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Collection: Providing Access to Portable Tools

purple arrow (1137 bytes) NCIP Profile: Laptops to the Rescue at Shrewsbury High


In the spring of 1993, Caroline Gilmore -- a teacher of students with learning disabilities at Shrewsbury High School in Massachusetts -- noted there were several students with significant learning disabilities on the roster of incoming eighth graders.

Caroline knew that these students had been using desktop computers in the middle-school resource room to circumvent their mechanical difficulties when writing. Thinking about the high school curriculum, she realized that these students needed access to computers in their mainstream classes.

Who Should Have Access

Caroline was aware that Shrewsbury High School had five laptops that were housed in the computer lab and available to both students and teachers on a sign-out basis. She knew, however, that students with learning disabilities had not used this resource in the past. To explore ways these students could gain access to the laptops, she met with Donna Simone, the school's special education coordinator, and Brian McDermott, the district technology director.

The group agreed that laptops could help students with disabilities participate more fully in mainstream classes. Brian then procured two additional laptops for the special education department. Caroline identified two students who, because of their fine-motor impairments and attentional problems, were unable to write successfully without a computer. Because of the severity of their disabilities, it was decided that these students would be given priority access to the two SPED department laptops.

The group also decided that Caroline and other teachers of students with learning disabilities would target specific situations in which other students could benefit from using laptops.

How Plans Are Implemented

While this approach has been in place for nearly a year, it continues to evolve. When teachers identify a student's need for a computer, they first check to see if one of the SPED department computers is available. If both are being used, they speak with Sue, the computer lab coordinator, and sign out one of the lab's available laptops. The teacher or student then picks up the computer for the specified periods and returns it afterwards.

Increasingly students are taking responsibility for reserving, picking up, and returning school laptops. As part of a larger effort to promote self-advocacy skills, students are encouraged to anticipate assignments or classes where laptops would be of tremendous use. After identifying these situations, students are encouraged to make the necessary arrangements to acquire laptops and return them on their own.

To minimize confusion, a desktop application called At Ease (TM) is loaded on each laptop that insures students save files on their own "save disk" and not the hard drive. These floppy disks are primarily housed in the resource room to help safeguard against damage or loss. Teachers or students retrieve the needed disk from the disk box in the resource room and return it after the students' current work is saved on the disk. Individual "desktops" that give users access only to the applications they need can also be created with At Ease.

Students are able to print out their documents either in the resource room or in the computer lab. Students may also reserve laptops from the computer lab for home use. As with the in-school lending programs, this is arranged on a first-come, first-served basis.

Keeping Laptops Secure and Running

Laptops were initially designed for incidental business use, not for the wear and tear exacted by even the most careful students. Security and maintenance issues must be addressed when laptops are being crammed into backpacks, dropped off in lockers, and taken off school grounds by different students.

At Shrewsbury High, the laptops are stored in locked cabinets in the computer lab and the resource room. To minimize damage, the school has invested in padded carrying cases. If anyone notices a problem with a computer, they inform the computer lab coordinator. Twice each week, a technician from a computer company contracted by the school district comes to fix and maintain the computers.

Before a laptop can be taken home by a student, a parent or guardian must sign and submit a form stating that his or her homeowner's or renter's insurance policy will cover any loss or damage to the computer when it's in the student's possession off school grounds.

Evidence of Success

Black and white photo of Caroline and a student working on laptop (9279 bytes)Caroline reports that many of her students with disabilities who are using laptops are thriving in mainstream classes. For example, one of her students can begin his extensive vocabulary assignments on a laptop in English class and finish them later in the resource room aided by coaching from Caroline. Rather then falling behind his peers, this student has been given a tool that helps him keep up the pace and succeed.

Recently, two students with learning disabilities arranged to have laptops over a period of several days so that they could participate in a school-wide writing contest. They worked on their stories in their language arts classes, in the resource room, and at home. When their work was complete, both were proud of their entries.

Demand for laptops is certain to grow as more and more Shrewsbury teachers become aware of the ways in which these portable computers can help students who have difficulty writing. Looking ahead, educators at Shrewsbury are currently extending a school-wide network that will allow students access to their files from any computer in the school.

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

ŠEducation Development Center, Inc.