Using computers in schools: Everything changes

The following video documents a project in the Bronx where students are given laptops and much of their school work (in the classroom and out) is done on Google Docs or using other resources.

Interesting changes happen.

The number of students at grade level in math increases from single digits to over half. That is an astounding difference, proving that in some cases environment contributes to a HUGE proportion of variation in intelligence as tested, in this case, by evaluations of math skills.

The teachers have realized they had been asking students to do something they themselves are incapable of doing, and have shifted their emphasis to include multi tasking as something the students are expected to do and also need to be good at.

Big brother really does exist and can creep into the system at any time. And when I say creep, I mean… well, just pay close attention to what happens at just after 4:30 on this video. Wow.

Hat tip: Joe, from Dvorak.

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20 thoughts on “Using computers in schools: Everything changes

  1. That’s not ‘big-brother’ any more than a teacher walking around during class looking over the students shoulders is. Unlike the recent case in Pennsylvania, these laptops are for class room use only and the students have (or should have been told that they have) no expectation of privacy while using them.

    Also note that the supervisor is not using the camera to watch the student. He’s looking at the students desktop which shows that the student is watching themselves using the camera.

    I do think it would be more honest if the students screen gave some indication that their machine was being monitored.

  2. In a school in the Bronx, I would imagine that these laptops would be left at school, not taken home, because many students would probably lose them if they brought them home. So there probably isn’t much need to fear that these laptops could be used to spy on kids like at that school in Pennsylvania. It does look like the administrator has access to the webcam though – look at the student who was actually working at 5:50, you could see him.

  3. The teacher admits she “can’t work for an hour” with distractions? Pathetic. What a bad example for the kids. Too often in education, excessive multitasking is the problem, not the solution.

  4. It is not clear that the laptops are taken home or kept in school. Did I miss something in the video? Does anyone actually know this? Seemingly, it would matter.

  5. @Irene — Around the 2:40 mark, you see the students taking the laptops out of, what appears to be, a file cabinet. The implication is that they don’t take them home.

  6. also, the kids are aware of the monitoring. they showed one student ducking the camera. the teachers send out messages telling them to get back to work etc.

    it is a different level of monitoring than connecting with students computers when they are at home doing teenager stuff in their bedrooms *unaware* that they are being monitored.

    so, it is more like annoying little brother pestering you than the Orwellian version.

  7. Even after the laptops, only 62% of the kids are performing at grade level math. I realize that this is a move in a positive direction, but are our expectations that low?

  8. The monitoring software used, Apple Remote Desktop, by default displays an icon in the menu bar to signal that you are being watched. That can be disabled however. I couldn’t quite see whether it had been disabled in that case.

  9. only 62% of the kids are performing at grade level math.

    Actually, I’m pretty sure that puts them in the range of a “high performing school.” Also, I think the point is that they did thine one thing and got a ten fold improvement. I’m not sure how that can fail to impress.

  10. In my relatively short career in secondary education (6 years), I still don’t have a clear explanation of what it means to be ‘at grade level’. I think it can either mean the level of mastery that all students at a grade level are supposed to possess, or it can mean the expectations of the average student for that grade. (Coming from a science background rather than the usual education degree route, that kind of imprecision really bugs me.)

    In either case, that is a tremendous improvement as Greg points out. You very rarely see that kind of dramatic improvement in test scores at a school.

  11. I think the point is that they did thine one thing and got a ten fold improvement

    Allow me to ask thee what thy one thing was.

  12. I assume the students had to sign something when they were given these showing that they would be monitored…

  13. We are probably just constructing our lists differently…

    Yes, no… I didn’t see it as one thing but an amalgam and you stated “one thing” in reference to the the sum of parts… or list as it were, now clarified apparently. There was no one specific thing. If only that were true we could take afternoon swims in our riches.

    The construction of our lists are probably similar although interpretive differences may arise. I wonder for example if the lions share of gains realized were the outcome of computerization or redoubled efforts to teach? I realize this question need not be either/or but there is an important distinction to be made given base populations and budgets in allocations balance between infrastructure and human resources.

  14. I had recently read a blog about the iPad concerning its supposed ability to motivate students to read. The article left me skeptical–mostly because it felt like a press release written up by the marketing team at Apple. After viewing the Frontline video, though, I’m beginning to understand the greater purpose of technology in the classroom. Students are motivated by a computer because it is increasingly the medium through which they engage life.

    I once listened to an English teacher bemoan the idea of computers in the classroom. She gave a lengthy speech about the smell of the pages and the feeling of the book in one’s hands. Her romanticized notions of an English class are not without merit, but students simply don’t care about those things these days. This is not because students are callous or unrefined; this is because students have found something that works better for them. Some call wanting to read a novel on an iPad or a Kindle a frivolous desire. If that’s true, then we should call wanting to read a novel in paperback just as frivolous.

  15. This was from the Frontline eps “Digital Nation”, which had a lot more stuff in it… and some really annoying crap IMO.

    Anyway, Frontline is generally worth watching, and free online:

    My main annoyance is “multitasking”. Humans have no such ability! It is much better described as “context switching”, which has both costs and benefits. Anyone, especially young people, thinking they are fully capable of “doing two or three things at once” is really moronic and harmful. The ego-maniacal MIT students talking about how great they are makes me want to teach there… see how good they are at “multitasking” a real course (you know, the sort where the median exam grade is about 30 out of 100.)

    Anyway, I have difficulty concentrating on one task for very long… unless I get into a groove (programming for example). Taking a break or switching every so often incurs a cost, but also provides some benefits such as a fresher perspective when returning to the task. It is something to balance, not falsely believe incurs no cost.

    As for the grade school and the laptops. It can certainly be done right, though it can also be wasted effort and resources. Generally, I think that the ability to formulate good questions, synthesize information, and understand general principles is far more useful than something like long division by hand. The real way to evaluate how well a student is learning is to ask them a question they don’t know the answer to and observe how they try to figure it out. The internet, and more generally computers (modeling etc), are a natural fit to that sort of focus.

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