Is 1:1 the starting line?

Earlier this week was the Iowa Education Summit and while I was unable to attend physically, I was able to attend virtually.  During the breakout sessions I was only able to follow the backchannel, #iaedsummit, and the topic of 1:1 computing came across.  Being quite passionate about 1:1 computing, I felt I would jump in and I said something to the effect that not all implementations of 1:1 laptop initiatives have transformed education in those schools.  A few tweets went back and forth where we discussed that the teachers and the schools are both on a continuum, which makes great sense.  Thank you @mcleod for pointing that one out.  Made it much easier to understand the process teachers and schools go through as they take up this feat.  However, another tweet went across my radar confirming the presence of a continuum, but that 1:1 is the beginning point, not the ending point.  At the time, I didn’t really think much of it.  It seemed to make sense: to transform education, teachers need to have the tools ahead of time to make the necessary changes to their instruction.  While I agree teachers need to have the tools to truly make a difference in how they teach, I’m not sure I feel 1:1 is the starting point.  I think there is more to the story.

While I’ve never implemented 1:1 computing, I’ve followed others as they went through the process and I have some strong opinions about the topic.  In my opinion, I’d think the starting point of transforming education through 1:1 would be to look at how the technology is going to change curriculum and instruction.  I think to an extent this requires getting teachers their own laptop, but I also believe there is a large front loading component that might be overlooked: a critical look at curriculum and instruction.  Since the true outcome of a 1:1 initiative is/should be to transform education, there has to be a critical look at how the teachers are currently teaching, not to mention what they are teaching, and what they want both to look like once the program is implemented.  Beginning with the end in mind is crucial, because it helps us decide where to start.  So yes, I agree that 1:1 is not the end, but I don’t think it’s the beginning either.  It’s somewhere in between.  It has to be, because if a district goes all in and implements 1:1 without looking at the curriculum and their instruction, then they’ve skipped a few steps and transformation isn’t really taking place.  There has to be some kind of lead time to think about what’s going to change, in addition to the reflective time after implementation to see how things have change and to determine the path forward.

As I think of a 1:1 continuum, this is what comes to my mind.  Your thoughts?
1:1 Continuum

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About dmourlam

Technology Specialist Teacher Quality Partnership University of Northern Iowa View all posts by dmourlam

11 responses to “Is 1:1 the starting line?

  • Brent Nelson

    Good post. That’s exactly the sort of thought I’ve been trying to convey to others I’ve talked on this subject with. 1:1 helps push transformation, but the more important facet to this change is actually ensuring that the district and the teachers are motivated and actively using this increase in technology towards improving the curriculum and education the students gets. Until the administrators and teachers are all on board with making this change, there probably isn’t a huge benefit in going 1:1.

  • dmourlam

    That’s why I think the actual implementation of the laptops comes later, while change begins to happen prior to and after the actual implementation. I shutter to think of the schools that have started with the laptops and then started thinking about how this is going to change things. Students can see through the technology to see if the instruction has really changed.

    • Stephen Rice

      It’s not just implementation; I think the decision to go 1:1 at all should come much later in the process. You should do the critical examination and then you should implement whatever you concluded would help improve the education. If you decide that giving every student a laptop is part of that then it’s an informed decision and schools should go right ahead.

      On the other hand, if what you really do is a critical examination of what you need to change to make 1:1 work for you that’s simply not the right question for an educator to ask. It’s focusing on tools rather than results.

  • Scott McLeod

    Excellent post! For the most part, I agree with you: we always should have learning and teaching goals in mind before determining what technology tools best fit those objectives. Otherwise we run the risk of using technology for technology’s sake or thinking that every instructional problem is a nail that can just be solved with the hammer (i.e., laptops) we have in hand.

    That said, I think we also are finding that student laptops can crack open the door to reconsideration of existing pedagogy. In other words, it’s often very hard for educators to keep teaching the way they always have in the face of daily presence of student laptops and community expectations that those laptops will be used. In these instances, the ubiquity of students laptops actually forces or drives instructional change. Not always, but often enough to note…

  • Brian Downing

    Excellent post and some great thoughts. I think I might have been the one that sent out the tweet about 1:1 being the starting line and not the finish line. What I meant by that was that too often I see districts focus too much on the computers. I find it interesting when we see huge rollouts filled with fanfare, music, spotlights, and everything short of fireworks. I am all for celebration but after seeing these types of events I am left thinking “so what?” So you spent a ton of money and gave every kid a computer. So what? Giving a kid a computer is the easy part. Transforming the educational experience, in part by utilizing the amazing power that computers and, specifically internet access, have to connect students with information, resources, and each other, THAT is what should be celebrated.

    That is where I completely agree with you. That foundation has to be laid. It has to begin before you hand out computers and it has to continue once they are in kids hands. Our district will roll out laptops to our 9-12 graders for the first time this year. Yes, we will mark the occasion and recognize the commitment we are making to our students, but what I would like to see is a celebration at the end of the year, when we hand the computers back in. I would like to take time then to celebrate all the amazing things our students and teachers have done that would not have been possible without our investment and commitment to 1:1.

    • dmourlam

      I think it’s easy to celebrate when districts hand out laptops since they are something tangible. They visibly show the commitment the district is showing to the students and their learning, or at least that is what it looks like. I like how you say we should celebrate at the end of the year, because hopefully by then all the front loaded PD, as well as some of the student driven instructional change that Scott mentioned above, will have paid off and the educational experience of the students has changed for the better. I think this is what I would have liked to see during the education summit. Perhaps it was there for those who physically attended, but from my virtual seat, I was left wanting more.

      Thanks everyone for the comment, and thanks Scott for shining a bigger spotlight on the topic!

      • Rick Vettraino

        I also think that front loaded PD is important. What is more important is a commitment on the part of both teachers and administrators to continue with PD after the 1:1 has been implemented. This is so new to teachers and administration they cannot imagine the impact or the possibilities until they “get on the horse”. Then is when PD will become vitally important to change.

  • Do laptops crack open educators’ instruction? | pelatihan hipnotis metafisika

    [...] Dan Mourlam said in his recent post that he didn’t think 1:1 laptop initiatives were the starting point for transforming education. Instead, educators should begin with a critical examination of curriculum and instruction and THEN move to laptops as part of a transformational educational process … [...]

  • dmourlam

    Rick, you bring up a good point. PD can’t just be front loaded and then absent after implementation. PD must be ongoing to adequately support the new ideas teachers and administrators couldn’t imagine prior to implementation. Like Scott said earlier, they are on a continuum and must be supported as they continue to move across that continuum.

  • Sean Musselman

    The school system I’ll be joining next year is going to 1:1 iPad’s this coming academic year at their high school. I am excited, anxious, and everything in between with this big shift and am personally wondering where the school will ultimately initially fall on your 1:1 implementation continuum. The school system is front-loading a great deal of PD, for both the high school’s transition as well as a big facility move for one of the elementary schools. I think this will help the school get off on the right foot, and also wonder where PD will drive the school next. My hope is that “stars” will emerge among the faculty that will be able to share their successes and help teachers rethink their curriculum moving forward as everyone adjusts over the academic year. Needless to say I await September with bated breath!

    • dmourlam

      I think you’re right. Front-loading is likely going to better prepare faculty at a minimum. Then once implementation occurs and teacher beliefs are challenged, the real fun begins and hopefully positive change is the result. Good luck with the new school and the rollout of the iPads. I’ll be interested to see how everything plays out over the next few years.

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