
|4 school-based: Technology Specialist, Media Specialists, and Assistant Media Specialist||42||50||46||41|
|3 District Administrators||0||3||4||2|
|1 Teacher Leader||0||1||1||1|
The survey also asked the teachers if they thought that the efforts of the technology leaders were adequately coordinated to collectively accomplish the most possible with the resources at hand and whether they were able to give input to the technology leaders at their school about the direction and scope of the school's computer uses and initiatives and if so, how. For both questions, the answers were first analyzed holistically to categorize them as yes or no responses and then for themes in the explanatory statements.
Of the 17 respondents to this question, 11 felt that the technology leaders' efforts were coordinated for maximum effectiveness and 4 did not. The remaining responses noted that the technology leaders had only technical responsibilities, implying there was not too many different sorts of efforts to little to coordinate. Nearly all of the respondents mentioned the limited amount of time that the technology leaders had available to dedicate to technology. Most of the teachers who agreed that the work was coordinated did so with the caveat that the two technology coordinators were also full-time teachers doing the best that they could. The teachers who did not agree that the technology leaders' work was coordinated for maximum effect said that they had too little time to spend on technology matters and that too little information about technology and related procedures were communicated to the school's staff.
Thirteen teachers responded to the question about providing input to the school's technology leaders, 5 agreeing that they could give input and 4 teachers indicating they did not feel this was the case. Another four wrote that they didn't see the technology coordinators' roles as structured to take in teachers' ideas because they were so focused on technical issues. The mechanisms for giving input mentioned by teachers were forms for reporting technical need, and the coordinators' being accessible between classes, at meetings, or through email. Teachers who disagreed about being able to provide input simply said were not asked for input.
Technology Learning Environment
The technology support available to the Fulton Middle School teachers includes a modest amount of technical support, which is provided mainly by the two teachers at the school who take on extra paid duty to serve as technology coordinators. They respond to technical support requests after school or during their preparation periods. The teachers who were interviewed recognized that while these individuals were doing the best they could considering that they were also teaching full time, they wanted more help at the school so as to speed up the response time for technical problems. As one commented, "You have to fill out a paper and wait until they get around to whatever." Another concluded, "I think we've learned that we've got to do it ourselves if you want to make it work." At the district level, the technical support personnel include two individuals who oversee network operations and four others who attend to district-wide technical issues and follow up on technical problems that the school technology coordinators cannot fix. The principal spoke very positively of the efforts of the district technical staff members and her own technology coordinator to keep up with the fixes required, but emphasized that it simply wasn't enough support for what was needed, which hampered her ability to ask teachers to do more to integrate technology:
It's very difficult for me to try to get teachers excited about laptops or desktops when I have to go right behind it and say, "But we don't have that yet, you can't do that." . . . We desperately need a full-time, at least one full-time, technology coordinator [for technical needs]. . . . But it would be nice if that person could also be the one to do some training with the teachers, too. That would be ideal; it would be great.
The school's technology support structure also included some professional development opportunities for teachers to learn about the operation of the software as well as its integration into the classroom. The district director of technology and her two full-time instructional technology staff members periodically provide one-time, after-school sessions on how to operate a particular piece of software. For example, to support the requirement that teachers throughout the district produce their own web pages, the district-level technology support personnel were offering classes about how to use the web authoring software FrontPage. The district staffs an Education Station at the local mall that is designed as a resource for parents, children, and the community, where they have computers available for use and offer classes on the operation of software and peripherals like digital cameras that are open to parents, students, and community members as well as teachers. For teachers' reference and use, the district web page also has a collection of Internet resources and a handful of lesson plans, organized by content area, that integrate technology.
The director of technology explained that the district also employs a train-the-trainer model to disseminate technology knowledge. Each spring the district sends a group of teachers to a university-taught technology integration class; during the monthly meetings with school technology coordinators, they may be shown programs that they can then teach their school's teachers how to use; technology coordinators or teachers are occasionally sent to specific training opportunities. For example, the Fulton technology coordinators had that fall learned from the district technology staff about Marco Polo (a subject-specific collection of Internet resources), United Streaming Video (a digital video service), and Inspiration (concept mapping software) and were to offer training sessions for their building's teachers on how to operate these resources.
Most of the interviewed teachers and the principal felt that there was an inadequate amount of instructional support for teachers to learn how to integrate technology into the teaching of their subject areas. During the teacher focus group, several teachers expressed frustration that what they needed was someone to show them how to use the computers to teach their content, not just how to use the hardware and software. When one teacher stated, "If I want to know something, I just teach it to myself," several others nodded in agreement. A few teachers indicated that they had a colleague who was knowledgeable about technology use in their content area and exchanged some ideas with them.
We also surveyed the teaching staff about their need for technology support of a technical or instructional nature. They were asked to indicate how frequently they needed each of the two types of support by checking not at all, seldom, one to three times a month, or weekly or more. The availability of technical and instructional support was indicated on a 5-point rating scale ranging from not available to sometimes, frequently, mostly, or almost always available. Teachers were also asked to rate the quality of the two types of support that was available to them on a 5-point scale, choosing among the indicators of poor, fair, good, very good, or excellent. Finally, teachers were asked how much more they would use computers in their teaching if they received adequate support when they needed it: no more, somewhat more, more, or much more.
Two thirds of the teachers reported that they needed technical support seldom or not at all, and almost half said it was never or only sometimes available. Over half rated the technical support they did receive as good, very good, or excellent. About a third said that if adequate technical support were always available, they would use computers more or much more. When asked how often they needed instructional rather than technical support, over two thirds of the teachers answered seldom or not at all, and almost as many indicated that instructional support was available only sometimes or not at all. But almost half of the teaching staff indicated that if adequate instructional support were available, they would use computers more or much more. As with technical support, just over half of the teachers rated the quality of the instructional support they received as good, very good, or excellent, though a much lower percentage of teachers rated the instructional support available to them as excellent. (See Tables 6-9.)
Table 6. Percentage of Teachers Indicating Frequency of Need for Technology Support
|Not at all (%)||Seldom (%)||1-3 times a month (%)||Weekly or more (%)|
|Technical support (e.g., computer and software fixes)||3.4||65.5||31||0|
|Instructional support (e.g., incorporating technology into your lessons)||17.2||51.7||27.6||3.4|
Table 7. Percentage of Teachers Indicating Frequency of Technology Support Availability
|Not available (%)||Sometimes (%)||Frequently (%)||Mostly (%)||Almost always (%)|
|Technical support (e.g., computer and software fixes)||10.3||34.5||20.7||24.1||10.3|
|Instructional support (e.g., incorporating technology into your lessons)*||7.1||57.1||10.7||21.4||3.6|
Note. n=29. *n=28.
Table 8. Percentage of Teachers Indicating Quality of Technology Support
|No support (%)||Poor (%)||Fair (%)||Good (%)||Very Good (%)||Excellent (%)|
|Technical support (e.g., computer and software fixes)||6.9||10.3||24.1||34.5||10.3||13.8|
|Instructional support (e.g., incorporating technology into your lessons)*||7.4||14.8||25.9||40.7||7.4||3.7|
Note. n=29 n*=27
Table 9. Percentage of Teachers Projecting Increased Computer Use with Additional Technology Support
|No More (%)||Some-what more (%)||More (%)||Much more (%)|
|Technical support (e.g., computer and software fixes)||16.1||45.2||22.6||16.1|
|Instructional support (e.g., incorporating technology into your lessons)||12.9||38.7||25.8||22.6|
The effort to provide technical support to teachers at Fulton Middle School appears to have distracted its technology leaders from focusing on integrating technology to support instruction. The principal stated that she had backed off promoting the integration of technology to her teachers, and the technical coordinators reported spending the majority of their time on technical rather than instructional concerns. In interviews and the focus group, the school's teaching staff did not report having engaged in school-wide discussions about the laptops and their uses in the classroom.
One consequence of the lack of a school-wide model for instructional support for technology was that it sometimes encouraged teachers to turn to colleagues for help. During the focus group, several teachers reported that they would ask a colleague for help they needed, which was also indicated by the relatively large number of teachers they listed as technology leaders. An eighth grade science and math teacher, however, expressed confusion about who she might ask if she wanted to talk about technology integration within her content areas. Other teachers described using the Internet to search for resources and ideas on how to use the laptops to support their teaching.
The instructional support for technology integration coming from the district was not adequate to fill the gap created by the school leaders' focus on technical concerns. When asked during an interview about the Laptop Project-the district's title for their efforts to purchase and place laptops in classrooms-a teacher reported that she had first heard that phrase for the first time only that day during a conversation concerning the research team's visit:
I didn't have a clue about this until today I get the notice from y'all at lunch . . . in my mailbox. I was like, "When did we implement this laptop [project]?" We were laughing; we were making jokes. . . . The laptop project, that hadn't been discussed.
This reaction demonstrated that teachers were not aware of the laptops being a distinct district initiative with purposes intended to guide their actions about technology.
The teachers were also surveyed about their understanding of the school's vision for technology and if they shared it or not. In an open-ended question, they were asked to describe in their own words their school's vision for the use of technology in support of teaching and learning, check if they agreed with it or not, and explain why. Based upon an initial review of the responses, four categories or themes were developed, and statements were reviewed again and assigned to one of the categories. The first category is "Just Use It," which was applied to responses that emphasized that providing students access was key and that it should be used as often as the teacher sees fit to do so. The second is "Future Preparation," into which responses emphasizing that students needed knowledge of or experience with technology to be prepared for their futures were placed. The third theme is "Improve Teaching and Learning," which includes both general responses about supporting student learning and more specific notations of benefits, such as promoting higher-level learning or student engagement. The final category is "Assessment," into which was placed any response that mentioned preparing students for the state tests or raising students' scores on those test.
The majority of responses about the vision for the laptops fell in the Just Use It category-that teachers should use the laptops in whatever way they thought was best. For example, one teacher wrote that he or she perceived that vision as "use it if you can and it works." This majority view that technology should be used, even though it was non-specific about how technology could actually aid instruction, is compatible with the superintendent's emphasis on anytime, anywhere access for students. The remaining responses were divided nearly equally between the two categories of Future Preparation ("Knowing that technology is widely used and growing in America, I believe our school wants to stay ahead of the curve") and Improves Teaching and Learning ("My school believes technology is an integral part of the curriculum." (See Table 10.)
Table 10. Teachers' Perception of School's Technology Vision, by Percentage in Each of Four Categories
|% of responses|
|1. Just Use It: Student access is key; use it as much as possible, based upon your own decisions about its benefit.||41|
|2. Future Preparation: For a successful future, students need to know technol-ogy. Knowledge of technology is needed in society.||23.5|
|3. Improves Teaching and Learning: General statements and those with specific benefits mentioning how technology supports teaching and learning||29.5|
|4. Assessment: Accountability testing, assessment, raising test scores||6|
Because Fulton Middle School was a newly consolidated school in a new location with staff members from two former middle schools, at the time of our visit, in November of their first year, several teachers and the principal acknowledged that they were still working to come together as a professional community. As one teacher explained, they still felt like two sub-groups of teachers, and only within those groups did they know each other well enough to want to share and collaborate:
You're still feeling your way, and we've only been in school for like 3 months. Most of the teachers [from one former school] have worked together for years and years and years, so we're still trying to find out who-I don't want to say cliques-but like of what I could say to you, would it offend you if I said "Look, I found this great website, do you want to use it here?" Right now we're at that point where we're still walking on eggshells around each other. Now next year it'll be totally different.
This sentiment was also reflected in the teachers' survey responses. Teachers were asked to respond to three items about the degree to which they shared goals with their principal and with other teachers in the school and about whether or not the teachers in the same subject area had a common understanding about how technology should be used. They indicated how much they agreed or disagreed with each statement on a 6-point Likert scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The mean and the standard deviation were calculated for each of the three items.
The teachers' responses indicate that as staff, they only slightly agreed that the principal's values and philosophy and their own were similar; the standard deviation indicates that a majority of the teachers' ratings range from disagree to agree. This might be explained by the fact that the principal was new to nearly half of the teachers at the recently merged school. Similar responses were observed in teachers' responses as to whether they thought that their colleagues shared their own beliefs about the central goals of the school. The teacher responses, on average, were closer to slightly disagree regarding how much shared understanding existed among teachers about how technology should be used to enhance instruction. This is congruent with the finding that nearly two thirds of the teachers envisioned the school's technology vision as just to use it or as directed toward the preparation of students for the future--neither of which requires common ideas about specific uses among teachers. (See Table 11.)
Table 11. School Mean Score and Standard Deviation for Shared School Goals
|Mean Score||Standard Deviation|
|My principal's values and philosophy of education are similar to my own||4.1||1.4|
|Most teachers here share my beliefs about what the central goals of the school should be*||4.1||1.5|
|Teachers in the same grade or subject area share a common understanding about how technology will be used to enhance learning, and there are clear expectations that technology will be used in these ways||3.4||1.4|
Note. n=31 *n=32
The teaching staff was also surveyed about other aspects of their work environment that affect the degree of professional community among them. Ten of these elements were grouped into two indexes. The first index is a measure of professional communication and discussion and comprises respondents' agreement or disagreement with four statements about the regularity of discussions of school goals and follow-up discussions on topics from school meetings and how much teachers interact with one another about new ideas and student work. A second index was created from six items about professional development at the school. These six items referred to teacher input on professional development, the continuity and follow-up of professional development efforts, teachers' commitment to continuous learning, the recognition they receive for implementing new practices, and the access they have to others with knowledge about integrating computers. For each of these two indexes, the multiple responses-made on a 1- to 6-point Likert scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree-were averaged to calculate an index score for each respondent and the mean score for the school. The Cronbach's alpha coefficient was calculated for each index as well.
The responses of the teaching staff did not indicate the presence of regular dialogue, collaborative activities, and deprivatized practice, which along with shared purpose, are the hallmarks of professional community. On average, the teachers only slightly agreed that they engaged in discussion as a whole group and with one another and slightly disagreed regarding positive dimensions of school-wide and peer-to-peer professional development. (See Table 12.)
Table 12. School Mean Score for Professional Communication and Discussion Index and Staff Development Index
|Professional Communication and Discussion Index*||4.0|
|Staff Development Index**||3.7|
Note. a=31. . *Cronbach Alpha Coefficient=.78 ** Cronbach Alpha Coefficient= .77
The degree of collaboration and coordination among the teaching staff has an additional implication for technology use in this school in that the physical sharing of the laptops themselves is a requirement for its distribution model (i.e., a laptop cart is checked out to one member of a four-person team to be shared by all). Several teachers reported problems associated with sharing the laptops across classrooms. As one teacher described the situation in his or her team,
But if I just went in there and blasted, like, give me your cart, you know, you can't do that. But that's what I'd like to do because I know they're just sitting there with dust. This problem is not isolated and is significant.
Another teacher explained that in light of the limited technical support at the school, being motivated to keep equipment organized and in working order might actually discourage sharing:
I have a[n LCD] projector that doesn't belong to me, it's checked out, it lives in here because I use it a lot, but technically it's mine. . . . I've got to be in charge of this space, so, as long as this space is working, I leave it alone.
Altogether, the lack of emphasis on instructional support for technology use and that not all the teachers knew each other very well appeared to contribute to the limited degree of collaborative activity, technology sharing, and technology integration and implementation among the staff members of the school.
Ubiquitous Computing in Teaching and Learning
Configuration and Use in the Learning Environment
Teachers' access to technology facilities in the school includes a laptop with a wireless connection to the Internet and a desktop computer in their classroom; depending upon the location of the Internet connection in their room relative to their desk, the desktop computer may or may not be connected to the Internet. The laptop carts are currently assigned to teaching teams, who are expected to share resources across classrooms and provide periodic one-to-one laptop integrated lessons for each student. In practice, however, this sharing is limited, and as a result, only a few classrooms employ one-to-one computing on a regular basis. In addition, while the goal of the school is to have a wireless environment to support the cart-based model, logistics and physical structures seem to limit the coverage and use of this service.
There are five teaching teams in the eighth grade, with four teachers to a team. Each team consists of a language arts and math teacher who share one social studies teacher and one science teacher with another team. A laptop cart containing approximately 20 laptops is assigned to each teaching team, for a total of approximately 100 iBooks for the eighth grade. With approximately 330 students in the eighth grade, a 1 to 3.34 computer-to-student ratio is possible. However, computers being repaired periodically decreases the number of working computers in the carts. For example, one teacher interviewed indicated that there were only 12 working computers on the cart she checked out. The laptops are Apple iBooks with 128 megabyte hard drives running Operating System 10.2. The software installed on all of the machines is not identical but includes a suite of tools (either Microsoft Office or Appleworks), an Internet browser, and a web page authoring tool (FrontPage). The district planned to install concept-mapping software (Inspiration) later that year.
The laptops range in age from 1 to 8 years old and include those purchased by the county as a part of the original laptop initiative in 1997 as well as the additional machines the district has gradually added each year. The district has installed a robust fiber optic network in the schools. The middle school has a wireless network, although the principal and the technology coordinator confirmed that they had not yet established a wireless network signal in several areas of the building; the district technology director indicated that everything was not yet set up and running in the new sites in the district's consolidation of schools, such as Fulton.
In addition, approximately 20 Apple G4 desktops are located in the library, and available for use through a sign-up process coordinated by the library media specialist. The library also contains a wireless laptop cart housing 20 laptops that can be used in the library. There are also three computer labs in the school, in which computer classes are taught. The school has five LCD projectors-three in labs and two available for checkout to teachers-and networked printers are distributed throughout the school.
The laptop carts are housed in the room of each team's language arts teacher and are theoretically shared among the team teachers as needed. Neither a formal protocol nor an informal culture of sharing were reported among the teachers and administrators. While the plan was to have a laptop cart for each team to share, in practice the carts are primarily used by the language arts teachers who host the carts in their homerooms, limiting the use of the machines across the curriculum. For instance, when a seventh grade math teacher was asked about her access to the machines, she responded,
There are some English teachers around here that I've noticed this year who think that they are theirs . . . so I really haven't bothered them . . . because I knew I couldn't get the laptops in my room.
The principal estimated that only approximately 20% of the classrooms in the building are using the laptops on a consistent basis. This systemic inequity of laptop use among the teachers is a major obstacle to full integration of the laptops into classroom instruction. The following statement from an 8th grade Language Arts teacher who hosts one of the laptop carts reveals a possible reluctance in sharing resources:
I'll be honest, if I've got something [a technology integrated lesson] that works great in the 8th grade, I don't want to give it to 6th and 7th grade, because they will use it, and they get to 8th grade and it sounds bad, they get to 8th grade they've already done it, so what, we've done it so I'll share theories and concepts, I don't often want to share exact lessons because that steals my thunder.
Although referencing lesson plans in this statement, it could be inferred that this mentality translates to the use of the laptops as well.
Survey data also suggests this discrepancy in access is widespread. Teachers were asked about their perception of their access to several critical components of the laptop program, responding to each on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (non-existent) to 5 (excellent). Results are shown in Table 13.
Table 13. Teachers' Perceptions of Access to Critical Components of the One-to-One Program
|Non-existant (%)||Very poor/ Barely (%)||Adequate or pretty good (%)||Good (%)||Excellent (%)|
|The type of equipment needed for planning lessons or for pro-fessional development (e.g., cameras, scanners)||3.2||
|Sufficient numbers of computers and other equipment (e.g., cameras, printers) to implement technology-supported learning opportunities as I want to (a)||6.7||30||40||16.7||6.7|
|Computers and other equipment where they are needed (e.g., in my classroom; in a science lab)||9.7||29||29||25.8||6.5|
|Reliability of computers, printers, projectors, and other equip-ment (i.e., it works when I need it)||3.2||19.4||54.8||19.4||3.2|
|Reliable, high-speed access to the Internet in classrooms, labs, and media centers||9.4||15.6||43.8||28.1||3.1|
|Software appropriate for my content area and the age of my students to use with my class(es)||9.7||35.5||35.5||12.9||6.5|
|Technology tools for my own productivity (e.g., electronic grade books, word processing, presentation software)||-||6.3||18.8||53.1||21.9|
|Technical support with little or no wait-time (b)||3.1||40.6||40.6||12.5||3.1|
|Instructional support that helps me to integrate technology||3.2||22.6||54.8||16.1||3.2|
Note. n=31. a n=30. b n = 32
Less than a third of the teachers described their access as good or excellent for the type (29%), number (23%), and location (32%) of the computers in the school. Furthermore, less than a fourth reported good to excellent access to reliable hardware (23%), and only a fifth reported access to a wide range of appropriate software. The highest rating was for technology tools for the teachers' own productivity, which 73% rated as good or excellent.
As a result of the school merger, the laptop tracking system is being revised and the sixth and seventh grade laptop program is in transition. For this reason, the research team was unable to determine the extent of the laptop assignment among the five teaching teams in the sixth grade and the four teaching teams in the seventh grade. One of the obstacles to full laptop integration in the sixth grade is inadequate wireless coverage. As one teacher explained, "Our sixth grade teachers, a lot of them are very good with laptops, but they are unable to use them because there are no networks out in the CPL [sixth grade area]."
In summary, the full integration of the laptop program is hindered by cultural and logistical factors. Considering the potential of the facilities, there is limited use of the laptops and wireless network due to inadequate wireless coverage and the possible monopolization of the laptop cart use by a small number of teachers. Some of these contributing factors may be a result of the school merger and could possibly decrease as the teachers from both schools coalesce as a single group throughout the year.
Teacher Practices and Outcomes
Classroom observation and teacher interview data revealed teacher practices that included drill and practice, online research, problem solving with real data sets, and eCommunications. This data revealed that the majority of classroom use focused on drill and practice.
In an observed math class, for example, the teacher used the laptops primarily to conduct drill-and-practice exercises while she circulated throughout the room. The students worked individually to solve math problems and games on an algebra website (http://algebranotes.com/), first working out the answers to the problems on paper and then entering the answers into the laptops. The questions were delivered in a Jeopardy-style format that seemed to engage the students' attention well. The use of the computers allowed the teacher to pay closer attention to the individual progress of students by circulating and coaching those who needed help. She later said that she believed that the strength of the website exercises was the multiple presentations of the same concept, thereby providing immediate feedback and reinforcement to the student. She also believed that such websites have significantly helped her Spanish-speaking students, who are able to find math websites and exercises written in Spanish and who would otherwise have a more difficult time comprehending the class activities. Other websites used by this teacher included http://www.aaamath.com/ and http://mathforum.org/dr.math/. She and other math teachers in the focus group reported using the laptops to reinforce concepts through games and exercises about once every 2-3 weeks.
A similar math lesson was observed in another teacher's class in which the students completed practice review problems from their textbook's website (http://www.glencoe.com). The students worked out the problems using pencil and paper, then chose the right answer on the computer screen. After each problem, the computer scored their answers and gave them a percentage score after they completed ten. This particular lesson was the first time this year that this class had used the computer resources either in the library or through the portable laptop carts.
The technology teacher, formerly a business teacher, used computers to teach word processing, spreadsheets, and databases. These were taught as discreet technology skills, not tied to any particular content learning. All of the students in the school are required to take this elective at some point in their middle school careers.
An online research project was described by an eighth grade language arts teacher, who had her students conduct a legislative research in which they chose a bill being considered by the General Assembly and wrote to the representative from their district expressing their opinion of the bill. To research and draft their letters, the students used an Internet browser and AppleWorks word processor on their individual laptops. Those letters were then used as position papers for class debates in which the students made informed arguments for or against the proposed bill. The representatives responded to the students' letters and provided them with additional information on the legislative process. In this example, the laptops facilitated the real-world connection with the state legislative process and representative delegates.
The use of the laptops for Internet research and word processing was also mentioned by several teachers from different content areas. Teachers who reported using the laptops in this way considered ability to immediately research a topic or questions that may have been raised in class to be one of the main benefits of using the laptops.
In an observed language arts class, the teacher used a projector to walk the students through a similar research project that involved creating real data sets in order to write a biography paper on Edgar Allen Poe. As she modeled the navigation steps on her laptop and projector, the students kept pace and executed the same procedures on their individual laptops. The students proceeded to collect and organize data into a database created using AppleWorks 6. Once again, the teacher modeled the steps necessary to complete the task on her laptop, which projected her screen for the class to view. The teacher's use of the projected image of the database to categorize and organize the facts could be viewed as a use of technology to scaffold these principles, thereby allowing the students to perform tasks that would otherwise be more difficult to visualize and conduct. The use of the Internet and databases to collect and compile data introduces students to the real-world activities and processes of scientists and researchers.
Other teachers have capitalized on their access to the laptops to create classroom websites that are used to disseminate and share information among the students. This use of computers for eCommunications gives students practice in communicating and collaborating online.
In addition to the specific classroom practices above, teachers reported numerous outcomes that they attributed to the laptop project. For example, an eighth grade math teacher explained that the laptops free her from direct instruction and allow her to "go around and talk to them and see what they're doing." During an observation during an algebra class, she was seen sitting with individual students using a small whiteboard to demonstrate how to do the problems, while the rest of the class worked independently on a Jeopardy-style question-and-answer website. Another teacher reiterated that the laptop project increased the ability to individualize instruction in the classroom:
It's easy for individualizing . . . to work at different levels with some of the programs and some students might be on a second grade level or a higher and then they can progress that way, so for individualizing it's good.
The teachers' belief that the laptops empower them to more easily and often individualize instruction seems to be a critical factor in their instructional decision-making.
Finally, teachers also indicated that the laptops are used as a motivating factor and discipline incentive for students. Several teachers reported using the Internet to conduct research to create lessons that will engage the students. Several teachers also mentioned an increase in teacher motivation as a result of the laptop project. "It's really motivating for me as a teacher" and "it's made teaching a whole lot better," reported one teacher during the focus group interview.
Despite the teachers' overwhelmingly reporting positive outcomes as a result of having the laptops in their classrooms, the survey data shows they actually use the computers very little. Table 14 shows the frequency of common computer practices in the classroom as reported by teachers using a 4-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (never) to 4 (more than once a week).
Table 14. Teachers' Use of Laptop or Desktop
|Never (%)||Less than once a week(%)||About once a week (%)||More than once a week (%)|
|Conduct research that contributes to instruction (e.g., research for lesson plans and curriculum de-sign)||50.0||31.3||9.4||9.4|
|Develop materials and / or presentations for instruc-tion or homework assignments||71.9||21.9||6.3||-|
|Assess student work in or out of class||68.8||9.4||6.3||15.6|
|Manage student information||75.0||15.6||9.4||-|
|Communicate with colleagues inside and outside the school||56.3||28.1||15.6||-|
|Use a TV or projector to display information from your or your students' laptops||43.8||31.3||9.4||15.6|
The majority of teachers report that they never have the students use computers to take notes, email other students or teachers, or take a quiz or test, and nearly half report never having them use the computers to do homework or turn in an assignment. A full three quarters of the teachers ask students to use a computer for class assignments less than once a week. Thus despite the number of computers in the school, they are not often used in instruction by the teachers and even less frequently by the students.
Student Practices and Outcomes
The goal for the laptop access project is to increase student access to technology and to increase the student's comfort with technology through exposure in the school environment. Observations and interviews revealed a wide range of success in meeting these goals reflecting the wide range of laptop use in various classrooms. There was also a large discrepancy between the student focus group descriptions and teacher interview descriptions of laptops use in terms of its impact on the students. Part of this discrepancy could be attributed to the existence of high-level laptop integration classrooms and low-level laptop integration classrooms existing within the same school.Most of the students in the focus group reported that they rarely use the computers in the classroom except as a free-choice activity. One student explained, "In math, he lets us get on the Internet when we get done with our work . . . once a week or something. But other than that, we don't get on." Another reported that, "I haven't seen any laptops in any of those classes [language arts, math, social studies]." The students interviewed gave little indication that the computers in the school contributed to their academic life. In fact, when asked how they would feel if the computers were taken away tomorrow, they unanimously indicated that it wouldn't make any difference to them. As one expressed it, "It wouldn't matter . . . 'cause we don't really use it."
This is validated by survey data collected from teachers about how many days of in-class computer use occurs during the school year. As Table 15 shows, the majority of teachers use the laptops only 1-5 times per year, and fewer than a quarter use them on what could be considered a regular basis. Only 6.5% of classrooms have used computers more than 41 times; the majority of classrooms have used computers fewer than 5 times during the school year.
Table 15. Days of In-class Student Computer Use
According to the student focus group, most of their computer learning and use takes place at home. The students described going on the Internet, playing games, and communicating with friends on the computer when they are home, but none of the students interviewed reported using computers for any of their homework assignments. They spoke of taking a word processing computer class in school, but did not indicate that they had learned any other computer skills during their classes, crediting all of their additional computer knowledge to their families. As one student reported, "I learned most of my stuff at home, because we don't use computers that much in school." This stands in sharp contrast to the teacher's view of the outcomes for students. The teachers who were using the laptops reported many positive outcomes for the students. The major categories reported were increased student motivation, increased student product quality, increased student technology skills, and increased student-to-student communication. Teachers were also surveyed about the frequency with which they had students use the computers for various learning tasks. (See Table 16.) The results are consistent with those above in showing relatively little use of the laptops by most teachers.
Table 16. Student Practices
|Rarely or never (%)||Quarterly (%)||Monthly (%)||Weekly (%)||Daily (%)||N/A|
|Communicate with experts, peers, and others (e.g., over email or through discussion boards)||53.1||-||6.3||6.3||9.4||25|
|Solve real-world problems (i.e., involving situations, is-sues, and tasks that people actually tackle in the outside world)||43.8||12.5||15.6||12.5||3.1||12.5|
|Produce word-processed documents||28.1||18.8||21.9||18.8||6.3||6.3|
|Conduct online research||25||34||21.9||12.5||-||6.3|
|Use drill and practice or tutorial software||53.1||9.4||18.8||12.5||3.1||3.1|
|Use the internet to collaborate with students in or beyond the school||84.4||-||3.1||6.||-||6.3|
|Use technologies specific to your field (e.g., probeware in the sciences, geographic information systems in the social sciences)||59.4||15.6||-||36.3||9.4||9.4|
|Use technology primarily to prepare for the state man-dated tests||43.8||
The majority of teachers report rarely or never having students use the laptops to communicate with experts, peers, and others; solve real-world problems; use drill-and-practice or tutorial software; use the Internet to collaborate with students in or beyond the school; or employ technologies specific to the teacher's field. The most frequent uses of computers reported by teachers are for word processing documents and for on-line research, which approximately a fifth of the teachers report using once or more a month.
Teachers who do use the computers report that the use of the laptops has led to an increase in student motivation. One teacher explained, "It's made teaching a whole lot better because I'm looking for anything that'll keep their interest." Many of the teachers in the focus group reported that the computers were valuable as an incentive for good behavior. As one language arts teacher explained, "I do use it as a discipline incentive. . . . If they get through the week without a certain number of strikes . . . they get 20 minutes free on Friday just to play." The "play" that was observed and reported consisted primarily of students looking at the websites of sports heroes, actors, and musicians. Motivation is the student outcome of computer use most often cited by teachers.
When asked if she noticed a difference in the quality of her students' work as a result of the laptop use, a language arts teacher reported that it was "Definitely better, definitely better. They just have more information at their fingertips, and having those typewritten papers are much easier to read than handwritten papers." She also reported an increase in the length of her assignment: "My assignments have probably increased. . . . I just give them more tools to use, and so they can produce more, and so I guess in that capacity . . . my expectations are higher." The director of technology described a meaningful increase in the student's technology skills. She credited the laptop access program with contributing to this effect: We see that happening at our community college because I get feedback all the time that the kids from Hickman County know how to open their laptops and use them and they know how to get online, they know how to do that, whereas the surrounding school [districts], they have problems with them.
Several teachers expressed the belief that student-to-student communication has also increased as a result of the program. An eighth grade language arts teacher sees this as a result of having access to computers at home. She noted, "A lot of them with computers at home IM (instant message) each other, they email each other, they communicate extensively through the computer."
Table 17 presents the teachers' responses to questions about the type and degree of impact the computers have had on students, using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (very negative) to 5 (very positive).
Table 17. Teachers' Perceptions of Student Outcomes
|Very negative %||Negative %||Neutral %||Positive %||Very positive %|
|Interaction among students||-||3.1||46.9||46.9||3.1|
|What students learn about the subject you teach||-||-||37.5||53.1||9.4|
|Students' engagement, involvement, and interest levels||-||-||37.5||46.9||15.6|
|Students' ability to work independently||-||-||40.6||40.6||18.8|
|Students' attendance (a)||-||3.2||71||16.1||9.7|
|Students' ability to demonstrate metacognition||-||-||56.3||37.5||6.3|
|Students' ability to work cooperatively or collaboratively||-||3.1||40.6||50||6.3|
|Students' standardized achievement scores||-||-||62.5||31.3||6.3|
|Students' level of reasoning, problem solving, and/or thinking skills||-||-||59.4||34.4||6.3|
|Students' quality of school work||-||3.1||50||40.6||6.3|
Note. n=32. an=31.