Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Truth about 1:1 Laptop Programs

During a rousing session lnight astwith Jeff Mao from Maine as the guest, the overall sentiment I took away about the Maine learning Technology Initiative (often known as their 1:1 laptop program) was captured in a chat messages stating that "educators have put off retirement due to this change - and a huge majority will now tell you they cannot teach without 1 to 1."  I heard similar things in Indiana with the "ubiquitous computing" efforts there (not laptops, but Linux thin clients), so I was definitely drinking the Kool-Aid.

Later in the evening, however, I read Larry Cuban's latest cogent missive.

A “Naked Truth” about Technologies in Schools? « Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice
In “The End of Techno-Critique: The Naked Truth about 1:1 Laptop Initiatives and Educational Change,” Mark Weston and Alan Bain summarize the evidence and arguments of those who have questioned 1:1 laptops. Weston and Bain profile my writings as representative of the “Techno-Critique.” Except for a few critical points, I found their summary of my articles and books fair. Furthermore, their review of the evidence of laptop use and effects in Maine and Texas is far more damning than anything I have written.  [Emphasis mine]
It's worth reading the whole post, but let's just say it wasn't nearly as enthusiastic as the hour with Jeff had been.  I'm intrigued that there can be such a difference in perspectives.

This morning Sylvia Martinez announced the new 1:1 Schools group blog being organized by Scott McLeod.  With Sylvia being involved, I feel certain it will provide balanced perspectives.  I'll definitely be paying attention to this debate.


  1. I think the issue you are uncovering is purely a matter of approach, which is consistent with 99.9% of 1:1 initiatives. Most 1:1 programs view the laptop as "the" solution, and not "part of" the solution, and seem to believe that the simple possession of a laptop by the students is the transformative event. The less-inept implementations then proceed to put in place processes for laptop use that mirror existing practice digitally, ie the laptop takes on the role of paper and pencil and a "learning management system" is implemented to collect and disseminate that which was done on paper in the past. This, of course, is also not transformative.

    However, there is hope described in the article that is right up your alley in the combination of laptops AND social media tools used to create the ideal environment described by Weston and Bain as their "vision of a school that uses technology as “cognitive tools” to transform teaching and learning".

    This has been our approach from the get go with 1:1, and we are realizing a transformation of the learning environment as well as measurable gains in academic achievement.

  2. I couldn't agree more with Jim Klen. It is not the 1:1 that make the difference, but the program you develop around it.

    I have to say though that 1:1 enables and challenges many aspects of the learning environment... like never before. The technology is in the hands of students and becomes a tool to learn and think with. If the computer stays at the lab, there is no opportunity for appropriation of technology and new ways of learning.

  3. Appreciate the nod in your post - I certainly hope I can add something critical, yet positive to the conversation.

    Like I've said before, you can't buy change, it's a process, not a purchase. The right shopping list won't change education.

    Jim is right as well, and to extend his thought, if technology is about cognitive tools, they must be controlled by the student. This can not be about more efficient content delivery, record-keeping, or surveillance of students. The key is giving every student the ability to control and personalize their own learning. And this does not mean pick their way through someone else's options.

    A 1:1 initiative could allow and inspire students to use a whole range of cognitive tools, from programming languages to social media. To make this happen, the teacher is the essential element, providing guidance and steering students in productive directions.

    The tough part is that this makes the teacher more important than ever, and the job changes. You could say it makes the job harder. You could also say it makes it more challenging, more interesting and more autonomous. It depends entirely on your point of view whether you think that's a positive or a negative impact of 1:1 initiatives. But it's clear that many initiatives get underway without tackling some of these big picture questions.

  4. @Jim: I often refer people to you about 1:1 programs, as you're likely aware (smile!). Your points are well-taken, and it will be exciting to see the measurable gains as well.

    @Sylvia: Again, I'm personally glad to have your voice in the discussion that I'l be watching mainly from sidelines. Your final paragraph made me wonder if a larger message/theme/approach realting to the even greater importance of teachers right now would be a useful one to focus on.


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