"At first I was really excited. I thought we were going to be able to do more with them. Now, they're like a decoration. They just sit there." Maine middle school student quoted in Wired Magazine (Dean, 2002)
“He feels good about his accomplishments in a way I haven’t seen for the past 7 years. He’s learning more material, and he’s learning it faster. He’s excited about learning. Bravo!!!” Parent of a Maine 7th grader (Maine Education Policy Research Institute, 2003, p. 30)
“I think the computers are the best thing that has happened to education in the last 20 years. I hope this initiative will continue to be used and improved.” Maine middle school teacher (Maine Education Policy Research Institute, 2003, p. 18)
In 2001, the implementation of the nation’s first state-wide one-to-one laptop program put Maine squarely on the instructional technology map. Governor Angus King’s visionary initiative placed Apple iBooks into the hands of every 7th and 8th grade public school student, as well as their teachers. After six years, formative and cumulative research indicates the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) has significantly improved teaching and learning for Maine’s middle level students both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Independent studies by Silvernail and Gritter (2007) at The Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation have documented positive results on teaching practices and student learning. Lemke and Martin (2003) of the Metiri Group also reported higher academic performance and greater levels of engagement among students with one-to-one access to digital learning tools as compared to those with less access.
As the principal of Freeport Middle School (FMS) in Maine when the MLTI began, I experienced first-hand how providing one laptop per student affected teachers and students in our school. In observing and listening to my teachers, it was clear to me that the MLTI had the greatest positive impact of any educational policy or program in the past 30 years of public education. FMS World Languages teacher Zully Amaya saw a significant improvement in student engagement:
Students were 100 percent engaged. They took pleasure creating presentations and recording their voices in French or Spanish. These presentations allowed them immediate feedback on what they were learning. It gave them feedback on their pronunciation and helped them become less timid. Bringing foreign cultures into our classroom was now just a click away. One-to-one technology most definitely spiced things up, and enhanced learning for all the students and for the teacher too!
The MLTI fundamentally and permanently transformed the way teaching and learning occurred in Maine. In addition, it has accomplished this more broadly and in the shortest time of any reform or program that I can recall. The initiative is not only changing the way education happens, it is changing the way we think about teaching and learning. FMS literacy teacher Betsy Sky-McIlvain explains:
The most exciting thing about the laptops is the access they provide for EVERY student to 21st century learning tools - digital communications, digital idea presentation, global sharing of ideas. We have new things to learn about teaching and learning with laptops: reading has changed the editing of and responsibility for writing conventions has changed. The options for demonstration of learning have changed. Students expect more instant responses to their products. No way can we continue to be traditional in today's FMS classroom!
One-to-one computing is also about increasing student motivation and learning. FMS math teacher Alex Briasco-Brin, who is also a Milliken Award winner, shares the impact of laptops on student attitudes and achievement in his classes:
Before the laptops, there was a 60 percent pass rate on the basics test. Now, it's 85 percent. Kids who didn’t think they were good at math are being successful and enjoy math again or for the first time. The overall positive atmosphere of my classes has eliminated discipline problems and failing grades. No student has had a zero on a homework all year! More and more topics are being designed as discovery lessons, interactive lessons, and multiple solution answers. I could go on and on.
Additionally, one-to-one computing has proved a huge benefit for students with learning disabilities, as reported by award winning FMS special education teacher Linda Pritchard:
The largest impact laptops have had for kids with learning disabilities is the support they provide students in being independent learners. The kids feel more confident and empowered to do work on their own. Learning becomes more spontaneous for them. Laptops help support more teachable moments, those situations that just happen, unplanned. Isn't that when most authentic learning happens?
FMS tech education teacher and two time Maine Technology Educator of The Year, Dan Queior, sums up the impact of one-to-one in terms of increased efficiency and time for learning:
I don't have to ‘waste’ time trying to schedule the computer lab. We can make much better use of the ‘teachable moment’ with immediate access to computing, researching, brainstorming, etc. technologies. Students have more time for learning because they don't have to ‘wait in line’ for a learning tool.
Technology has also changed the way teachers and students manage, store, and share their work. Veteran FMS language arts teacher Judy Donahue explains how this happened using one-to-one access:
We are use to Drop Folders to send passages, quizzes, and graphic organizers directly to students. They are then able to type into the document rather than write. When finished, they send them back to me. In another example, Journler has become my easy way of saving student work, thereby creating an instant writing portfolio. Other teachers are using Noteshare for these functions. We're moving toward a significant reduction in our paper trail.
FMS librarian and Maine Media Specialist of The Year, Pam Goucher, shared her school-wide perspective on the positive impact of the MLTI:
For me, as a librarian, student laptop access is great because of the everyday opportunity it gives each of us (teachers and students) for a dialogue about information - where it comes from, its validity, what its intended use is, its impact, and recently, the way ‘format’ affects that impact or use. With one-to-one computing, this dialog can happen about anything, with anyone, anytime, anywhere.
The vital role played by the technology leader cannot be overstated. A FMS technology leader and pioneer of educational technology in Maine explains how one-to-one computing made digital technology as transparent as paper, pencil, and books in the learning process, “The 24/7 availability of laptops made technology ubiquitous for students and teachers. The result was less focus on the technology and the appropriate focus on how its use could enhance learning.”
While the experience at Freeport with the one-to-one initiative has been rewarding, this has not been the case everywhere. Certainly, some proponents of MLTI may have believed that simply placing laptops into students’ hands was enough; that new laptops, powerful programs, and 24/7 wireless access to the Internet for all students and teachers would magically improve learning. They learned quickly that this was not the case. Many schools reported teachers effectively engaging students in rigorous academic activities, such as carrying out sophisticated research, writing, creating high quality presentations, and collaborating with other schools. However, there were also troubling accounts of laptops sitting closed on teacher desks, being misused by students, damaged, and even remaining unpacked in their shipping cartons and locked in storage rooms.
As I heard or read stories about the successes and failures of Maine’s experiment with one-to-one learning, I thought about our own experience at Freeport Middle. Our implementation had been very successful. FMS teachers embraced the possibilities, and our students accepted ownership and responsibility. Both teachers and students took pride in their work and accomplishments. We proudly welcomed visitors from around the country and beyond who wanted to learn how we did it. I began to consider what might have led to the differences in school experiences where the MLTI was the “best thing to happen to education in 20 years” and schools where laptops became “just a decoration sitting there.”