Eleven Tips for Better Laptop Learning by Jon Orech

The goal of installing laptop programs is to increase student learning in the classroom. Follow these eleven tips to get the most learning out of your investment.

• Make students responsible and accountable
Make sure to assign a computer number to each student. That way, mishaps become much easier to trace. Impress upon them the importance of careful treatment of the laptops.

• Make the activities authentic
The research on the importance of creating “authentic, problem-based projects” is overwhelming. Devise activities that have students work on issues that affect their community. Another consideration is that the finished product made by students is a document actually used by peers as an information tool. One example is a student-created on-line textbook. Another is to extend the traditional “Lit Circle” to a written document that other students can read to decide whether they want to read theat book. A final idea is to have students research individual topics as small groups, create a new reference source on line, and generate relevant questions which would result in student-generated assessments. To be “authentic,” the final project must be “used,” not merely “turned in.”

• Embrace your surroundings
“Home, Sweet Home”: The mobility of laptops holds great advantages. First, students are more likely to stay engaged if they are playing on their “home field.” You have already established a positive working atmosphere in your class, and the resources you use on a daily basis are right there. Enhance the experience with the use of laptops. Also, take further advantage of the mobility by placing students in the best locations to maximize the learning. If the activity is done in small groups, place them accordingly. Laptops also promote more peer revision with the simple trading of machines.

• Make sure the technology extends the learning
NEVER use computers just to use them. Make sure the learning accomplished with the technology could not be replicated without it. If the technology becomes superfluous, take out paper and pencil and let your neighbor next door use the laptops to create a voice thread, wiki, or digital story.

• Model desired behavior:
Using a projector, take students through the steps of the procedures so they can see exactly what they should do. Also, anticipate problematic steps and highlight them. Be patient with students who may not be as tech savvy.

• Use Web 2.0 tools
Using laptops as glorified typewriters is doing a disservice to our students. Having them surf to find information is a step in the right direction, but utilizing the more collaborative tools available can really enhance the learning of “Digital Natives.” Blogging as a revision tool, wikis as collaborative documents, podcasting, social bookmarking, are just a few of the many tools teachers have at their disposal to help 21st century learners.

• Provide frequent opportunities
Instead of taking the laptops out once a semester for three weeks, consider once a week for the entire semester. The frequent focused lessons that supplement your established curriculum will result in far more learning than the one mass “project” than may result in less efficient use of the technology. That way, your colleagues can follow your lead which results in your students receiving multiple chances to use the tools in a variety of situations.

• Develop structure and framework for lessons
Breaking out the laptops and turning them loose is never a good idea. Tech-related lessons should be structured within the framework of the curriculum. Remember, the laptop is merely the tool to enable the learning. Using technology does not ensure critical thinking. Give students specific expectations, due dates, and rubrics to keep them on track. Make sure instructions are readily accessible either on line or hard copy.

• Encourage collaboration in both creation and publication
The hallmark of Web 2.0 is the context of collaboration. Of course, consider collaboration within the class, but also across town, on the other coast, or around the globe. Also, students tend work more thoroughly and carefully if they know the whole world may view their work. There are literally thousands of places on the web to publish work…and talk about feedback!

Make sure activities are multi sensory
• Focus on activities that include sight and sound. Biologically, humans possess an incredible range of visual acuity. Take advantage of this by including images, both still and animated, and spend time on composition and arrangement of pieces. Don’t forget sound! Auditory stimulation from voice-over narration and music can add incredible meaning. Some examples of multimedia activities include Digital Storytelling, Scrapblogging, voicethreads, and screencasts. When recording in class, it is wise to invest in noise-cancelling microphones.

• A computer for every student?
Sometimes. Consider pairing students on each computer. The single keyboard and small learning space enhances Environmental Positive Interdependence (Johnson). By sheer proximity, students will work together. As a teacher, make sure both students get a chance to “drive.” Warning: two is usually the limit. Three on one station usually results in one getting nosed out.

Jon Orech is Instructional Technology Coordinator at Downers Grove South High School in Downers Grove, IL.