Starting a Revolution

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I’ve spend most of the day reading the amazing conversation going on about change. My head is literally spinning, giving me a headache. What do you take for an information overload headache?

There is so much good stuff I don’t even know where to begin. Or even what to say, I just know I need to write something.

Marc Prensky wrote a great article for Edutopia titled Adopt and Adapt.

In the article he talks about two barriers that stand in our way of “Doing new things in new ways” The first barrier he calls

The Big Tech Barrier: One-to-One

The missing technological element is true one-to-one computing, in which each student has a device he or she can work on, keep, customize, and take home. For true technological advance to occur, the computers must be personal to each learner. When used properly and well for education, these computers become extensions of the students’ personal self and brain. They must have each student’s stuff and each student’s style all over them (in case you haven’t noticed, kids love to customize and make technology personal), and that is something sharing just doesn’t allow. Any ratio that involves sharing computers — even two kids to a computer — will delay the technology revolution from happening.

I agree with Prensky’s barrier. I’m still waiting for the day I get to implement a one-to-one computer program to see the real power that technology holds. I’ve had as many as 7 computers in my classroom; I’ve implemented one-to-one Palm programs. I’ve setup wireless systems at schools, and even implemented a classroom set of laptops, but never the true one-to-one computer program. I feel that is where the true power of technology and the revolution will come from. When you give students such powerful tools that they know how to use, it will not matter if the teachers know how to use them; the students will force educators to retool their skills to learn how to use the tools in new inventive ways.

I’ve seen this first hand with the 5th graders I have blogging. I gave the blogs to the 5th graders not the teachers, next thing I know I have teachers wanting to learn about blogs because the students are talking about them, that starts the conversation and the retooling of skills. Now teachers use their own blogs and the students’ blogs to such a degree that they are upset when the technology doesn’t work. That’s when you know you have real change: when you can’t teach or learn without it.

The Social Barrier: Digital Immigrants

Many schools still ban new digital technologies, such as cell phones and Wikipedia. Even when schools do try to move forward, they often face antitechnology pressure from parents demanding that schools go “back to basics.” Many teachers, under pressure from all sides, are often so afraid to experiment and to trust their kids with technology that they demand extensive “training” before they will try anything new. All these factors impede even the many schools trying to change.

As I expressed above if you put the power in the hands of the students I think you create an atmosphere where this barrier crumbles under the pressure from the students. My theory is that the pressure from students would be so great that schools and teacher would have to change or be left with no students to teach. You create an atmosphere where schools and teachers either adapt or become extinct.

David Warlick wrote about this very thing the other day:

This is so impressive and indicates so much power of networking, that it almost scares me. It’s like a horse. As long as the horse thinks you’re stronger than he is, then you’re OK. But as soon as the horse realizes that the balance goes the other way, then look out! I’m looking out!

Maybe that’s what some schools are afraid of, that if we give students the power of computers we turn them into the horse who just realized they are stronger then the rider. You want to change schools? Give students computers and watch schools put money into Professional Development and watch teachers eat it up trying to maintain their rider status. Which they won’t be able to do, creating a revolution in the system and making us take a truly deep look at education and pedagogy. I wonder if any school that has started a one-to-one computer program has tried taken the computers away from the students? If not, I wonder what would happen. I can’t imagine that students would just say “Ok, you can have it back.”

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. The problem with one-to-one isn’t the concept, it’s that the hardware isn’t durable/cheap enough yet. Instead of coming out with slower models at a cheaper price, companies would rather sell machines at the same price they always had, just adding more and more features.

    I just got a Palm TX, and if you could get that in the formfactor of a ruggedized subnotebook (think eMate, only smaller) you would have almost the perfect device.

    What I’ve done is set up each student with their own login account, and server based home directories. They can use any computer in the building, and all the settings and documents follow them. They can customize the background, change their homepage, etc. It also helps the teachers, they don’t have to worry about a student messing up a machine.

  2. Ryan,

    I agree with you. The other problem is schools feel they need the latest and greatest computers on the market. At my last school I had a system set up much like the one you describe. The students loved it, and so did the teachers, and with a system like that you don’t need a powerful laptop because all of the information is stored on the server. All you need is a laptop that will connect to the server and has enough space for the programs needed.

    As far as price, Dell now has laptops for $499 and a pretty good one that will do just what you talked about for $699 and you know if a school ordered a couple hundred the price would be less then that.

    I like you Palm TX thought, lets get Palm to build a larger Palm that is more rugged and has a decent browser and screen size…then we might be on to something, the problem is I think Palm is headed into the PDA/Phone area. Wouldn’t surprise me if 2006 saw the last year of a Palm that is not also a phone.


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