1 to 1 programs are so 2007

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.  

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  • “We do need to provide students with the opportunity to do complex and challenging work that computing can offer.”

    OK, so when will you start doing it rather than blogging about it?

    • Me personally? I would have to think that the videos and audio content I’ve posted would suggest some form of complexity that qualifies as high level computing. Many of those projects have taken a large amount of time as well has requiring serious computing power. Not sure what you’re getting at here. Care to clarify?

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  • Sure, when will you have students start doing this and stop simply talking about it? I’m not talking about you specifically, but you indicated that we need to provide students with the opportunity to do complex and challenging work. OK, its one thing to continually write about it, another to actually do it. When will all the talk stop, when will the vaunted conversation actually talk about something that was accomplished?

    • The idea of complexity and challenging projects wasn’t the main idea in this post but rather a “side note”. Perhaps best developed for another post. For the most part I would argue that complexity and challenge always requires time. In our high schools in particular, time is by far the most crippling barrier to complexity. Asking students to build and develop projects means some rethinking of time. I’m wondering if there are those who are doing this within the time constraints of the current system?

  • You’re speaking my language, Dean. In January, we will launch our BYOT program with our 7th graders. It’s been quite an adventure as we have had to jump a gazillion hurdles for not “standardizing” every aspect of the pilot project. Students will be able to bring in a netbook, notebook or tablet pc. (Tablets such as iPads are permitted, also; mobile devices such as cell phones and iTouches will most likely come later.) They can install Microsoft Office, Open Office or use Google Apps. Sure, it would have been far easier to require everyone to own the same device with the same software; but I still contend that school should mirror real life and in real life, we don’t all have the same device. For me, it truly is about personalizing the learning; helping our learners find the tools that work best for them. I also believe this will encourage teachers to create learning experiences that are about the content…not the tool, since no one will have access to the same exact tools. Do I think there are still many bumps ahead of us? You bet. What I know for sure is my district will never be able to afford a 1:1 and quite frankly, I’m no longer sure that’s the answer anyway. Instead, I’d much rather focus on finding ways to increase access to the tools needed to help support learning. You can find out more about our pilot project here: http://fhsdppl.wetpaint.com

    • Thanks for sharing that resource Cary, a bold move for sure but I think it’s the way to go.

  • Ok, I would agree that 1:1 programs are a 2007 Vision (or even earlier). I would also point out that it was an idealistic goal that was only realized by a very small percentage of the world’s educational institutions. An even smaller percentage of the whole could be counted as a successful implementation. Just to say, we can’t dismiss this as ‘an item accomplished in 2007’. So few of us have even come close to ‘arriving’, unfortunately.

    Furthermore, if our ultimate goal is to equip students fortheir future, issuing laptops to each person is not a satisfactory answer. The technology changes too rapidly and the diversity of their adulthood vocation/means/focus brings an unfathomable differential to that prediction.

    The thing that concerns me the most about your premise Dean, is my empathy for the educator and the student. The two parties at the frontlines of this essay. The co-learners of this adventure and the tools/methods of their journey.

    I believe that it takes a specially prepared, motivated teacher to be a good teacher – technology will seldom make a poor teacher a excellent teacher. Teaching is a curious blend of art and science. While it is one of the most satisfying jobs, I am very sensitive to how much society expects of our teaching population. Just what is it they are to accomplish in typically less than 50 minutes; 5 days a week/180 days per year period of time. The complex mix of human personality, culture, social status, family life, politics, security and risk already have a huge impact on the classroom, and then there is the reality of expanding curriculum content and high stakes accountability. Wouldn’t it to be nice to offer our teachers and students one relatively controllable constant to this wildly dynamic and stressful mix?

    Although teaching in a problem solving environment can be a good thing, I think that we are making it far to difficult for teachers to adapt to far to many variables already. If the friction to integrate is too great, I fear the greater majority of our teaching staff will not take the challenge. And if the majority of our teachers are not integrating newer technologies, that means that the challenge will be much greater for the few teachers that have the drive, the knack, or geek factor to make it work.

    So ultimately, I think that the institution really needs some standard level of technology for all students. There will always be the exemplary superstars that find a way to facilitate learning with any and every device, but let’s be fair to the average Joe Teacher and Learner.

    • You make a great point Gord. Teaching is already challenging, and adding this mish-mash of technology as I’ve called it adds to the complexity and I understand the challenges and don’t for a minute pretend it makes thing simple. I guess I simply think that it’s not only the more realistic goal in terms of money but also in terms of the reality of the world. When you opt for standardizing the learning environment you ultimately have to choose one platform and device over another. It usually doesn’t take too long until someone sees limitations. Schools typically have to make fiscal decisions and usually choose something that often mirrors the lowest common denominator. Cheap machines. And yet no matter what the device, they all offer some capability. As well, I think the majority of activity now takes place in a browser and so platform and software may not be as critical as it was 3 years ago.

      I worry that the desire to make things easier for teachers, can potentially hurt the kids. I think any implementation of either of these ideas requires a teacher who has some skill and understanding of how to actually use the devices regardless of whether they’re all the same or different. What I’ve witnessed though is that teachers who may not even be proficient technology users, defer those skills to the students. They’ll ask students to “record your lab” or “post your learning to our blog.”

      I think it’s a great question you raise. I tend to think that the technology is simply part of the diversity that all students have. I wonder if we need to embrace that sooner than later?

      • A very gracious and intelligent response, Dean!

        I am in full agreement that we should carry forward with a vision that immediately begins to do the most we can with what we have, and not give the excuse that ‘we can’t do this until we have a 1:1’.

  • I think you summarize the landscape of many schools that have not made the 1:1 commitment. My school district has never considered a 1:1 but rather has naturally progressed into providing the tools for heavy lifting and allowing (to a certain degree) students to rely on their own devices for consumption. Note that we do not allow our students access to our network for reasons that I don’t necessarily agree with but am willing to live with. It’s my experience that teachers are leading the way as far as accepting a heterogenous network of devices. As they become more reliant on their own devices they feel hypocritical for disallowing their students the same access. This of course is not across the board but the use of cells, ipods/ipads/3G devices in many classes is on the rise. I am currently researching the possibility to getting a community wifi hotspot installed within range of our High School. So far, lots of bureaucracy, but hopefully making progress…

    Regarding your side note about challenging work, I admire Gary’s passion for computer programming, but I find that there is little appeal with high school kids to learn programming. Seems like a lost art. However I did have a conversation at edcampnyc about game design and perhaps this is an “in” for complex system design. Basically the premise of the conversation was that Games are systems, systems are dynamic, and understanding how systems interact is game design. The site that referenced was Gamestar Mechanic I have shared this with several of my colleagues and I am hoping someone grabs hold of this idea and runs with it. I think a Game Design club would be a big hit.

    • Rob,

      I’m certainly not trying to dismiss the work of districts and schools that have been working on 1:1 computing. I applaud your efforts to make your district more open to alternatives. I think we all work within the confines of our organizations and develop creative responses.

      I know Gary is pretty old school and I think the idea of programming is akin to higher level mathematics like calculus. Good teachers can make it relevant and exciting but it’s not easy. Yet, it’s not all about programming. I would suggest “heavy lifting” includes video and audio production, gaming, application development (the idea of creating apps should be an easy sell for students). Heavy lifting can also include designing and data manipulation. As with most discussions, balance is the key.

      Thanks for stopping by Rob.

  • Terry Daugherty

    I think a big piece of this topic,is Virtual Desktop. Then,it does not matter that you have an i-phone or net-book. You will have access to the same software, it will have a similar feel no matter the brand or platform, and it is available at home too.

  • Dean, will keep you posted as I reach 1:1 this year in my 3rd grade class. I think we will. XO laptops. Lending library on horizon, who knows what else… There are lots of ways to engage, create, teach. – Mark

  • We started a BYOLaptop program with our Grade 7-9’s this year. My daughter is in Grade 6 and I would have loved to bring the program to more and younger kids, but the reality here in China is that I could not get the bandwidth to make it work for my whole school.

    When I set up the absolutely minimum BYOLaptop requirements I was pretty hung up on a laptop/netbook… essentially something with a full keyboard.

    I think phones and other devices are great compliments to the program but I still struggle with the idea of these tools replacing a laptop (or iPad’s although I was originally against them). Perhaps I’m too old-school (in a bad way), but last week when I was in a class writing a descriptive essay, I couldn’t imagine it being as effective on a phone. My teacher had brought in oranges that the class got to touch, smell, peel and taste, and the students (most with English as a Foreign Language) were writing away on their laptops. I sat with them, helped them come up with alternate descriptive words, read out loud to help with grammar and syntax, and offered suggestions and corrections.

    Could this have been done on a phone. Yes. Would the students have been willing to hammer it out on a small touch screen or qwerty-less phone? Yes. Would it have been as effective? To be honest, I think if phones were the tools, the teacher might have moved to paper for this assignment. Ideally our next step would be to share these on their blogs… but our blogs just got blocked, not by China, but by the blogging company that was spammed and ‘splogged’ (their word) by China forcing them to shut down all IP’s coming from China.

    I mention this last point because I think the one issue a lot of districts still have is that despite putting the tools in the hands of students, they choose to handcuff their programs with useless filters that filter learning as much as they filter anything else. I chose to move to China and have to deal with filters… I can’t imagine the frustration of teachers in districts where the district decides to do this ‘to’ them!

  • Great discussion here.

    I am going to go with Dean on this one. I believe that we will be challenged to get to the 1:1 goal in more than a scant few of our schools. Finance is going to dictate much of that. In our district, we have already gone to Linux so that we can get away from proprietary software costs, and technology is still very expensive for us.

    To this end, I have seen a massive change in cell phone ownership by our students in our school over the last 5 years. We have went from 60% of students owning cell phones to 95% ownership since I have been here. In another few years, it will get even closer to 100%. I also think about what cellphones looked like 5 years ago to now in terms of capability, and again extrapolate outward in my thoughts of what they will look like in another 5 years. When I read Frasier Spiers article, frankly I was quite surprised that he thought either of these things (ownership or capacity) would be an issue. I don’t believe they are, and don’t believe that they will be.

    The only issue that arises with cell phones is keyboarding capacity, which is not great. I think this will be a direction that cell phone producers will look at, and once this is accomplished, I really feel there is no stopping cell phones.

    I think all one needs to do is look at Google and other companies scrambling to catch up to Apple and Blackberry in the phone market. I am guessing that they know something…

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  • I think that this is the way forward. Referenced this post here.

  • Dean,
    We’ve had BYOL available for students at our HS for the last 3 years and are now moving it to our middle schools. Here is my post about that program. Recently,Converge Magazine interviewed our Tech Director and myself for this article. It also features Tim Wilson and Rich Kiker. Rich recently started this group to explore sustainability and feasibility, and Cary Harrod, who commented above formed this group to further explore Bring Your Own Laptops. The other day, Doug Johnson weighed in on his Blue Skunk blog with a couple of great posts as well: Specs for student devices and How wide does the digital divide need to be?
    The equity issue is one that we’ve had the most push-back on, but if we can supplement that need, I think we are going to make some inroads. Thanks as always for sharing your thoughts and allowing us to do the same!

  • I like the idea of “bring your own technology”. However, I have you ever thought about those people who cannot afford own technology such as laptops. You all guys have a point here. However it is still better giving all control of media to the institution.

  • A very interesting thread that i’ve only just come across now. It seems to me that a diverse, BYOT environment is an eventual inevitability for schools. I suspect that many (most?) schools will need to go through the usual centralized approach first, having a homogenized rollout of the same model of laptop (or device of some description) which all contain the same software, built from the same images, running the same platform. I think that will just be part of the evolutionary process required for many schools as they “go 1:1”. But the think that we would still be managing technology is this way in another 5 or 10 years is, I think, a little naive. As the price of owning your own device continues to drop, the sheer horsepower of what can be done with it increases, the form factors evolves, the choices in the market explode, the potential of what can be done “in the cloud” grows… Surely the BYOT concept has to be seen as inevitable?
    One thing that hasn’t been raised is that, if we are all about offering students choices to work the way they choose, then how do we respond to the students who say “I don’t really like to use technology at all”? If we are really catering to the needs of our students, and allowing them to work in the ways, and with the tools, they feel most productive, then there also needs to be an option for the (surprisingly large number of) students whose choice is to not engage or embrace the use of ICT at all.

    • I’m fine with the alternative of no tech in certain instances. The problem comes when collaboration and sharing are required, the no tech may impede the learning. When it does, that’s when it’s a problem.

  • Chris, I think you bring up a great point about personalizing for students. I’ve had several of the students from our 1:1 pilot last year tell me that they are much happier this year w/o the computer. I think this is mostly because of the connectivity issues that plagued the program continually, but much of it comes from a feeling of relief that they didn’t have to be responsible for the tech, and that they preferred writing in their notebook.

  • Michael

    Dean, you don’t really establish a case for the claim you make in the title of this post. You also don’t establish why BYOT and 1-to-1 are necessarily incompatible or mutually exclusive.

    However the way blogpost titles circulate today via social media, the claim will still be widely circulated like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    The problem with supercession is that it wastefully discards what is still useful in a wanton fetishization of the new. The new may be more useful, but that doesn’t mean the old is now automatically useless. Ask any senior citizen.

    To reject 1-to-1 computing in education on grounds of it now being unfashionable is like saying Shakespeare is so 16th century.

    In four years will we look back on this post and say it was so 2011?

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