During the nearly 30 years that digital technologies have been in use in U.S. K-12 schools, much has been learned about how to best employ these new tools and resources, with the result that a number of dramatic educational technology successes are transforming the way teachers teach and students learn. I’ll be focusing on these game changers in a series of upcoming blog posts.
However, it’s important to note this up front: There’s little chance that technology alone can transform the classrooms of teachers who are unwilling to relinquish hidebound traditions and beliefs. Powerful technologies only become game changers when in the hands of innovative, student-focused educators who are supported in their work.
One-to-one computing can be one of these game changers, especially when it allows teachers and students to leverage new opportunities for personalized instruction and learning. When every student has a computing device, there’s little reason for teachers to do extensive lectures or for the students to be passive learners. Instead, instructional content can be transmitted in a variety of digital formats (online texts, video, slideshows, etc.) that students can access independently, freeing the teacher to use class time to work with students individually or in small groups. Students can likewise work together on group projects during class, and through online collaboration tools outside of class, they can extend the scope and reach of their learning. This is especially effective at the upper elementary and secondary grade levels.
For this discussion of one-to-one computing, I’m using this definition: All students have 24/7 use of an Internet-connected digital device, primarily laptops and tablets. Additionally, students are expected to use these devices — both in and out of class — to read, write, create, communicate, collaborate and research. These devices may be district-owned, student-owned, or a combination of both.
Some notable failures have been exposed in districts that have attempted ill-advised one-to-one implementations. And other schools and districts have gone one-to-one, but the students primarily use their devices for note taking, testing, drill-and-practice exercises and other low-level functions. However, significant examples of schools — and even some districts — exist that have moved to one-to-one with laudable success.
The districts involved in these game changer one-to-one implementations typically share the following traits:
1. They didn’t start with, “We need to do more with technology, so let’s go one-to-one!” Instead they defined an instructional shortcoming in their schools, decided a pedagogical paradigm shift needed to happen, and determined that a one-to-one program would help support this change.
2. They involved their key stakeholders early and often: school board members, district leaders, teachers, parents, students and the community.
3. They ensured their school administrators were fully on board and ready to model the most effective behaviors of digital leaders and learners.
4. They started small, working first with the teachers, grade levels and courses best suited for the initial implementation, and then gradually expanded from there.
5. They ensured their digital networks and technology staff were ready to support a large influx of wireless devices.
6. They provided both initial and ongoing training and support to their teachers, primarily focusing on pedagogy and the instructional shifts required to fully leverage one-to-one computing.
7. They built and/or bought digital curricula for the classes covered in the one-to-one rollout.
8. They employed Web-based productivity, collaboration and communication tools for teachers and students — Google for Education tools were commonly used.
9. They sought ways to ensure their one-to-one students had home Internet access.
10. They confirmed ongoing funding sources were in place to support the program.
11. They were thoughtful in selecting their one-to-one devices — many opted for inexpensive Chromebooks.
12. They balanced their students’ classroom screen time with “lids down” time.
13. They emphasized the importance of digital citizenship with their students.
14. They built a strategic implementation plan and held regular project reviews to address the successes and shortcomings of their program.
15. They didn’t evaluate the effectiveness of their one-to-one initiative solely on students’ standardized test scores.