One of the major innovations of OLPC consists in the idea that a computer given to a single child (also called 1:1 computing) is the best way to enhance the pupil's ability to learn effectively. It's called ONE-laptop-per-child after all.
In a recent article in ScienceDaily, strong evidence is presented that shows that 1:1 computing allows students in these programs to outperform their peers in traditional classrooms. According to findings of studies published in the Journal of Technology, Learning and Assessment:
Students who have participated in 1:1 computing report higher achievement and increased engagement. This new collection of articles brings together some of the best evidence to date on the implementation and impacts of 1:1 computing.
All of the studies that examined the impact of 1:1 computing on student achievement found that students in the 1:1 settings outperformed their traditional classroom peers on English/Language Arts standardized tests by a statistically significant margin. Study authors also reported on evidence of increased student motivation and engagement, as well as changes in teachers' instructional practices.
This is great news for OLPC. So far the evidence of the effectiveness of 1:1 computing was circumstantial and anecdotal. These are the kind of studies that OLPC should have not only follow closely, but also actively sponsor, and possibly enhance with their own on-the-field experiences and surveys. Although that was never done, it is never too late for OLPC to back up such studies, and to provide additional supporting data.
Teachers matter in 1:1 success
Regardless of the OPLC involvement, the outcomes of these studies is clear. Is this a clear strong, although indirect victory or endorsement for OLPC? Not really. The article clearly states:
"One of the most salient findings was the critical role that teachers played in the success of each 1:1 program," Bebell said. Additional factors critical to student success across 1:1 technology settings included:
- Having a strong commitment from school leadership
- Developing consistent and supportive administrative policies
- Creating professional development opportunities for teachers, particularly the sharing of best practices
It appears that the key for success of the 1:1 computing initiative are teacher involvement and a strong school commitment. In other words, handing out laptops to individual students and let them to learn independently, is not what is found to work effectively. Teachers' involvement, training and professional development is the real key for success. Unfortunately, on a global scale OLPC performs poorly in this regards.
Teachers' training and professional and curricula development is left to local groups and and it happens countries where the role of teachers has been recognized. It should not be a surprise to note that in these countries the OLPC initiative is known to have been the most effective. When such local involvement of teacher' training and curricula development was missing, the program has not shown any significant sign of success.
Therefore, having a global push for sharing experiences, promoting teachers' collaboration and training is the determining factor for the success of the overall OLPC effort.
It is unfortunate and heart shuttering to witness OLPC lack of recognition of the relevance of teachers involvement in the learning process. A laptop will never be able to replace a teacher. It will only be an effective tool for students to improve their learning and teacher to extend their teaching. Scientific evidence now backs this strongly. Let's hope OLPC will follow.