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Collection: Laptops

Purple arrow (1137 bytes)Laptop computers and the learning disabled student: A study of the value of portable computers to the writing progress of students with fine motor problems

REFERENCE: Yau, M., Ziegler, S., and Siegel, L. (1990, Feb). Lap top computers and the learning disabled student: A study of the value of portable computers to the writing progress of students with fine motor problems. Ontario, Canada: Research Services, Toronto Board of Education.

Description of article:

CONTEXT: The authors/researchers conducted a study during the 1988-89 academic year involving seventh and eighth grade students in several schools in Toronto, Canada. They hypothesized that "students who have significant difficulty with the physical act of writing, because of fine motor handicaps, would be motivated (by the capability of the computer to facilitate production, editing, and attractive text) to produce longer, richer, more conceptually developed pieces of writing." (p. 1) Students were screened for reading ability (grade 4 or above) and for fine motor coordination (well below average.) Fifty-six students identified as learning disabled and with difficult to read handwriting were randomly assigned to experimental or comparison groups. Students in the experimental group were provided with a portable laptop computer which they could use freely at school and at home.

PRACTICE: The researchers collected computer-written and hand-written compositions that students from both groups wrote during 14 time-controlled situations over an eight-month period and compared them on both quantitative and qualitative measures. They also collected data regarding the use of the laptops from the experimental group students, their parents and teachers. Students in the experimental group were required to produce 2-4 stories each month. Otherwise they could use the laptop any way they chose. The comparison group of students were in the same classrooms but did not use the laptops. Each of the experimental students was loaned a Toshiba T1000 laptop computer, a typing program (Mavis Beacon) and a word processing program (EasyWriter). Each school was given a printer for these students to print their work.


According to the authors, results indicate that half of the experimental students made frequent use of the computers at home and at school. A majority of these frequent users, and far more of them than of either the infrequent users or the comparison subjects, made statistically significant improvement in the quality and quantity of their written work. No significant differences in features such as spelling and punctuation were observed, and the authors note that remedial techniques or more sophisticated word processing programs are required. They also speculate that a year is probably too short a period of time to gain an appreciation of the potential of computers to change students' writing and thinking.

The researchers found that laptops had two advantages over existing desktops in the sample classrooms: full accessibility and portability The portability feature allowed them to increase use not only in terms of frequency but also in types of usage: motivated users carried their laptops to other classes, for example, taking notes in science class. Students also took their computers home to prepare project reports and complete assignments such as their writing journals. It was found that users who usually brought their computers home tended to spend more time in doing homework than non-users or comparison subjects.

The authors note that although portable, many students found the laptop heavy and fragile. Due to the issue of additional care and responsibility, some students were reluctant to take their computers between home and school. In one instance, a student feared being labeled as a special education student. As a result of these concerns, the authors examined the data to consider the circumstances in which some students need more support than others. They found that some students, particularly those with more severe learning and behavioral problems, required more individualized training and more extensive support to acquire the necessary skills, boost their motivation and ensure success.

The authors conclude that the "study demonstrates that laptop computers are potentially very useful for improving the quality and quantity of writing done by writing disabled students, but that we need to integrate their use into the classroom with more support systems, especially for those students whose motivation or skills will otherwise prevent them from using the tool." (p.25)

CONTACT(S): Maria Yau, Suzanne Ziegler, Linda Siegel. Attn: Dr. Suzanne Ziegler, Research Manager, Research Services, Toronto Board of Education, 155 College Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5T 1P6.


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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. 

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