I am Gerald Ardito, a doctoral student at Pace University, and have been studying the impact that the XO Laptops and their Sugar software have on the classroom environment of a suburban, 5th grade cohort in The Shape of Disruption.
While my full data analysis is still in progress, the preliminary findings suggest that the use of these laptops and software strongly support these students becoming more independent as learners. For my research, I defined independent learner in terms of how the students work by themselves or with one another to do what is expected of them.
A little bit about our XO laptop program: We have about 125 students using the XOs in 5 classrooms. Each classroom selected 4-5 students as a "Tech Team." Their job is be classroom "experts," both in the basics of Sugar and the XOs, as well as in whatever activities the teachers want to use for various classroom projects. This part of the program has been really successful.
Spontaneous Helping Interactions
From the very beginning, we have observed a ripple effect. As soon as we introduce to a group of students a new skill or project the same thing happens: the kids that "get it" first, swoop around to show what they have learned, spontaneously, to their fellow students. We saw this happen over and over again in every classroom.
To quantify this phenomenon, we videotaped a set of XO based classroom sessions, so that we could really look at what I call "helping interactions," which are occasions when the students either:
- ask the teachers for help,
- ask another student for help, or
- students offer help to other students without being asked.
What we have seen is that roughly 4-5 times as many of these helping interactions take place between students, versus those that take place between teachers and students. This means that as these fifth graders use the XO's and Sugar, they spend much less time asking their teachers for help and more time helping one another. This-effect is greatly enhanced by the teachers' behavior.
The more the teachers facilitate and empower these student to-student interactions, the better. This last finding emphasizes that we are looking at a whole classroom ecology, which is too often, I believe, de-emphasized when talking about technology in the classroom.
Again, the entire data analysis for this study is not yet completed, but these initial findings do indeed seem promising.