Teaching tendencies in a 1:1 laptop classroom

In a 1:1 laptop school it is very important to provide support and advice to teachers. Due to the initial excitement of having technology in the classroom many teachers often go too far, too soon with laptops to the detriment of student learning. I always highlight to staff that laptops are an aid used to assist the learning process and should never detract from it. Here are three common traps that new teachers in 1:1 environments tend to fall into.

  1. Encouraging students to use laptops as their sole form of note taking
  2. Providing students with too much information, (handouts, PDF scans, internet links)
  3. Forgetting the traditional pedagogy skills used to encourage collaboration

Issue One: Encouraging student to use laptops as their sole form of note taking

The initial risk of immersing students and teachers in a 1:1 environment is over enthusiasm. Students are initially so keen to use their laptops that they will try to do every task, including all of their note taking on their laptop. My anecdotal experience is that the process of writing topic notes on a computer, does not support the cognitive process of learning complex content.

A 21st century classroom is a place where subject content is accessible and they can have access to these resources 24 hours a day. Our conventional wisdom suggests that learning occurs when students do something with these resources to construct their understanding. My thinking is that learning in a 21st century classroom occurs in a constructivist manner. This is an approach to teaching and learning is based on the premise that cognition (learning) is the result of “mental construction.” In other words, students learn by fitting new information together with what they already know. Using examples to help students understand how theories apply to the real world, completing worked examples, role plays and practical experiments or extended reading are all important tools used to develop mental construction. Somewhere in the learning process students need to have a form of notes that helps them store their knowledge so that can reflect and revise the material.

I encourage my economic students to have a small hand written note book, which becomes their pseudo bible of the essential content, definitions and graphs or diagrams. Some students will attempt to draw all of their graphs into their electronic notes, but this is soo time consuming and in my opinion detracts from the learning. Perhaps this would be easier if our school was using a tablet form of laptop.

I do give students a simple electronic notes template at the beginning of each unit. This details the learning objectives for the curriculum. I give students these notes as revision/study notes focus. At the end of the year we spend some time in the library where students print out these summaries and place them in a folder. This provides students with a sense of achievement, and a set of notes which they can highlight, annotate and use throughout their revision. By having notes solely on a computer I don’t think students learn with the same effectiveness. They can use annotation functions or hyperlinks but the technology still lags behind, what I think are the best learning techniques.

I have heard of some schools bundling courses, notes and multimedia activities to students using the Microsoft product OneNote. This killer application is only available on the Windows platform and makes me very envious. There is a nice overview of the alternatives mac products available here. Evernote and XMind are excellent mobile alternatives which synchronize notes through a cloud to separate mobile devices.

Issue Two: Providing students with too much information, (handouts, PDF scans, internet links)

The ubiquitous nature of subject content is a clear benefit of the internet age. In a 1:1 laptop environment, the intention of the teacher must be to act as a filter of information so that student receives appropriate content to support their learning. In a 21st century classroom, students can find the answers to most things instantaneously. For instance students in my class will constantly go to Google or to business websites to find the definitions of economic concepts, ahead of using a textbook. I think we still need to reinforce, and in some ways be the facilitator of content knowledge to students and to point them in the direction of reputable, peer reviewed documents instead of googgling everything.


Overtime I have clarified in my mind where and what is the important content knowledge the students need to know in Economics. I still adhere to the respected textbooks in  IB Economics and point students to several sites which have a detailed understanding of the subject. I also carefully share my notes and presentations with students and this information is shared with students through an Online Learning Environment eg StudyWiz. I am weary of giving them enough, but also certain resources which extend top students such as online tutorial or lesson on iTunes U.

Issue Three: Forgetting the traditional pedagogy skills used to encourage collaboration

In the first semester of teaching in a 1:1 environment, there is this feeling that laptops should be the key tool that students use to engage with the material and to submit work. After teaching in a school with laptops for two years, I have stepped back in some ways, from a teacher that uses laptops for each and every minute of every period.

There are several reasons for this. I know that hand writing skills are an important element of the students examination success and there is no way to avoid this and you need to build this skill development into the programme of learning. The students ability to work in groups to present ideas, and the ability to work in a face-to-face manner with other students is a very important social skill that is required in the workplace, therefore it is something that should be developed in the classroom. Students spend too much in virtual social online worlds, therefore the classroom needs to be a collaborative learning environment. I think technology and laptops can be a tool which makes this collaboration more effective, but collaboration should not only occur in virtual worlds and through the internet.

For instance, I am still an ardent fan of using whiteboards for students to share ideas in small groups. The small whiteboards are simple, cost $2.00, and with a few magnets can be stuck on the board at the front of the class. Perhaps students can use webcams to take photos of their boards, but I wouldn’t replace the boards with laptops. In other situations, getting students out of their chairs and into groups to complete matching exercises, posters and essay planning scaffolds are pedagogy approaches that all work and support learning. Overtime teachers in 1:1 environments learn to find a balance. I feel that my classroom reflects the skills that are required in a 21st century society and workplace.

In conclusion, effective teaching is supported by laptops, but learning can still occur without them. The learning curve in a 1:1 classroom is hard for a new teacher and it is important to give staff time to discuss and reflect on their approaches.

And article – The $2 dollar interactive whiteboard

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