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What's the purpose of going 1:1

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(Full Disclosure: I believe every high school student should have a laptop)

The New York Times wrote an article on May 4th, 2007 that resurfaced via Twitter last night. Titled Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops, It took me less than four paragraphs to start shaking my head in disbelief at the way this school district went about trying to, should I say, force students and teachers to use laptops and technology.

It’s easy to say that technology is just a tool or that the technology needs to be invisible, but actually making that happen is harder than just saying it.

Scores of the leased laptops break down each month, and every other
morning, when the entire school has study hall, the network inevitably
freezes because of the sheer number of students roaming the Internet
instead of getting help from teachers.

I love this paragraph. So the network goes down therefore more kids should be going to teachers for help right? I mean if they can’t “roam the Internet” in study hall then they should be asking for help right?

Or how about this one:

Many of these districts had sought to prepare their students for a
technology-driven world and close the so-called digital divide between
students who had computers at home and those who did not.

The reason why a school goes 1:1 is to close the digital divide? Not for learning, not for allowing students to take advantage of the wealth of information on the net…but just to close the digital divide?

Like any tool…before you launch it you need to know what you want to do with it. What do you want users to be able to do, what do you expect and do you have a system in place to support it.

 Maybe it’s me but creating a backwards by design model makes it pretty easy to assess just what you need to have in place before you go 1:1.

What do you want students to do?
If our purpose is student learning than all decisions should start by answering this question. What do we expect students to do with their laptops? What kind of experience do we want them to have? What learning do we hope to see/expect from them when the laptops are in use. Starting with what you want students to do with the laptops allows you to create a plan that will support their use.

What do teachers need to know?
Once we know what type of learning we want to see from the students we can then talk about a Professional Development plan that allows teachers to know what they need to know to make that learning a reality. Sure they are going to have to learn some skills, some tools, but more than that they will need support in understanding how the classroom changes with those tools. When every student is sitting at a desk and has the knowledge of the world in front of them, it changes the classroom. How do we support teachers, help teachers, and train teachers to teach facilitate in that environment?

What resources are needed?
After we have nailed down student outcomes and the PD teacher will need you can then look at what resources will need to be purchased and/or put in place to make this a reality. Do you need to upgrade your wireless system? Do you need more digital storage space? Does the school need new or different software? Also, don’t forget about the human resource of support. Who is going to support teachers, train teachers? What systems are going to be put in place to help teachers make the transition?

How do we make it happen?
This comes under the effective administrator part as it is up to them to set the direction of the school and make things happen. Whether it’s money, people, time, etc. How do you make sure the learning and support you have agreed upon as a school is in place to support learning the best it can?

Just do it!
Set a deadline for yourself as a school or organization. Make your plan…focus on student learning and then just do it. As some point you need to stop planning and get moving! If you don’t have a clear purpose of how a laptop changes the learning landscape then you could end up like this:

Yet school officials here and in several other places said laptops had
been abused by students, did not fit into lesson plans, and showed
little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test scores at a time
of increased pressure to meet state standards. Districts have dropped
laptop programs after resistance from teachers, logistical and
technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs.

Not a good place to be.

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.


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  3. Jeff- Thanks for putting this out there. Two things to me resonate….one like you always say it is not about the tools it’s about enhancing learning. And two, those at 1-2-1 schools need to be advocates for what they have or they just might loose it especially in times where budget deficients are the norm!

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  6. Jeff Branzburg Reply

    Interesting post. I agree about the top down design as being the best, logical way to go. I do think that maybe it is not a strictly linear design, though. For example, “What do teachers need to know?” is influenced by “What resources are needed?”

    To me, the other important aspect is the digital divide issue you mention. There are schools in poverty/low income areas in which students’ exposure to computers and the Internet is minimal; this will definitely affect them as they progress and compete (for education, for jobs) with students who have had ready access. 1-1 programs can help to alleviate this, and as such is appropriate (along with better student learning) as part of the “What do you want students to do?” question.

    I have noticed, though, that in too many places the uses of 1-1 in a poverty/low income area school tend toward online drill and practice, etc. Very disappointing.

    • I agree that going 1:1 can help with the digital divide but I don’t think that’s the reason you go 1:1.

      That is a positive side affect of going 1:1 no matter where you are or your social economic status. If we focus on how learning changes, on what we want the learning and experience to be with the laptops we get to the heart of what a laptop can do when in the hands of students.

      • Jeff Branzburg Reply

        I absolutely agree. Lessening a digital divide is not the main reason for a 1-1 program, and does transcend socio-economic status. It is a second tier reason, one that I believe is heightened (at least in awareness) in high poverty areas. Raising the bar in learning is important to all, but when the bars are still significantly separated between schools, and is correlated with socio-economic status, much work still needs to be done. That work goes beyond just implementing 1-1; it needs all sorts of additional supports and opportunities.

    • Yes you may!

      It’s on flickr and release under creative commons 3.0 license. 🙂

      Good to see you today too. I know our school will benefit from your experience.

  7. Jeff – I like your suggestions here, particularly “What do we expect students to do with their laptops? What kind of experience do we want them to have? What learning do we hope to see/expect from them when the laptops are in use. Starting with what you want students to do with the laptops allows you to create a plan that will support their use.”

    If we expect the “same type of learning” to take place with the laptops as we did pre-1:1, then why even implement the initiative? Personally, I feel like there is an abundance of commentary out there about the hardware and software, but not nearly enough on the type of learning that 1:1 (or any sort of increased student:computer ratio) should encourage/support. Let’s continue the conversation in lieu of how schools are using the technology rather than simply their ability to secure as many laptops as possible. I’m guessing from your post that you are in agreement with this premise.

    My extended thought are found here: http://bit.ly/2qZoP

    • Agree…buying the hardware and putting it in the hands of kids is the easy part. Learning how Teaching and Learning changes when you put this new tool in the classroom is much harder. Specially when you are dealing with teachers at all different levels and beliefs on the use of technology tools. By focusing on what’s best for students and student learning if gives everyone a common goal…which as educators we all believe in anyway….to start conversations.

  8. Good post, Jeff. I recently did research looking at 1-to-1 laptop programs, for a proposal to implement a program at our school. One thing was very clear: those that properly planned have been successful, those with poor planning have failed. The State of Maine is expanding their already massive 1-to-1 laptop initiative after it has shown definite success. Michigan, on the other hand, had a disaster on their hands due to improper planning.

    Don’t blame the technology, blame the implementation. I don’t know how to rebuild a car engine, but that’s not the fault of my ratchet set.

  9. Thanks for an article that outlines a process for developing and implementing a program. We have a 1:1 plan here at Riffa Views (Bahrain) that is beginning to show promise. (K-5) Our teachers are investigating ways of using all our tech, which includes smartboards, digital cameras, and flip cameras. Our tech director has had many workshops introducing webtools, uses of the smartboard, and he encourages us to collaborate within and without our building. It helps that we are brand new this and have teachers willing to give things a go. Of course, it helps that I can read blogs by Tara Ethridge and Kim Cofino for some great ideas, not to mention this cool guy named Jeff Utecht.

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  11. I had a similar reaction to the article as you. I am a technology coordinator for a high school in a district that is 1 to 1 in grades 6 through 12. After reading this article I heard an NPR interview with the tech director from one district the article was about. In an interview where she was allowed to speak for herself her logic seemed more clear. She was not against innovative educational techniques like I thought after reading the Times article. She was, I think, pretty thoughtful about the process.

    I am five years into a 1 to 1. I reread the Times article about every two months to make sure that is not where we are heading. We had a five year plan that is in its fifth year. Two years of teachers with laptops, and the learning they needed to use them. Three years of phased in student laptops. Yet many of the problems in the articles are problems that we are seeing more of.

    Part of it is this: no one, except may be the few people really driving the program, knows how much change is required and will happen. There are examples from every level of your excellent diagram of how a 1 to 1 school is so different, and many of those differences are painful if you are not anticipating it. A simple example from my school is snow days. Two or three times a year you wake up to 12 inches (30 cm) of snow and therefore no school. In a 1 to 1 students can check their email, teachers can update their moodle, administrators can require meetings over VPN. Does this make education better? Yes. Is it a painful difference for all involved? Yes. So now if 20% of your teachers expect learning on snow days, does the principal start requiring it? What if both parents have to leave for work and do not leave the home internet on when they are gone? The questions for each brick of the tower you picture are many, and this only impacts 2 or 3 days a year.

    Laptops do not make education easier. Like much of web 2.0 they make it better but also more muddy. Remember when Britanica was a reliable source 100% of the time? You had to walk down to the library, pull a heavy book off the shelf, find the article and read it. Now in a couple of clicks you can have much of the same information from the wikipedia, but you have to worry for yourself about the validity of the information. It is easier to get better more current information, but much harder more muddy task overall because you have to know something about what you are doing.

    A 1 to 1 program is worth all the work. It is not surprising that even in a well planned district with everything in place at the beginning there would be several moments of stress. We rarely hear about that from the ed tech community. I have heard way too many people at tech conferences tell me it will be easier. It is not. It is much better. And if you hold out that goal, better learners at every level, and you are all willing to put in the work to learn, you will reach your goal or find who is not willing to learn.

    • I am in year 2 of working at a 1:1 school and I absolutely agree. I took this job beginning with a love of technology and an advanced degree in instructional technology.
      After two years, these are my thoughts. It is HARD, unpredictable and time-consuming work to use technology well and holding students responsible for their use of technology requires support from all fronts: parents, students, administrators, and teachers. It also requires an understanding of developmentally-appropriate scaffolding when it comes to technology integration. For example, 9th and 10th graders need to learn the rudimentary skills of good file management, but if teachers do not check their file management practices, their laptops will just as messy and useless as the ratty notebooks of old. Ideally, with follow-up and reinforcement they can be held responsible for their file management skills as 11th and 12th graders. If a content teacher does not feel that it is part of their responsibility, it weakens the entire program. If administrators buckle under pressure from parents who excuse their children’s technical issues as excuses for tardy work, then it weakens the entire program. The result is comparable to doubling your administrative workload and effort. On the other hand, I do feel that this commitment does get easier with time and experience; I also believe that it represents where innovation and professionalism can lead future educational reform.

    • Wendy, I liked your insights into the issues of immersing kids and their learning in 1 2 1. And the scaffolding realization is interesting–how do teachers help with file management, is there a template or adopted structure for this ? Does your 1 2 1 go to Middle School? I would like to hear more about your experiences and observations.

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  13. Jeff – 1:1 initiatives have been going on for 10 years + and there have been examples like this right from the get go. Like you I just shake my head … you have the money to implement this but seemingly no sense of what has gone before and how it has failed? This is what gives edtech such a bad name. Money + lack of vision + poor implementation = disaster. Always has, always will.

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  15. Thank you for this thoughtful response to the article. I have one issue though: While I absolutely agree that one has to have the end in mind when planning the use of computers in education, the end you’ve listed for what we want the students to do (“Empowered Students”) is really quite vague. It would be difficult to know how to implement it, or to know how close you were to achieving it, or if any part of your program was working at cross purposes to it. I say this not out of a need to criticize your proposal, but because I find this question — what do we want kids to do or to learn — is quite often ignored in much curriculum planning. One of the ways that a program of integrating computers into education can distinguish itself is by bucking this trend and coming up with more concrete objectives.

    • Thanks for your thoughts on this. I agree Empowering Students is vague and I think my idea is more around looking at what we want students to do and learn. How do we decide what that is? How do we move schools from content based schools to concept based learning? To me those are the questions and “want to learn” we’re looking for.

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