Sep 11 2017

Maine’s Statewide Laptop Program Boosts Tech Access, but Digital Divide Persists

Classroom computers can’t boost student outcomes if educators don’t know how to use them innovatively.

States have been making big strides in helping school districts use technology to innovate. From North Carolina bringing students and teachers high-speed internet connections to Rhode Island assisting with personalized learning initiatives, states have been stepping up in a big way to support schools.

One state program, however, is unlike any other. For the past 15 years, Maine has offered a statewide laptop program for certain grade levels. This program is the first and only state program for computer access, reports NPR.

The Maine Learning Technology Initiative, which started in 2002, began by deploying technology to seventh- and eighth-graders. By 2009, the MLTI website reports that the program expanded to high schools.

“The Maine Learning Technology Initiative made Maine the first state to seize the potential of technology to transform teaching and learning in classrooms statewide,” reads the website.

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Expanded Access to Tech Boosts Active Learning

While large percentages of math students reported in the latest Technology Counts survey that they hardly ever use computers in class, students in Maine are more likely to use laptops and in innovative ways.

Maine leads the way in using classroom computers for active math learning, with 67 percent playing math games at least once a month, 53 percent using a graphing program and 29 percent using computers to support geometry learning.

This active use of computers in math class gives these students a better idea of how mathematicians work in the real world.

Digital Divide Persists Even with Access to Tech

Despite these incidences of innovative use, NPR reports that largely Maine has not seen an increase on statewide standardized test scores.

“The fact that we’re not seeing large-scale increases in student learning leads us to suspect we still need to do some work with helping schools and teachers understand and keep up with the best ways to use technology for student learning,” Amy Johnson, an education policy researcher, tells NPR.

Johnson points out that this lack in increased test scores is likely because of a new kind of digital divide that is emerging in Maine. While schools with more resources are using laptops in creative ways, rural schools are still only doing the basics, she says.

“When you’re in a small school, not only do you not necessarily have access to talk to other people, but the chances of you having an innovator or an early adopter in your school is smaller,” says Johnson in an interview with Bangor Daily News.

While Maine is ahead of other states in terms of providing access to technology, it is in the same place as many in terms of this new digital divide.

Though more and more students have access to technology and high-speed internet, the Technology Counts survey found that lower-income schools are falling behind in training teacher how to use such technology in impactful ways. Data from Education Week found a near 10 percent disparity between high- and low-income teachers and their access to technology training.

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