LIVINGSTON, NJ – Data results from an inaugural survey fielded with Heritage Middle School (HMS) and Livingston High School (LHS) students, parents and teachers from Sept. 22 through Oct. 7 are in and are pointing to several areas the district’s administrators are already beginning to focus on as they tweak the 1:1 computer initiative to ensure its effectiveness. 

Officially launched just before the start of the 2016-17 school year, the 1:1 computer initiative issued each middle school and high school student a laptop to be used in conjunction with lessons taught in the classroom and to complete homework assignments away from school.

Students and parents received a 27-question survey while teachers were given a 34-question survey with the additional questions aimed at gathering more information specific to the educator’s perspective. With a required response rate of 12 percent needed for results to be considered statistically valid, participation for the first-time survey was considered to be strong with 58 percent of students in grades 7-12 (or 1,658 respondents), 25 percent of parents (or 720 respondents) and 44 percent of teachers (166 respondents) having completed it.

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Superintendent of Schools Christina Steffner presented findings from a selection of the most telling questions posed on the survey, at this week’s Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) meeting.

Approximately 81 percent of students and 66 percent of teachers reported having used their laptops in three to five classes. Although 72 percent of teachers said they were concerned that the laptops would prove to be a distraction for students, a slighter percentage of both students and their parents (29 percent for both) said that they shared that concern. 

In fact, a 68 percent of students and 64 percent of teachers agreed that the schoolwork has been more interesting to students since they began using their laptops, and similarly reported that the use of laptops actually kept them more motivated and engaged overall (69 percent for students and 74 percent for teachers, supported by 68 percent of parents). 

All three groups also noted that using a laptop helped in keeping schoolwork organized (79 percent for students, 82 percent for teachers and 72 percent for parents). 

“This data is very, very encouraging,” said Steffner, noting that one finding, specifically, surprised the administration where making schoolwork more interesting was concerned. “We didn’t anticipate the responses being anywhere near this high because the teachers are still learning how to use the laptops.” 

Across the board, written comments submitted from students, parents and teachers reflected many of the same themes, though comments varied slightly between the middle school and the high school communities in a few significant ways. 

The weight, unreliability and slowness of the Lenovo laptops issued only to HMS students was raised as one of the key complaints by students and parents.

For their part, middle school teachers expressed some concern regarding the amount of screen time their students would be subjected to. However, respondents indicated, overall, that middle schoolers adapted to the experience of laptop usage more readily than the high school community was able to do. 

Responses from LHS participants indicated a much more favorable experience with the entire initiative. Their concerns centered more around minor tweaks, such as the stylus pens being broken or too easily lost, security preventing access to some needed websites and, for teachers, a lack of fluidity in connecting laptops to projectors.

One of the primary differences between middle schoolers and high schoolers was that a surprising number of LHS students reported that, particularly in mathematics, they preferred to use pencil and paper as opposed to the devices. 

“Even though they’re writing with the stylus pen, it’s not the same to them, despite the fact that they’re digital natives,” said Steffner.

Items that both HMS and LHS participants reacted to similarly included: the need for more training for teachers, students and parents (with particular attention paid to getting a better handle on which platforms to use or minimizing how the utilization of multiple platforms compete with one another and how assignments can be more easily accessed from home); the longevity of battery life; the frequent need to reboot; and the potential to use their own devices versus a school-supplied device (especially for Mac users). 

The administrators are quickly acting on the feedback to make necessary adjustments to the initiative in an effort to resolve some of these issues as early in the launch cycle as possible. First and foremost, the LBOE acknowledges the continued need for more training for everyone and is actively looking for additional opportunities to better prepare teachers to incorporate the devices into their curriculums and streamline the ease of use for students and parents to access steady Internet connectivity and homework assignments through the various platforms being used. 

A pilot test is already underway to explore alternative devices that can be issued to middle schoolers in place of the Lenovos next year. Recognizing that battery life is a concern, charging stations are being added to the cafeterias and in classrooms. The possibility of utilizing personal devices instead of school-issued devices will be further discussed as the year progresses as well.

To better gauge where growth has occurred, whether or not issues have been adequately addressed, and if new issues are arising that will require attention, a repeat survey will be sent out in mid-January with a final survey for the year going out in May.