1 to 1 Is Not The Answer

If you want to keep abreast of what is happening with technology in education across developing countries, Mike Trucano shifting-conversations-logofrom the World Bank writes an interesting blog which focuses on the policy aspects across many regions. The Bank’s reach means he is across a lot more than most, and while his focus is around national policy, he often highlights experiences that might be of interest to school and systemic leaders.

Given his brief he is naturally across many of the 1 to 1 initiatives from across the globe, his post at the end of last year was a summary of much of the outcome of the Global Symposium on ICT use in education in  Korea which focused on “Transforming Education with 1:1 Computing: Learning from Practical Experiences in Providing Students with Their Own Individual Computing Devices”

Much of what was discussed there would be top of mind for many educational leaders. For those Districts, Provinces or schools that are still considering such an initiative, his Trends and Lessons from 1-to-1 Educational Computing Efforts Around the World is useful, but it also should provoke discussion across a wider group, most notably leaders of schools who have already deployed the more than 30 million laptops and tablets to students in countries around the globe.

So what have we learnt? 1 to 1 is not the answer-walknboston-edited

What would we do differently now if we were to give advice to schools considering 1 to 1 as a BYOD and/or a school supported initiative?

As this year’s ISTE looms again in the US, maybe it’s time we had some serious reflection on our progress to date.

For mine, I lament our continued focus on the wrong ‘1’…the technology, rather than what it makes possible; despite all manner of solemn commitments to ‘pedagogy, before technology’ we are still too often avoiding the realities of what delivering a digitally-rich learning environment could and should mean for kids today.

1 to 1, or BYOD simply gives us a platform on which we can create extraordinary possibilities-if we choose to…but too often too many seem to have been distracted by other priorities.

We have countries providing ubiquitous 1 to 1 access to facilitate more efficient textbook delivery (Indonesia and Thailand); countries that mandate it for assessment purposes (USA), and countries that use it to deliver votes for election promises (Australia..and others)…and that of course leaves out the LAUSD debacle which to date appears to have served no useful purpose.

As extreme as some of these examples might appear, their frequency seems directly related to the scale of implementation, where educational vision gets lost in a fog of politics and populism.

But what probably worries me most is what I call the ‘plateauing of practice’ whereby large numbers of deployments have met with an initial enthusiasm which over 12 -18 months plateaus to the technology’s use being largely marginalized and ultimately appropriated within the traditional orthodoxies of daily school functions.

How much time and energy has been expended across all the implementations we have seen to date looking for new ways in which can engage more kids, more often, in more complex concepts and ideas? If it is not to come from us, then who should it be?

As inspired as I might be by the exemplary examples we might see in the exceptional classrooms of some remarkable teachers, we continue to compromise our young people if we cannot get our focus back on what really matters. As committed as many are, I sense there is still a malaise that hangs over our profession, and we will only break through that if the leaders in our schools can bring a sense of both inevitability and urgency to the task of transforming the learning experiences of our kids.

To do this we need breakthrough thinking; powerful ideas that can build a sense of purpose and possibilities. Is now not the time that school leaders might be asking themselves and their staff questions such as the following.

  • What should the learning and teaching of science look like in a technology-rich modern learning environment? (insert your domain of choice here, but science is often an obvious one to start with)
  • If all that we read about the importance of feedback from Hattie, and formative assessment from people like Dylan William really matters, how might we be best leverage ubiquitous technology access to expand on those concepts?
  • Why aren’t there more large scale Math initiatives now in place to build on the ground-breaking thinking of Conrad Wolfram and his colleagues? What about lots more school-based ones as well?
  • To what extent have we reimagined the traditional framework into which so many 1 to 1 initiatives have been placed? As Scott Looney asks, what are the Sacred Cows of Education, and which ones might we consider leaving out? Is it possible that we could be exploring these possibilities in depth in a sub-school such as our Middle schools? Here’s an example of what one school is doing in this space.
  • Despite world-wide enthusiasm for where Maker thinking is heading, why are so many hesitant to embed the concepts across the curriculum? If programming in schools died a natural death by the turn of the last Century, what steps might you take to embrace coding across grade levels and ages in ways that will see engagement sustained?

Despite commitments to the contrary, I still worry we were too often looking for the silver bullet, which of course for many was the technology itself, when the answer is tough, long-term and at times can be both radical and challenging.

I’ll finish with two quotes I heard recently from school leaders which illustrate the dimension and scope of the challenge.

“Our staff of 150 is one year into a BYOD world, and unfortunately due to a number of different factors, they are not enjoying themselves.”

Now I’m not sure I need to comment here, other than to say I hear it often. It reflects the most common problems we face which is simply around wrong assumptions and unclear expectations. If we don’t start by getting these right from the outset, then we have an awful lot of ground to make up.

The second is quite the opposite, from a principal, Stephen Harris,  who I regard as someone who is creating a school culture in which both students and teachers share a commitment to doing ‘whatever it takes’ to create the best transformed learning landscape.

Is his focus on technology or infrastructure or funding or digital literacy? No.

“I believe that developing effective collaborative skills among teachers is the biggest challenge we have to transform”

This is targeting the real challenge, and that is about equipping our staff with the skills and competencies to review, reflect, improve and share their practices in ways that will inevitably bring about the transformed learning experiences that we yearn for our students.

No, 1 to 1 is not the answer. It is certainly an excellent step in the right direction, but it is just that, a step.


Image Credit Walknboston

3 thoughts on “1 to 1 Is Not The Answer”

  1. James R

    Yup, uh-huh, sure, no question, but you fail to point out that 1-to-1 is inevitable, that eventually every school every where will de facto be 1-to1 because that’s where we are going with technology. Sooner or later, every child will have a device (unless schools ban them). The issue is that teachers are not being trained in integrating technology. I was part of a 1-to-1 role out where every student and teacher in middle school and high school was given a Macbook Pro in the week before school started, but the teachers were never trained in what to do with all of this technological power. When teachers are trained, it is in the tools and not what to do with them.

    1. Bruce Dixon

      Agree with your thoughts James. It is inevitable that every child will some day ( hopefully soon) have access to their own ‘device’. Hopefully for them it will be a fully functional, personal portable computer. However at this point I’m not sure we can see the way clear to suggest that such a step will also inevitably bring about a transformation of their learning experiences.

  2. Mike V

    1:1 IS the answer! But in the same way as the ubiquitous assumptions for the past 50 years about every student having a pencil. It’s not about having a pencil, it’s about what can be done with the pencil as opposed to what happens when a student doesn’t have a pencil. Focus on the tool creates a mistake of logical types. Learning is what the learner does. Tools equip (or not) the learner in ways that facilitate (or not) learning that is impossible or more difficult than without the tools. Doesn’t matter if it’s a pencil or a laptop.

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