“21st Century Digital Natives” is a phrase that has been used in education for several years; Marc Prensky (2001) first coined the term digital native to refer to today's students. They are native speakers of technology, fluent in the digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet. By introducing a 1:1 laptop scheme, schools can capture the interest of these “digital natives” and enhance learning and academic outcomes.
As educators, part of our role is to ensure that students now have access to 21st Century learning in order to become competitive graduates and be prepared for a 21st Century working and personal life. In order to address this, an increasing number of schools have decided to introduce a 1:1 laptop programme. This means that students have the use of their own laptop in every lesson and at home - 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, in an environment where both learners and teachers have access to digital content, educational software, and digital authoring tools. This has sometimes been referred to as A3 computing – Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere.
The research literature indicates that there are 5 key benefits for a school that implements a successful 1:1 laptop program. These benefits are:
1. Improving learner academic achievement through the use of 1:1 technology. This includes the development of higher order learning skills and meta-cognitive thinking.
2. Assuring equity in access to digital resources so that every child has access at all times.
3. Preparing learners for their future which will be increasingly digital at university and in work and social life.
4. Enhancing teaching and transforming the quality of teaching. This includes the motivation of students, student centred learning, inquiry learning (leading to more independent learners) and interactive teaching.
5. Improving the communication between learner, parent and teacher by use of VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) and peer to peer/parent/teacher mentoring.
Current research related to the role of a 1:1 laptop program in schools shows generally positive results when implemented well. A recent report by Jenifer O. Corn, PhD (2009) on the 1:1 program in USA schools found the following areas of improvements in student learning and achievement:
Student engagement increased. The use of laptops for teaching and learning increased student engagement. Students showed an increased interest in school if teachers used laptops in lessons. There was also increased sustained behavioural involvement, positive emotional tone and greater effort and concentration by students who used a laptop.
Students’ 21st Century skills increased. There was shown to be an increase in the use of and development of 21st Century skills by the students which included higher levels of responsibility, self direction, communication skills, creativity, problem solving, information literacy skills and collaboration. These are all highly valued workplace skills.
Student attendance rates across 1:1 schools were very high in comparison to non 1:1 schools.
Student participation in external online courses increased. This enabled schools to broaden their curriculum to include courses that were not offered by the school.
However, it is important to remember that the introduction of a 1:1 laptop scheme can only be part of the successful learning environment of any school. It is crucial that face-to-face instruction and practical development/experiences of children still take place, especially in the early years of learning. Each learner should be allowed to customize their laptop so that the computer becomes an extension of the students’ personal self and brain, increasing ownership and engagement. In addition, considerable planning, infrastructure and, most importantly, teacher training is required to make such a scheme work.