The question of "what should a classroom" look like in terms of technology has been asked many times in our district and in many places. The whole pursuit of one to one computing is still somewhat interesting but in recent times I've been trying to think a little differently about this idea. During a recent presentation I dared to say :
Certainly a statement like this will elicit a great deal of discussion as is should. My point here is that my thinking about one to one computing which has been ongoing for at least 6-7 years has focused on purchasing laptops for every student. That may still have merit in some instances but I think we have to move beyond that single path and begin to explore a variety of options and configurations that truly do enhance learning.
The idea of BYOT (Bring your own technology) is beginning to take shape. Certainly there are cost savings involved but more importantly it acknowledges that the type of equipment you have may not matter and in many aspects of learning it doesn't. The naysayers will be quick to argue that mobile devices lack the ability to create in the same ways that a typical laptop does. I'll concede that argument but would also argue that a great deal of learning is about consumption. I realize that's almost a dirty word in today's Read/Write world, of which I participate fully, but even in a world where publishing and creation is more prevalent and possible than any time in history, creating first comes from consuming. To quote Will Richardson, "Blogging is about reading". To paraphrase, we can't create, until we consume. If that's the case then we need to acknowledge that allowing and promoting students to use their devices, as limited as they may be, at a minimum allows access to the sum of human knowledge. That is going to be a great start in creating a learning space that offers a plethora of possibility.
Frasier Speirs argues against such a model. He cites the following issues:
- "It assumes every child has a mobile phone." No it doesn't. Just because you allow students to bring what they have doesn't mean you won't supplement those who don't. Schools still need to be aware of inequities and address them. In the same way schools offer free and reduced lunches for those that need it, the same could be done when it comes to access.
- "It assumes that every pupil's mobile phone has a certain baseline capability." Again, no it doesn't. Talk to someone like Liz Kolb who has been exploring the use of cell phones for a number of years. She readily acknowledges that not all phones are alike and yet has been exploring the untapped potential of devices once thought could only make phone calls and text. Classrooms and schools should have a variety of technology but there seems to be a desire for uniformity. Some might call it standardization. The problem is that we assume that when students leave the building they have uniformity at home. We need to help them make the most of whatever technology they have access to and when necessary, supplement those who need something more.
Speirs goes to make a few more arguments all of which presume an all or nothing approach. I've yet to hear anyone suggest that allowing students to bring their own technology means that no more hardware would be purchased. That would be ludicrous.
In my district you'll find Macbooks, Netbooks, ipads, ipods, Windows, Linux, Snow Leopard, BlackBerrys and basic cell phones. Some are district owned, some are student owned. We certainly haven't got it all figured out but as an IT department, the acknowledgement that students and staff all have personal preferences and personal devices they want to use has been a key philosophical view that pushes us forward. Ask our IT staff if they like it and they'll usually say, "it's not the easiest approach but the most beneficial for students".
So when we consider what a classroom and learning space should look like, what do we envision? It's difficult to come up with a singular description. Age and developmental stages would have to be an important consideration. What a grade 2 classroom and a senior biology classroom look like should likely be quite different and this would likely be true with technology as well. However, I'm envisioning spaces that perhaps are similar to many households and businesses where multiple devices are employed. For most people, a laptop is overkill. I'm seeing more and more professionals make the transition to mobile devices and yes, ipads. My daughter, who is 23 currently owns a MacBook. She asked me what I thought about her replacing her MacBook with an Ipad. We discussed what how she currently uses her MacBook. We didn't uncover a single reason for her to own a laptop. For any "heavy lifting" computing, she would have access to machines at school or work but she really couldn't think of any occasion in the past year where she needed that. The ipad itself is beginning to grow on me as a device that offers a unique experience. It's difficult to compare it with a netbook which is so often the case. Certainly there are similarities but it many respects it's quite a different device in the same way that a mobile phone is different from a laptop. Some might think differently but as I think about a classroom makeup, I see a variety of devices and choices much like the variety of students and aptitudes that come to our schools everyday.
As a side note, I do think that we highly under utilize the power of our computers. I agree with Gary Stager that in our connected and published based world, we've lots some of the potential for computers to create and build. We do need to provide students with the opportunity to do complex and challenging work that computing can offer. Even if we provided every child with a high powered laptop or desktop to do the heavy lifting, we still have to acknowledge that other devices are part of the landscape and again, most of the time, those other devices are the ones we use most often.
So while the mish-mash of technology may prove to be challenging for teachers and IT staff to manage and control, in the end this isn't about management or control but learning. It's about helping students use the tools and gifts they have at their disposal, maximizing that potential and showing them new possibilities as well.