This mixed-methods study analyzed the attitudes and perceptions of teachers following the implementation of a teacher laptop initiative. Data suggested that following the teacher laptop initiative participants in this study perceived they increased their computer use and began to adopt technology in the classroom. Results suggested that teachers became more comfortable with computers when given a laptop and that a teacher laptop initiative, coupled with professional development, can better prepare students for the 21st century.
As educators try to prepare students to succeed in the workforce, they are constantly searching for ways to motivate students and equip them with the skills they need for the 21st century. In order to properly prepare students for the 21st century, many schools may need to revise current curricula and incorporate training for teachers on how to integrate technology that engages and motivates students to learn (Ullman, 2007). According to the U.S. Department of Education (2008), educational technologies have enriched learning environments and enhanced students’ conceptual understanding. Most educators and parents consider technology an integral part of providing a high quality education (Greenhow, 2008; U.S. Department of Education, 2003b). Spires, Lee, Turner and Johnson (2008) found that students believed technology was an essential part of their lives and helped engage them to achieve in school. Technology promotes interaction and communication among students and teachers while enabling teachers to change the traditional role of an educator in the classroom (Levin & Wadmany, 2008). According to Li (2007), a technology-enhanced environment can “force teachers to change their role from knowledge dispensers to facilitators” (p. 379). By integrating technology in the classroom, students become more motivated to be active in the learning process (Clausen, Britten, & Ring, 2008; Cuban, 2001; Digital Learning Environments, 2008; Lemke & Martin, 2004). In this study, teachers in one school district were given a laptop to utilize with students and enhance classroom experiences. Through surveys and focus groups, perceptions and attitudes of teachers were analyzed following the implementation of the initiative.
For over two decades, interest in computer use in public schools has been increasing. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) reported that in 1994, 35% of public elementary and secondary schools had access to the Internet, where as of 2005, NCES reported 99% of public elementary schools have access to the Internet (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002, 2005). Although the nation has spent over $38 billion to bring technology and Internet access to schools, it does not mean the teachers feel well prepared to integrate technology into the classrooms (Benton Foundation, 2002; Franklin, 2007; Levin & Wadmany, 2008; Li, 2007; Mouza, 2008; Park & Ertmer, 2007; U.S. Department of Education, 2003b).
Although technology integration in the classroom is on the rise, studies show that much of the computer usage among teachers in elementary and middle schools is primarily for administrative and preparatory tasks instead of instructional activities with students (Becker, 2000a, 2000b; Becker, Ravitiz, & Wong, 1999; Franklin, 2007; Li, 2007; Mouza, 2008; National Center for Education Statistics, 2002, 2005; U.S. Department of Education, 2003a). Many factors can hinder computer use by teachers such as lack of teacher preparation, lack of leadership, lack of time, and lack of availability/access to computers (Bauer & Kenton, 2005; Becker, 2000a; Franklin; Li; Park & Ertmer, 2007). Ketterer (2007) believed the digital divide in our education system is “the difference between teachers who embrace the integration of technology into their classroom versus those who choose not to welcome all that technology has to offer today’s classroom environments” (p. 21). Although some teachers might have the desire to embrace technology, they are not always provided the proper tools to do so in the classroom.
Laptops in Education
Accountability measures of today have required a much stronger emphasis on the link between technology, engagements, and achievement. As a laptop initiative can alleviate the barrier of access, teachers participating in the Maine Learning Technology Initiative reported lack of technical support, lack of more professional development opportunities, and lack of time were some of the greatest obstacles in integrating the laptop technology into their curriculum and instruction (Silvernail & Lane, 2004).
Current research indicates the use of laptops has the potential to create supportive school environments that can foster student independence to technology and learning, thereby leading to increased motivation and great academic aspirations (Light, McDermott, & Honey, 2002; Mouza, 2008; Newhouse & Rennie, 2001; Swan, Van’t Hooft, Kratcoski, & Unger, 2005; Zucker & McGhee, 2005). Mouza reported that “initial findings from one-to-one initiatives have indicated positive outcomes on student learning” (p. 450). The Maine Learning Technology Initiative reported, “when students use technology they are more engaged in their learning, more actively involved in their learning, and produce better quality work” (Silvernail & Lane, 2004, p. ii).
The Irving Independent School District in Texas began a one-to-one laptop initiative in 2001. This district established long-term goals that included changing the teacher’s approach to teaching and learning as well as developing a long range plan for technology. Training was designed to focus on progressive concepts such as guiding the students instead of directing them, maintaining student interest in learning, and designing activities that seamlessly integrate technology into the existing curriculum (Borthwick & Pierson, 2008). As a result of the laptop initiative, students reported they were more motivated and engaged in learning (Borthwick & Pierson; Kerr, Pane, & Barney, 2003; Owen, Farsaii, Knezak, & Christensen, 2005). Teachers confirmed that the accessibility of technology became a benefit of their job (Borthwick & Pierson).
The National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers (NETS-T) recommends that teachers should not only use their knowledge of subject matter and teaching but also use technology to facilitate experiences that advance student learning (International Society for Technology in Education [ISTE], 2008). Former educational technology professional development programs often focused on teacher competency in using specific hardware and software, whereas today models are focused more on approaches that expand teachers’ knowledge and build skill and confidence in using technology tools in teaching and learning (Borthwick & Pierson, 2008). As access to equipment and the Internet has increased, so must professional development opportunities for educators to learn how to use the technology.
21st Century Skills
According to the Alabama State Department of Education (2008), schools are not keeping pace with technologies in schools that will be required for the 21st Century. Educators are not the only individuals who should understand the 21st Century skills and outcomes. The Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow—Today recommends “educators, students, and parents be well versed in the 21st century skills that students need to be successful” (Apple, 2008, p. 4).
A laptop initiative may directly address technology innovations, but that alone does not complete the framework for 21st century learning. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2008) stated that for students, “proficiency in 21st century skills should be the outcome of a 21st century education” (p. 5). The 21st Century Skills Organization (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2008) quoted Superintendent Steven Paine: “The Framework for 21st Century Learning is critical to the success of public education in this state and this nation” (p. 5). Learning 21st century skills can provide an opportunity for students to not only be successful but internationally competitive. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2003) has identified the following as characteristics of 21st Century Learning Skills: accountability and adaptability; communication skills; creativity and intellectual curiosity; critical thinking and systems thinking; information and media literacy skills; problem identification, formulation, and solution; self-direction; and social responsibility. The basic framework for 21st century learning includes Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes, Life and Career Skills, Learning and Innovation Skills, and Information, Media and Technology Skills.
The 2006 NetDay Speak Up surveys found that less than 50% of students, parents, and teachers indicated their schools were doing a good job of preparing today’s students for 21st century careers (Ullman, 2007). Although some of the skills are included in a basic level of current curricula in many classrooms, the necessary skill level for success in the 21st century workforce far exceeds the basic level. In order to be authentic, 21st century skills should be integrated within the traditional curriculum, allowing students to see connections between their studies and the world in which they live. Table 1 lists the characteristics offered from The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2006) for professional development.
Table 1. Characteristics for 21st Century Professional Development.
From education to the demands of the workplace, change is constantly occurring in society. There are three major influences on 21st century learning: globalization, technology innovations, and new research on how people learn (Apple, 2008). A laptop initiative directly addresses technology innovations, but that alone does not complete the framework for 21st century learning. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2008) stated that for students, “proficiency in 21st century skills should be the outcome of a 21st century education” (p. 5).
The purpose of this study was to analyze teacher’s perceptions, attitudes, and instructional impact from a teacher laptop initiative. This study utilized a mixed methods research design (Creswell, 2003) to examine the impact of teachers’ perceptions and attitudes about a teacher laptop initiative by using a combination of instruments and focus groups to collect and analyze quantitative and qualitative data. Questionnaires provided quantitative data that were used to answer three research questions. Through focus groups, participants were able to go beyond a single answer response and elaborate on personal experiences.
The following research questions guided the study:
- What is the impact of a teacher laptop initiative on teachers’ perceptions of their computer use?
- How is the use of computers for classroom instruction impacted by a teacher laptop initiative?
- How are teachers’ comfort, interest, and view of computer significance impacted by a teacher laptop initiative?
- How can a laptop initiative help teachers to prepare students for the 21st century?
This study took place in one southeastern urban school system in the United States. During the 2007-2008 school year the school system was composed of seven schools (five elementary schools, one middle school Grades 6-8, and one high school Grades 9-12). The school system serves approximately 6,000 students and 400 teachers in the state. The racial composition of the community and system is predominately White. This is an affluent community made up of many professionals of the business community.