Integrating Productivity Tools in Primary and Secondary Education CLOUDS AND SUN

Project Laptop: Achieving Equity and Access to Technology in a Public High School

Jane Trombley

The goal of Project Laptop at Summit High School is tocreate systemic change in education by ensuring equity and access to computer technology for every student and teacher, at school and at home, and to provide comprehensive teacher training for the successful implementation of technology in education.

The Mayor's Partnership for Technology in the Summit Public Schools envisions a high school with a student body representing a wide range of social, economic and cultural backgrounds where every student has access to computers--and Internet--both at school and at home. A school where students and teachers are encouraged, indeed expected, to use the world as a classroom, and where using technology in research, presentations and as a communication tool is as commonplace as using the telephone. A school where every teacher is provided with a laptop, and the training and support to actively use computer technology and the Internet as a teaching tool. A school that integrates technology into the teaching/learning process--in everything from word processing to presentation skills to Internet access--so that computer literacy becomes a seamless component of the curriculum.

Project Laptop reflects the understanding that in the 21st century technology will be commonly integrated into every aspect of life in our society. The idea which led to the formation of the Mayor's Partnership for Technology was presented by Summit resident Jordan Glatt to then Mayor Janet Whitman in 1995. Development of the concept with Summit Public School superintendent Dr. Michael Knowlton led to the creation of the Partnership in 1996. Today, co-chaired by Mr. Glatt and Mrs. Whitman, and with the enthusiastic support of the current mayor, Walter Long, the Partnership represents a diverse collaboration of educators, residents, corporate, municipal and foundation interests, all committed to supporting and investing in innovative education models in the public schools.

Summit is an ethnically diverse small city of 20,000. Placing a high value on superior public education, the Summit Public Schools truly represent a microcosm of our nation. Thirty-nine different languages are spoken at home by students and their families. Summit High School, with a culturally and economically diverse student population of 700 and a tradition of academic excellence, is an ideal setting for Project Laptop.

The high cost of technology and the need for teachers to be adequately trained in its use are challenges to public schools in New Jersey and throughout the United States. With Project Laptop, the Partnership and the Summit Public Schools are demonstrating how a public/private collaboration can successfully provide an unique educational initiative outside the constraints of a tax-supported public school system, producing high school graduates trained and prepared for the demands of technology in the workplace.

The presence of technology in schools does not necessarily mean equitable access for all teachers to acquire or practice teaching skills using these innovative tools; and rarely, if at all, does it mean equitable access to technology for all students. Project Laptop seeks to address both issues.

Critical to Project Laptop is the teacher training in the use of computer technology as a tool. Faculty at SHS are provided an intensive three day, paid workshop that covers use of the laptop and word processing, use of the Internet as a resource tool, and mastery of presentation software (Microsoft PowerPoint) and content related software. In addition, a cadre of experienced teachers attend the Apple Classroom of Tomorrow (ACOT) training to understand the integration of software in the classroom. This core group of peer mentors is available to provide ongoing support to their colleagues.

From its inception, Project Laptop was thought to hold the potential for integrating technology into curriculum. This is most evident in the faculty enthusiasm and support for Project Laptop. While originally planned to be contained within the freshman class during Year I (1997-98), Project Laptop's benefits have "trickled up" throughout the school as teachers seize opportunities to implement technology in other classes, and all students make use of the "loaner" laptop program. There is heightened interest among the remaining teachers to join their peers in integrating technology into their classroom. For the students, it is clear that skills acquired through Project Laptop (Internet research, word processing, presentation skills) are immediately transferable to the workplace. Specific findings are outlined below:

Teachers' attitudes and beliefs about the importance of technology as a tool for teaching and learning have begun to change. Teachers recognize that technology "belongs" in education and are using this tool in the teaching/learning process. They have moved along a continuum from awareness to application and integration.

New, and improved, skills for both teachers and students. Teachers use the presentation software to make class lectures more engaging and in turn teach students how to make effective use of presentation software for their oral presentations.

Classes benefit from shared information and the use of non-traditional sources of learning In Spanish classes, Spanish language newspapers are downloaded daily for students to read and discuss.

By ensuring equity and access to computer technology at school and at home for students and teachers, Project Laptop is not only "levelling the playing field" but raising it as well by eliminating the technology disparity between the "haves" and "have nots". Teacher training and support enables the integration of technology to become a seamless component of the curriculum.

The Mayor's Partnership for Technology is demonstrating how a public/private collaboration can provide rare educational "R&D" in a world of shrinking tax-based resources. Project Laptop is a model for replication throughout the United States.

Upon request, the Mayor's Partnership for Technology is available to provide consultation services to public and private schools, and cities and towns which have an interest in developing a public/private partnership.

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