1:1 Dialog

A hot topic for the Digital Learning Council, co-chaired by Governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise, this week will be how states should ensure that every student has an Internet access device and broadband.  Should state buy every kid a laptop like Maine or
Some advisors “expressed some reticence with the term “1:1” as it focuses people on laptops and not the increasing array of powerful handheld/mobile devices that are not laptops (like iPads or Kindles or whatever); nor does the term really describe large group and/or collaborative technologies very well.”
Rather than targeting 1:1 computing in the traditional sense, several advisors prefer to target “high-access” environments.  “This also is an explicit recognition that you can tip the way teaching and learning happens without – strictly speaking – every student having a device 24/7.”
Another advisor said, “We should call for “ubiquitous, anytime, everywhere access to technology and the Internet” (or something similar) rather than explicitly for 1:1 (i.e., one computer access device for every student). “
Several advisors have encouraged the development of a multi-device environment, “Where as the goal of ‘ubiquitous’ may be more open to student personal devices (i.e., brought in from home, not owned/provided by the school).   With cloud computing, hosted applications, flash drives, smart phones and other mobile devices, students can have ubiquitous access without necessarily having the same computer on their person at all times.”
It’s hard to get this right because, as the Project RED blog and report pointed out, it’s easy to layer technology on top of how we’ve always done school.  “This is a path we’ve gone down before and focuses people into a very simplistic mindset: dump equipment in classrooms and test scores go up.”
Quote on the power of use cases:

My current tack, which is drawn from lessons learned from IT investments in the healthcare area: focus on specific meaningful use cases – not calls for generic investment in tech – to drive investments; otherwise, the impact will be too diffuse and riddled with poor implementations. I think K-12 technology investments would greatly benefit – and could be made by politicians – if we only focus the entire system on a few number of scenarios.  I think those use cases are **enabled** by access to online and blended learning (for students and teachers/administrators), on digital content, and on online assessment.

A couple of notes about this approach; we must frame this in part as taking something away or changing current practice. If we just layer this on top of the current system (as has been done before), we aren’t really helping anyone make the shifts that need to occur. Part of the approach also has to be cost savings, especially in the current environment. I think we have to consider framing this around equity – all students need access to high quality courses, high quality content, to know where they stand toward graduation, etc. We can’t get to these goals without new investments, but we may need to highlight how poor a job we do right now. In this respect, K-12 is like the frog in the boiling pot of water – we are quite comfortable in our rapidly heating water and may need help recognizing the changing environment around us and how we can address these longstanding problems that we have gotten comfortable in not addressing because we hadn’t the tools to do so.

In previewing the DLC platform with a group of state superintendents, it was clear that they were interested in better student access to technology, but that providing or ensuring access was politically, financially, and academically difficult.
I really appreciate Angus King’s leadership in Maine, but for most states a single tech platform won’t be the answer.  But states will need to play a leadership role on a defined timeline so that policy decisions regarding digital content and assessment can be made.  With target dates identified, states could negotiate several access options (i.e., laptops, tablets, netbooks, wireless cards, etc) that districts and networks could choose from.
This pivot from print to digital is complicated.  We’d welcome your thoughts and suggestions on this topic.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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