Are we worried about becoming irrelevant?

I asked a group of people yesterday if we were worried about becoming irrelevant and the response has stuck with me. We were talking about the big push in K12 for 1:1 computing. As the discussion unfolded I threw it out there and asked at what point do we become irrelevant if we don’t meet the needs of learners coming from 1:1 schools and if we aren’t preparing our graduates enough for teaching in a 1:1 school? Nothing specific about the response from the people in the room stood out, but rather it was more what wasn’t said. The looks on some people’s faces said more. It felt as if some in the room thought that what I said was absurd or that I’m out of touch with the demands of the higher education classroom.

But here’s the thing, I can see a future where students either transfer away or simply don’t attend colleges and universities that don’t create the type of learning environments where students can work together with other students and experts to solve real problems. The needs of students are changing. They have different interests, different learning preferences, and they aren’t afraid to shop around for education that meets their needs.

As we talked yesterday, one thing that came up was that a number of the 1:1 schools in Iowa aren’t being effective, which I can’t argue with. I know there are schools in the state that just bought a bunch of computers, gave them to the students, and hoped for the best. But, there are a lot of schools that are doing amazing things with the technology, whether they have 1:1 or not. They are implementing learning environments where students are the focus, not the teacher. The students are doing all the work. The students are guiding their own learning. Is it happening everywhere? No. Does that mean we shouldn’t respond, knowing that this type of learning is best practice? No. We need to respond and respond loudly. But we aren’t. Most colleges and universities aren’t, or if they are, we don’t hear their stories. I know we get hung up on the technology and how that is only going to distract from learning. But what if it doesn’t or even better, what if it does distract? Not from learning, but from the way we used to learn. What if learning changes?

I’m in a curriculum theory and development course right now and something we’ve been talking about is that the curriculum should reflect three distinct groups: the subject matter, society, and the learner. My concern isn’t that instructors aren’t teaching their content well, but rather that they might not be considering the needs of society and the learner. They are experts for sure. There’s no debating that. However, how they leverage their expertise depends on their consideration of the learners and the society in which we all live. These things do effect the way we use our expertise. But for many instructors, they are teaching to the past without look towards the needs of the future or even the present. I think we’ve been too quick to discount the latest generation. They are unique and with that have unique needs considering the changing landscape within which we live.

So how are we going to respond?


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?

My comment on: To Control Technology or Unleash It

I just commented on Dr. Daniel Frazier‘s post “To Control technology or Unleash It” and thought I’d post it here as well. You can read his full post here:

My comment:
Dr. Frazier,

I agree with you, that if schools are going to remain relevant, we need to begin embracing technology in all forms, especially having devices for all students to use. However, I’m going to play devils advocate here for a minute, even though I whole heartedly feel the same as you.

How does the district change and establish a culture that encourages the type of learning environment that is relevant for our young people? How does the leadership approach issues like allowing cell phone use in the classroom when there are over 600 students in the middle school? Essentially, how do they create a plan that doesn’t create a culture of chaos and backlash from the teachers? While there may be some leadership issues that should be addressed, I think we also need to look at the context of the school. They are a larger middle school, at least by Iowa standards, and we are quickly approaching the end of the school year, albiet there is still a few months left.

From the non administrator standpoint, I would probably impose the same type of ban on cell phones at this point in the school year. This would only be a temporary ban until the end of the school year, because I’m guessing that the teachers aren’t knocking on the principal’s door to start using these devices. Then for the rest of the school year I’d start building a movement amongst the teachers and a number of student representatives to begin creating the type of learning environment that is supportive of cell phones, computers, etc. This process is going to take more than the summer, but I think great strides could be made to begin making real change in classrooms by the end of summer, where any ban on cell phones can be lifted.

I think the key with situations like the Pottstown Middle School is to have a plan and a lot of patience. The decision to allow any new innovation shouldn’t be a top down decision. It also can’t be a bottom up one either. There has to be discussion and there has to be a plan in place that makes full use of them in the classroom. If not, then it’s almost better off not allowing them at all.

Sorry for the long comment, but you are touching on something many people overlook when it comes to “new” innovations. It’s the process we go through as we adopt the innovation that is going to be the indicator of our success. If we don’t do it just right, the results might not be what we want.

Great post!



BYOD: Yes and No

It seems that a popular movement taking place in schools across the US is “Bring Your Own Device,” which amounts to allowing students to use whatever device they have in the classroom.  At face value this seems like a great idea, and for the most part I agree, that if a student has any technology they are willing to bring to school to help them learn, then who are we as educators to tell them no?  It just makes sense.

However, as I dig deeper to what it means for BYOD, I don’t think it is the answer to creating a one-to-one learning environment in your school, well at least not the K12 school.  I think what we run the risk of when we use BYOD in that manner is that we are bringing the capabilities of students down to the lowest common denominator amongst all the devices.  I’m thinking of the classroom that has everything from cell phones to iPods to tablets to computers.  Finding an activity, project, what have you, that everyone can do is going to be difficult.  Yes, there are some things you an do, but overall this shouldn’t be the type of learning experiences we want our students to have.  There has to be a commitment from the school to support the type of learning you want to see in your classrooms.

Chances are that if a teacher is implementing a BYOD learning environment, the school has refused to buy into the fact that students need to have the necessary tools to learn in the 21st century.  If this is the type of learning desired in the classroom then there HAS to be a commitment from the school to make this type of learning happen.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t still go a BYOD route.  It just means that it shouldn’t be your main entrée.  It should be used more as a side dish to support learning rather than the main medium that students learn though.

At the minimum, there should be an entry level requirement for BYOD.  This will at least prevent the convergence of multitude of differing devices.  However, BYOD is not a real strategy for creating a one-to-one learning environment.  While I support the idea of BYOD, I don’t support it as a real solution for creating a one-to-one learning environment.  It can support it, but should not be the solution.

The real power of #IWBs

I was on the road for work yesterday and I had the opportunity to talk with those riding with me about the real power of IWBs.  I had made the statement that Prometheans (an IWB vendor) do not make a classroom student centered since there are only so many students that can use the board at one time.  However, one of the passengers in the van, who has much more experience teaching with an IWB than I, disagreed, claiming that the Promethean can be very interactive for all students and can help with data analysis with building level initiatives that aren’t necessarily part of the course curriculum and planning.  After some discussion we realized we were talking about two different things.  When I say Promethean, I mean the ActivBoard, but when she said Promethean, she meant the ActivClassroom.  These are two very different things and it is through an understanding of both that we see the real power of IWBs in general.

What happened in my discussion with my colleague is happening to many educators throughout the US.  When people talk about IWBs, many refer to the IWB as just the physical board that can interact with a computer.  This is in contrast to other people who refer to IWBs as the entire package from the manufacturer.  The entire package usually includes a set of slates, clickers, the physical interactive whiteboard, and software that brings it all together.  This is an important distinction when discussing IWBs, because for the most part, the physical board isn’t going to make your classroom more student centered.  Students can interact with the board, yes, but when we are talking about transforming a classroom through the creative use of technology, we expect that each student will be engaged throughout the class period.  This simply doesn’t happen when using the physical board.  Some students will be engaged, but not each student.  The board simply doesn’t allow for each student to learn at their own pace.

Where the real power of IWBs come into play is with the software.  Looking at the type of learning we want to see in classrooms, we typically think of students actively engaged in a project or other activity that requires them to be collaborative and to think critically.  This is what the software can do if designed appropriately by the instructor.  The software is typically very flexible, which means having a solid underlying pedagogy is going to be the linchpin for success.

But to be successful, it means every student in the classroom needs to have access to the technology.  Whether it is a slate, a clicker, or just the software installed on all the computers in the computer lab.  If every student doesn’t have access to the technology, then the lesson can’t truly claim to be student centered, because there are some students who do not have the appropriate tools to be fully engaged.  This is my problem with the current implementations of IWBs that I’ve seen.  While there are some that include the entire package, there are many still that only include the physical board, which I believe only reinforces traditional teaching practices that are woefully inadequate for learners in the 21st century.  The hardware cannot be the focus, but that is what is marketed by vendors and promoted by some educators who don’t really understand the type of change that needs to be taking place.  Just putting in the board doesn’t do anything to better prepare students, but making the tools and software available to each student can make a difference.  We need to think about the type of learning we want in our classrooms and then find the technology that will support that learning.  Right now I’m not sure that IWBs are getting us there.  The software is getting us close, but I think we are still falling short, because ubiquitous access isn’t the norm.


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

#i11i Pre-Conference Excitement

#i11i Name TagTomorrow is the Iowa One-to-One Institute in Des Moines. This is the second year of the conference and my first time attending.  This is also the first time I will be presenting as part of a group of educators from UNI.  Our session is “Higher ed is listening: Tell us how you believe preservice teachers should be prepared for the realities of teaching in a 1:1 school.”  With such a large number of school districts in Iowa making the jump to one-to-one next year, I’m interested to hear how teachers, administrators, and other educators think the role of teacher preparation has changed due to the increase presence of technology in the classroom.

Others presenting with me will be Drs. Leigh Zeitz, Mary Herring, Nadene Davidson, as well as Robin Galloway, and Megan Balong.  Our session begins at 11:30 in room 204H.  Stop by and take part in the conversation.

One session I’m looking forward to is a session about the role of social media in education and how Iowa educators are using it to connect with others throughout the state and world.  Truly an area I see education heading an an unstoppable speed.  I have high expectations going into this conference and can’t wait until tomorrow to begin learning with my colleagues from around the state.

If you are unable to attend the conference you can still take part in the learning at a distance.  Follow the #i11i hastag on Twitter and be a part of the conversation.