From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

Vol 8|No 1|September|1998 


The Laptop Fallacy

by Jamie McKenzie




"If only we had a laptop for every child. What a difference that would make!"

Place a computer on a lap and the student becomes a better writer, right? Nonsense. Network that laptop and the student becomes wiser, better informed and more communicative? Poppycock.

The educational world is awash with foolhardly, expensive and ill-considered technology ventures that may line the pockets of vendors while doing very little for the capabilities of teachers and students. If these ventures downplay the critically important role of strategic teaching, they may end up short on results and long on expense. These ventures threaten to drain away scarce resources from other programs (libraries, arts, counseling, roof repair and reading) without guaranteeing offsetting gains.

The path to an "information literate school community" is not paved with laptops and cable, routers and hubs. It is not the miles of cable or numbers of computers that will determine the success of the program. We expect to see students thinking and working more powerfully, but this change can only come about if we value strategic teaching above hardware.

We are better off with fewer miles of cable and fewer computers wisely used by teachers who are well prepared and strategic. Less is more.

Even as school districts race to network their classrooms, we note in many places a remarkable absence of clear purpose. Sometimes it seems as if the mere act of connecting classrooms is the goal. There may be a "plan" with pages of rhetoric about preparing students for the modern workplace and dozens of goals, but there are surprisingly few references to the activities that teachers will conduct in order to transform their classrooms. There is often too little attention to effective teaching. There is often a lack of focus.

Technology fans sometimes forget or ignore the prominent role of craft in combination with tools. Installation fever blinds many to the talents required to make sure our students will read better, think better, write better and communicate better. Without substantial devotion to skill building (questioning skills, planning skills, thinking skills, communicating skills, information skills, etc.) electronic tools and information are unlikely to enhance student performance.

One of the most disturbing trends facing schools is the notion that technology itself is the goal. Report after report makes grandiose claims for the benefits of installing technologies in schools; claims that remain unproved and unsubstantiated by reliable independent studies.

In their emphasis upon technology for technology’s sake, extreme advocates fail to grasp several essential notions . . .

  • Technology should never be narrowly defined as electronic equipment and computers. Schools should also consider the value of those other tools (such as books, questions and colored chalk) that help us to make meaning and solve problems without batteries and cables.
  • Strategic teaching is an essential element in any program that would make profitable use of technologies and information.
  • We are seeing a transformation of information and information systems; a new information landscape that radically alters how young people must think and learn about their world. While intertwined, information changes may be more important to schools than technology changes.
  • Information literacy (not technology) combined with strategic teaching is the natural and proper focus of networked schools and those who work within them.

Technology without strategic teaching is too much like a schooner without steering. Sadly, many districts fail to provide the professional development necessary to create such sound and strategic uses of technology.

Failing the provision of robust professional development, we will witness little return on investment. Results will elude us. We will look for excuses . . .

"We have miles (of cable?) to go before we learn."

We can place a hammer and a chisel in every teacher’s hands while standing them next to a grand block of marble, but we have little reason to expect a David or the Thinker to emerge.

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Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie Order Jamie's. Some were also modified with Photoshop.
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