• Join your peers at SSTI's 2024 Annual Conference!

    Join us December 10-12 in Arizona to connect with and learn from your peers working around the country to strengthen their regional innovation economies. Visit ssticonference.org for more information and to register today.

  • Become an SSTI Member

    As the most comprehensive resource available for those involved in technology-based economic development, SSTI offers the services that are needed to help build tech-based economies.  Learn more about membership...

  • Subscribe to the SSTI Weekly Digest

    Each week, the SSTI Weekly Digest delivers the latest breaking news and expert analysis of critical issues affecting the tech-based economic development community. Subscribe today!

Maine Laptop Program Paying Benefits

April 19, 2004

When first proposed in 2000, the concept was radical, controversial and expensive. Simply give a wireless laptop to all seventh and eighth grade students and teachers in the entire state of Maine.

The problem of expense, initially estimated to be $50 million for 35,000 laptops, took on greater significance as the state's revenues began to decline. Former Governor Angus King persisted and, 16 months later, a scaled back $30 million program allowed seventh-graders to use the computers in class and sign them out for use at home. The following year, the program was expanded to include eighth-graders.

As those students, who have now used laptops for two years of instruction, Internet research and homework, move into ninth grade, the State Board of Education has unanimously endorsed a statement urging the state legislature to expand the computer program into the high schools.

But is the state's investment making a difference, even with the attractive $300 price negotiated with Apple for each laptop?

The anecdotal evidence regarding decreased absenteeism, increased student engagement in the classroom, and improvements in behavior and achievement has been strongly favorable but not rigorously studied.

The first two reports in a series of several evaluating the program's impact from several difference perspectives, provides an initial structured, objective look into the program's effectiveness. Prepared by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute, The Impact of Maine's One-to-One Laptop Program on Middle School Teachers and Students (Research Reports #1 and #2) used several different surveys of students, teachers and principals to assess the usage, value and impact of the two-year-old program.

Conclusions drawn from the first research report include:

  • More than four-out-of-five teachers surveyed reported that students are more engaged in their learning, more actively involved in their own learning, and produce better quality work.
  • More than 70 percent of the students surveyed reported that the laptops helped them to be better organized and to get their work done more quickly, with better quality.
  • Teacher usage is 20 percent to 30 percent higher for teachers with more advanced technology skills and higher for teachers who have participated in four or more professional development activities.
  • Students report using the laptops most frequently in finding information (90 percent), organizing information (63 percent), and taking class notes (57 percent).
  • Student usage of the laptops for completing class work is higher for students who may take the laptops home.
  • More than 70 percent of the teachers surveyed reported that the laptops helped them to more effectively meet their curriculum goals and individualize their curriculum to meet particular student needs.
  • More than 75 percent of the teachers reported that having the laptops helped them better meet Maine’s statewide learning standards.

The program does have room for improvement and further research, however, according to the initial report. Teachers reported that the greatest obstacles in integrating the laptop technology more into their curriculum and instruction are the lack of technical support, the lack of more professional development opportunities, and the lack of time. Additionally, superintendents reported some increases in costs with implementation of the laptops.

Teachers surveyed also reported that all types of students are more engaged in their learning and more motivated to learn, particularly at-risk and special needs children. The Maine Education Policy Research Institute's second report specifically considered the perceptions of special education teachers on the use and value of laptops for seventh grade students with disabilities.

The second report concludes that while writing quality and quantity improved, materials were organized more easily, and student engagement increased significantly, "the laptops were perceived to be of clear benefit to the majority of students with disabilities... However, there were a few exceptions. Students who were highly distractible, blind and partially sighted students, and highly anxious students with low tolerance for frustration were all described as students who could not benefit from the use of laptops."

These papers and others on the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, the laptop program's official name, are available at: http://www.usm.maine.edu/cepare/mlti.htm