With Computers, Apple Project Finds Less May Be More

Newcomers to Dodson Elementary School often question if they have arrived at the correct place. They were enticed to this 983-student K-6 school on the outskirts of Nashville with the promise of witnessing the technologically advanced classroom of the future. Most assume they will see students seated individually at their desks, fixated on computer screens and diligently typing away on keyboards in solitary study. However, what they discover are large and fairly traditional open classrooms filled with books, where children of different grades work collaboratively on projects with their peers and teachers.

When computers are utilized—which happens extensively for tasks such as word processing and research—they are mostly used cooperatively, with as many as three students gathered around one screen. Each screen is an Apple Computer Inc. device, as six classrooms at Dodson Elementary are part of Apple’s well-known Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow project. The current state of the project is far from its original vision when it was launched in 1985, according to Faye Wilmore, who oversees the Apple program’s teacher-development center at the school. The initial idea was to provide each student with their own computer. "That’s how we started," Ms. Wilmore recently recalled. "But we soon realized that we didn’t actually need that much technology. The children naturally gravitated towards one computer anyway."

This discovery, that fewer computers may result in more effective use of technology, is just one of many conclusions that have emerged from ten years of research on the ACOT program. "We are not focused on technology’s ‘wow factor’," stated David Dwyer, an Apple distinguished scientist and the company’s manager of learning technologies in Cupertino, California. "We are discussing how technology can be used as a tool for teaching and learning."

The ACOT project stands as one of the longest-running initiatives aimed at uncovering how the efficient use of technology can aid in reforming schools across the nation. It started in 1985 with several hundred students in seven schools, representing a diverse array of schools throughout the country. Apple recently released a summary of its findings in a report titled "Changing the Conversation About Teaching, Learning, and Technology: A Report on 10 Years of ACOT Research". As Apple manufactures over 60 percent of the computers found in schools nationwide and conducted the research on ACOT, it comes as no surprise that the report concludes technology contributes to school reform. However, experts in educational technology who are independent of Apple hold a more skeptical view of the ACOT approach, which layers technology on top of a school district’s existing curriculum and bureaucratic structures.

Nevertheless, Mr. Dwyer claims that the ACOT study has unveiled several noteworthy points concerning the effective use of technology. Among these points are: technology acts as a catalyst for fundamental change in how students learn and teachers teach, technology revolutionizes the traditional methods teachers employ, students become re-energized and more enthusiastic about learning, leading to significantly improved grades, and dropout and absentee rates dramatically decrease. Mr. Dwyer also shared that for high school students in the program, dropout rates decreased from 30 percent to nearly zero, while absenteeism was reduced from 8 percent to 4 percent. Furthermore, college attendance among ACOT students increased significantly over the decade. Of these findings, the most crucial one is that teachers are capable of and willing to embrace technology if they receive the necessary professional development and support, according to Ms. Wilmore.

To acquire this professional development, teachers from across the country come to Dodson Elementary School, sometimes without even knowing how to turn on a computer. Over several days, they learn to effectively use word-processing and reference software as part of an integrated set of educational resources that includes textbooks. Then, the Dodson teachers guide them on how to encourage their students to do the same. The focus here is on helping teachers understand that they do not require a vast amount of technology to make a difference in their teaching. "It sounds so simple when someone says, ‘Incorporate technology into the curriculum’," Ms. Wilmore expressed. "But they have no idea how to do it. When teachers come here, they realize that nothing extraordinary is happening beyond what they could do in their own classrooms."

Looking ahead to the next decade, the ACOT project continues to discover how technology can further enhance education and teaching methods. The research and findings will play a vital role in shaping the future of schools across the nation.

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  • isabelbyrne

    Isabel Byrne is a 32-year-old blogger and student who resides in the United States. Byrne is an advocate for education and has written extensively on the topic of education reform. Byrne is also a proponent of the use of technology in the classroom and has spoken at numerous conferences on the topic.