Computers in Classrooms

In too many classrooms, technology is an "add-on" amenity or topic separate from other subjects. e-Vermont partner Digital Wish works with 4th – 6th grade classrooms to integrate technology tools into the overall learning experience. In a Digital Wish classroom their staff:

  • Provide a computer and Internet access to every student in the room
  • Work in the classroom and in teacher trainings to integrate technology tools into teaching all subjects, not special “technology” classes
  • Ensure each student has a starting foundation in digital citizenship and information literacy to help them navigate the web
  • Link in-school technology to home and community by allowing computers to travel with students beyond the school, hosting parent nights, encouraging students to share what they are learning with their family, and designing community engagement projects as part of the curriculum

Digital Wish’s conceptual road map for developing technology initiatives provides a more detailed illustration of this approach, showing different strands of a successful project; it is linked here. Details are also available from the welcome kit used with all new schools.

e-Vermont Schools

Digital Wish worked with 24 schools in grades 4 – 6 as part of e-Vermont. Through the e-Vermont network they:

  • Served 1,294 students
  • Distributed 1,326 Netbooks and almost $50,000 worth of additional equipment for classrooms
  • Provided trainings to 1,465 participants, including in-classroom work with teachers on a regular schedule throughout the school year
  • Placed staff in schools for a total of 3,156 hours of direct interaction
  • Launched an afterschool program where students learned website design with Expressions software and game design with Kodu. These programs served 131 students, and included 4 Dell employee mentors and 14 high school student mentors. Winners of the closing game design contest are featured here.

Independently from the e-Vermont project, Digital Wish performed a survey of students to gauge their perceptions of the impact of their programs. Results from the first year show:

  • 73% of students agree that schoolwork is more enjoyable when using a computer
  • 85% of students report that they produce better work and pay closer attention to lessons when they use a computer
  • 95% of students report that it is important to have their own computer at school
  • Technology utilization doubled and even tripled across subjects for students and teachers, with the largest utilization increases in English and research
  • Within 3 months, comfort levels with computing increased in every classroom
  • 86% of students say they get work done more quickly when using a computer
  • 85% of students report that having technology in school is important to their future

Thanks to a generous grant from the A.D. Henderson Foundation, Digital Wish will be able to return to their e-Vermont schools in 2012 to study best practices for sustainability and to share what they learn with other interested schools.

Additional Findings

In addition to the particular resources for implementing successful one-computer-per-child programs, the experience of Digital Wish points to some broader concepts for 21st century education in Vermont schools:

  • Technology in the classroom, when used effectively, prepares students for the workforce not only by helping them be comfortable with computers, the Internet, and other tools but also by helping them become more engaged learners.
  • Students need earlier introductions to online safety, digital citizenship, and assessing information found online – these lessons should start around 4th grade.
  • For teachers to effectively use technology in the classroom, the technology needs to enhance the ways they reach their core teaching goals – not replace or distract from them.
  • All teachers should be proficient in evaluating online information, which may mean additional professional development and continuing education that keeps pace with technological changes.
  • Online access for students needs to be easy, which means equipment for every student and Internet connections that can support the highest speeds. Stopping the class to visit a computer lab, students waiting in line to use a computer, designated times for technology, all interrupt integration into the curriculum.
  • Involving students in their community as part of technology-related projects helps them feel more engaged in their education. For example, a business mentorship project where students imagined being entrepreneurs and building their own business proved a successful way to teach everything from math (budgets) to art (marketing design).
  • Spillover can happen from classroom to classroom, as more students and parents want 1:1 computers and as teachers have a chance to participate in trainings.
  • Schools can learn from successful programs in neighboring communities. By pairing examples of success with supporting information on fundraising, curriculum development, and use of community resources, Digital Wish is creating a statewide impact from the experience of 24 schools.