Is 1:1 the New One Size Fits All?

By Stacy Hawthorne
bigstock-the-concept-of-learning-25540199Earlier this week I was having dinner with some fellow educational technologists. The conversation took the inevitable turn to discussing 1:1 philosophy. 1:1 is most typically defined as the ratio of one student to one device where that device is provided by the school. During our discussion, the question was posed as “1:1, Chromebooks or iPads?” While I am a fan of both Chromebooks and iPads, I was troubled by this conversation. Not, of course, because I am opposed to the student use of technology, but because I am starting to realize that 1:1 is a parallel philosophy to “one size fits all.”
Sure the reasons for adopting a 1:1 program are laudable. I understand that 1:1 levels the playing field for all students, that teachers appreciate 1:1 because every student has the same device, that maintenance and networking becomes easier when the device is standardized, and many other pros. People preferred the iPad because it was so much more than just a computer while others chose the Chromebook because they were easy to manage, were more affordable, and could virtually replace PCs. My internal conflict over 1:1 started to develop when I realized the technological needs of students are just as diverse as the students themselves, meaning that a school-wide 1:1 decision meant to benefit the students could be very limiting to some students.
I asked myself, “Would 1:1 would be right for my school district?” Our district recently implemented a blended learning program at our high school, funded in large part by a grant from eTech Ohio. This year we are offering three blended learning classes, Advanced Quantitative Analysis and Mathematical Modeling, Local and American History, and Composition and Rhetoric. Because of our grant, we have the funding to make our blended classes 1:1. The problem is that each of our classes has specialized needs when it comes to technology.
Our math class is focused heavily on statistics and uses statistical analysis software. This course was designed based a summer internship experience that our teacher, Christina Hamman, participated in at 3M. She wanted to be able to teach non-engineers and non-math majors some of the more practical business applications of mathematics that she saw utilized during her internship. The downside of this software is that it only operates on Windows-based machines. This meant that for students in her class they needed access to Windows machines, preferably laptops. So, we used some of our grant funds and bought a classroom set of laptop computers that students could both use in class and take home as needed. For this class, traditional laptops were the right answer to the 1:1 device question. Problem solved?
Definitely not! The students in Shannon Conley’s Local and American History class are capturing and digitizing the history of our town. This means that they spend a lot of time taking pictures, scanning historical records, recording videos, and interviewing local communities members to create content for their app It turns out that students do not like to lug around heavy laptops nor are these devices well suited for video capturing and editing. For these students, the iPad is exactly what they need. The iPad is perfect for original content creation, which is what these students are doing. But wait, we already bought laptops. If we were a traditional 1:1 school, these students would have to adapt to our one-size-fits-all decision. But that is only two classes; we have three in our blended program.
Stephani Itibrout’s Composition and Rhetoric students need a web-enabled device with word processing capabilities. The Windows-based laptops or the iPads could suffice, but neither was the perfect tool for the job. The Windows devices are slower to start up and again, are bigger and heavier than the modern student likes. The iPads are not the ideal device for composing long documents. For this class, it looks like the Chromebooks are the tool of choice. Sure, these students could make either the laptops or the iPads work, but why should they have to make do? Just like a carpenter chooses the right tool for the job, our students should have the opportunity to choose the right technology for their needs.
So, three different classes and we clearly need three different devices for our students. As I listened to the conversation this week it struck me how much we handcuff students and teachers when we tell them what technology they are required to use. If my district made a 1:1 decision we would clearly not be able to choose one device that is right for all students and all classes. 1:1 should not mean “one size fits all.”
If we are truly designing a student-centric learning environment and putting the students in the position to make meaningful decisions about their education, how can we justify deciding which device they are required to learn on?  When I look at my daily use of technology, there is no one device that could get me through the day. I’m not “one size fits all” and neither are my students.
Stacy Hawthorne earned her Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Georgia, her teaching license from Ashland University, her gifted endorsement from the University of Cincinnati, and is completing her Master of Education in Administration from Ashland University. She is the Technology Integration Coordinator for the Medina City School District where her primary responsibility is integrating technology for improved student engagement.  Recently Stacy wrote a proposal on behalf of the Medina City School District which earned an eTech Ohio’s Blended Learning Grant. Medina High School’s blended learning program has been featured in local and national news, including Converge magazine.

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Kimberley Rivett

Great blogpost - your examples of why 1:1 does not work for all are great snapshots of why a 'one size fits all' approach will not ever work in life let alone education. My biggest argument in the elementary (primary) grades is that I want collaborators and problem-solvers, not possessive students who hog THEIR device and struggle to share anything, let alone ideas.
We have moved into the thinking of BYOB - bring your own browser - and allow students to hook into the school network. However, we have other class devices for those whose families cannot afford them etc. It works at the moment but we will be reviewing it and working towards change when needed.

Alexei Vinidiktov

So how can this dilemma be solved? If there is enough funding to buy different devices for different classrooms then it's a no-brainier. But what if the school can only afford only a limited number of devices? This means that within one classroom there will be different types of devices, some will be well suited for their intended use, others will not.

Robert Hacker

A viable and cost effective third alternative is the XO 4.0 Touch from OLPC. Traditional laptop with keyboard and a touch screen for tablet like interface. Open source software would fill word processing and other needs mentioned. Price $206-216 depending on order size.

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