What does it really mean to be 1:1?

I’ve been struggling with something lately.  I’ve been confronted by a variety of sources about the true nature of 1:1 computing in education.  The argument I’ve been presented with is that many of the things advocates of 1:1 say are benefits were really available before 1:1 computing.  Some of these include: authentic learning experiences, student-centered instruction, collaboration, differentiated instruction, and so on.  I too have advocated for these as benefits of 1:1, but having interacted with a varying viewpoint, I’m left wondering what it really means to be 1:1?

Before going on, I want to disclaim that I believe digital technology is a crucial part of the path forward, and the main source of my dissonance is not advocating for the traditional teaching model, but rather, wants to know explicitly the what, how, why, etc., that makes 1:1 desirable.  The issue, which he and many others, including myself, have found is that too many decisions to go 1:1 have been based on, “We can’t fall behind.  Let’s get the computers and then we’ll figure it out later.”  I think this is where the shadow argument for 1:1 emerges.  People have made a decision to go 1:1 without thinking about why they really should go down that road.

I’m not saying that 1:1 is a bad model or even the wrong model.  What I’m saying is that the reasons 1:1 is held up as being THE model, really are things we could have been doing already.  This is a problem and it’s spreading throughout education, at least in Iowa, and it isn’t being addressed.  The consequences of not tackling this problem are severe in terms of student achievement, teacher and administrator effort, and the general economic conditions of schools.

I’m guilty of promoting 1:1 in the very same way I described as a problem, but now that my mind has been opened by a differing viewpoint, I can’t go back.  I’ve changed.  No longer am I what Bloom calls innocent.  This still doesn’t change the fact that I think 1:1 can be a good model, but it does mean that I need to be explicit in how I define the benefits of 1:1.  Right now, I, like many educators, am not being explicit, and that’s a problem because that means I can’t give a consistent message of what 1:1 really means.  And if others like me can’t consistently explain what 1:1 means, then why are we doing it?

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