Short Answer: I believe any reform focused on technology rather than teaching & learning will end in the status quo, but I believe 1:1 initiatives may be uniquely problematic.
Whenever I start writing these kinds of posts, I am leery. I know that many of the probable readers might reject what I have to say a priori. In all honesty, I then think about how many subscribers I will lose (I don’t have very many to begin with – not compared to Scott McLeod stats!). I also think about all the well-meaning and enthusiastic professionals out there who see technology as an avenue to education reform, and I don’t want to dim their lights or keep them from pursuing what they believe is best for kids. Yet, I earnestly believe dissenting opinions are so very important. All I can do is share my perspective and thoughts in hopes of contributing to the work in progress that is education.
1:1 technology initiatives are becoming very popular in my state. As a teacher, I would have loved teaching in a 1:1 school. I am well aware that high quality learning environments can be achieved in the presence of ubiquitous technology, but I also know that technology is not necessary. In many ways my classroom was 1:1 because the school laptop cart was in my room 3-4 days out of every week. Yet, upon continued reflection, I become more and more skeptical that 1:1’s are the way to go.
Ira Socol explains how buying the same of anything for all students likely leaves two-thirds of the students uncomfortable. He includes electronic technology as well as chairs, pencils, desks, and books. He further expands this view into learning experiences. That is, students should have access to multiple representations, multiple ways to access information, and multiple ways to demonstrate understanding. While 1:1 might provide some avenue to Ira’s latter goals, most all 1:1 initiatives buy the same device for all kids – fundamentally reinforcing the premise that all kids are the same. Some might say, I’m drawing too fine a line in the sand. Yet, our decisions reflect our deeply held beliefs, and send a very strong message to kids about learning.
In a discussion I had with Russ Goerend several weeks ago, he noted that he and I are both 4:1. The rhetoric of 1:1 often focuses on the “real world”. Unfortunately, 1:1 is not real world. As more and more computing becomes cloud based, having one machine is less and less common. Instead, Russ had the idea to have access to multiple devices in schools – laptops, netbooks, desktops, ipods, ipod touches, etc. Then students can learn how to pick the best tool for the job. Furthermore, students learn how to harness cloud computing so that they can access content and create from multiple devices. Lastly, our conversation noted how cell phones and other mobile platforms have invaded adults’ free time. That is, as access to email and other work oriented apps have become mobile, people haven’t worked less, they’ve actually worked more. Why would we want to contribute to the disappearance of childhood by asking our students to take up the same yoke.
Finally, technology is not teaching. Frank Noschese sent out a tweet that provides two videos of mathematics instruction. One is without digital technology, the second is with 1:1 iPads. Unfortunately, the iPad class is the epitome of traditional instruction. The iPads serve as electronic textbooks from which students copy and complete problems individually. The non-digital tech class is collaborative, reflective, and dynamic. My point here is that 1:1 is not, by itself, reform.
True reform only happens if the underlying beliefs that guide instruction are changed. Reform only happens when the actions of teachers and students are modified. Simply adding technology does nothing to change philosophy or the roles of teachers and students. If the roles of teachers and students remain the same, how can we possibly claim reform?
I am well aware that some of you will claim that we can implement technology and focus on teaching and learning. I agree. However, the focus of our headlines and our dialogue is concentrated on the technology. If you really believe the technology is second fiddle to improved teaching and learning, stop talking about the technology.
In summary, at best, 1:1 technology initiatives are simply not reform. That is, they just maintain the status quo with a new medium. At worst, the initiatives serve to undermine reform by treating all kids as the same and placing them in inauthentic learning environments while convincing us that we have achieved reform.