Often prophetically proclaimed as the “holy grail” of educational experiences, one-to-one technology implementations are what everyone wants, but no one (or not many) in these economic times can afford. Educators think and discuss in the hallways…”What would it be like if everyone had access to a laptop, tablet, or smartphone all the time?”…”Wouldn’t it just be awesome to have constant access to the tools students relate to best?” Although not all teachers openly embrace the future design of educational environments, few can argue that some sort of device will be necessary in students’ hands sooner than later. It merely becomes a matter of WHAT device they will carry.
Now enters all the creative solutions that have been devised by manufacturers and marketed to educational institutions…netbooks, Chromebooks, iTouches, tablets…all the devices that carry a smaller financial burden and, unfortunately, a corresponding compromise. Acronyms such as B.Y.O.T. or B.Y.O.D also take center stage as thoughtful and practical means to go about filling the funding gap because, well, they are perceived as “free” (more on that later in later posts) to the district. Technology directors, superintendents, instructional leaders, and the like have and are crunching the numbers, timelines, and presentations for this new technological paradigm that promises smaller barriers to entry. But is it enough? Are any of these solutions ready for the masses?
Let’s stop for a second and forget about money. Let’s forget about all the hurdles to actual implementation and look solely at an idealistic classroom primed for success. Let’s act as though someone just handed us a menu of popular tools and said “order now, please!” All of the sudden the focus wouldn’t center on what we could afford and the associated compromises or sacrifices, but how we could actually enhance in our instructional practice. Questions like, “What is it that these devices need to do? and What functionality do we expect the said device to bring to the instructional environment?” would bubble to the surface instead of “How do we convince the stakeholders that this is an appropriate and necessary direction and oh, by the way…get them willing to pay the bill?” I challenge educational leaders to do this exercise. I challenge leadership teams to have discussions that shed all the noneducational problems that surround initiatives even if price IS an issue of great concern. Innovate with your expertise, idealism, and “wouldn’t it be great if…” mentalities. Let reality hit later in the process as subsequent hurdle to overcome and do not allow it to stifle development of great ideas.
Simon Sinek discussed in his book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Actions, the Golden Circle of why, how, and what. In other words, first know why you want the tool, figure out how you are going to use it, and then subsequently develop what you will do with it. As the title suggests, you need to start with the why…the vision, reason, overarching philosophy, the gut reason you are moving in a certain direction…in this case not so much 1:1 technologies, but why we infuse technology into our practice. That’s a huge discussion not slated for this post. The how is really where this post is targeted. How are we going to integrate technology into our instructional paradigm and more specifically what device will serve as that 1:1 tool? What should it provide?
Naturally, we need to first start with the feature set. What is it that we really want the device to do? How are we going to create a 1:1 that is effective in achieving our academic goals? Although this sounds extremely obvious, many do not start here. They start with a specific device or product in mind and move on from there. They have allowed an advertising campaign or a convincing sales representative to set their direction and, more importantly, corresponding set of sacrifices. Decision makers forget that they are the experts of not only their craft, but also their environment. Shopping on feature sets alone or the convincing argument of a societal trend should not be the sole focus. Who knows the environment better…a sales person, journal, or advertising agency or the organizational leader? Yes, this sounds so easy when exposed, but many district leaders fail every day in this area.
What do I want from a 1:1 product? I want…
- content creation
- access to both district and worldwide resources
- channels for communication (social media, email, shared documents)
- an efficient and effective means for assessment (both formative and summative)
- the ability to personalize the tool
- a valid tool that fosters solutions and not barriers
Is this a groundbreaking feature set? I do not believe it is at any level. In fact, I think many of us in the field have wanted these abilities for years, but had not found a tool that could accomplish the task without substantial barriers to implementation. That does not mean that we should abandon the correct process just because we want a solution. Keep close to you need the device and work from there. This is where the innovative thought processes or decisions will be found. It won’t be found in societal tends, manufacturer persuasion, or a field reps sample set. The results may surprise even the most informed and may reveal the plausibility of the “holy grail.”
In full disclosure, my current district is knee deep in iPad implementations. Yes, we did choose the trendy and many have accused “bling-ridden” device. The device everyone wants. The one everyone was “told” they needed in their district. With that in mind, I guarantee that the above feature set was taken into consideration from day one. I also guarantee that the implementation currently in place is not riddled with superfluous, app centric, non-student centered activities that have had little effect on instructional practice. We use very few apps…iWork suite, iMovie, Camera app (still and video), Safari, iBooks, iRecorder, a few scientific measurement tools, and Proloquo2Go for our special needs students without means to communicate. Just because the apps are affordable and very attractive does not mean you need to have multitudes installed.