SPECIAL REPORT: Anytime, Anywhere Learning with Laptops: Results from a Microsoft/Toshiba Pilot Prog

Editor's Note: Thefollowing information is reproduced with permission from a reportprepared by ROCKMAN ET AL, an independent research and consultingfirm based in San Francisco. It explores the experiences of schoolswho participated in the Anytime, Anywhere Learning pilot program,jointly sponsored by Microsoft and Toshiba America.

The Anytime, Anywhereprogram helps schools acquire laptop computers and Microsoft Officesoftware tools for every student. The pilot year implementation(1996-97) involved 26 sites, including both private schools andpublic school districts, for a total of 53 elementary, middle, andhigh schools. Participants ranged from schools with no previouscomputer experience to some of the most technologically advancedschools in the country.

For some schools,especially many of the private schools, the laptops came on top ofextensive computer labs, lots of desktop computers in the classroomsand, often, access to family computers at home. However, for otherschools, particularly many of the public schools, the program'sgreatest impact was not on the nature of computer access, but thefact that they provided any access at all. Administrators said theysaw the program as the first real opportunity they'd had to providewide-scale computer access to their students.

While all administratorsagreed that a full time, one-to-one ratio, 100% inclusion model wastheir ideal, they cited various constraints which led many to adoptother implementation models. The five models we found are listed here(along with the percentage of schools that used eachmodel).

  1. a concentrated model (46%), in which all students in a classroom have their own laptop, which they are free to take home;
  2. a dispersed model (12%), in which students with laptops are dispersed throughout a grade or school, so that in any particular class there are both laptop and non-laptop students;
  3. a class set model (15%), in which schools purchase a set of laptops that teachers can then check out as a set for specific time periods;
  4. a desktop model (4%), in which district-purchased laptops are distributed a few to each classroom, with little opportunity to carry them home; and
  5. a mixed model (23%), in which schools or districts combine two of the four approaches either within or between schools.

Each of the differingapproaches to implementation yielded encouraging outcomes thatsustained the program and satisfied the schools. However, modelswhich provided one-to-one and continuous access elicited the mostpraise and allowed the most time for developing integrated curriculumuses.

Teachers are using thelaptops inside classrooms in many ways, with different benefits forstudents. These variations are a product of many factors, includingthe implementation model, the school's prior technology background,available staff development, varying class sizes, grade levels andsubjects, and individual differences in approach toteaching.

In schools which have hadthe laptops the longest, classroom applications seem to evolve instages. First, many teachers and students must learn the very basicsof computer and application use, and they often do so in tandem.Second, teachers move on to a stage of experimentation, in which theyemphasize computer use, trying a variety of approaches and thengauging the results. Finally, once a range of uses have beenexplored, teachers tend to focus back again on the curriculum, andemploy the laptops as tools when they seem mostappropriate.

Similarly, teachers reportthat student use evolves over time. Students begin with lots ofexploration, and their work tends to have a lot of "bells andwhistles"-- various font styles in Word, for example, or extensiveanimation effects in PowerPoint. Later, as they acclimate to thelaptops and software, they move towards more "substantive"uses.

Many of the teachers whomust engage classrooms full of laptop owners are still attempting tomaster the technology and software, yet they can usually relinquishthe role of expert to students who have already progressed far beyondteachers' abilities. The program encourages teacher risktaking.

Teachers are taking on newroles as learners, often looking to both colleagues and students toassist them, while students are becoming the teachers of theirfaculty and of their peers. These new roles are a direct consequenceof the intensity of the technology changes in the participatingschools. Teachers can identify ways in which their participation inthe program is beginning to modify their teaching styles andapproaches to instruction.

Changes in studentattitude, motivation, and behavior are seen within a very short timefor those students participating in the program. Teachers identify anarray of benefits to student learning strategies and to learningoutcomes. To read this full report, and access many otherresources, log onto Microsoft's Anytime, Anywhere Web site(www.microsoft.com/education/k12/aal/).

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.