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1-to-1 Computers Demand 1-to-1 Curriculum: Good Luck Finding Any
Where is the curriculum — the daily lessons — that specifically exploit 1-to-1?
The value of high-quality curriculum is undisputed. Like a tide that raises all boats, good curriculum supports struggling teachers in creating a productive environment in their classroom and it serves as a springboard for accomplished teachers.
And, 1-to-1 is no longer the exception; indeed it is the "new normal." It is reported that in 2015 — almost 3 years ago — 50% of the classrooms in the U.S. were 1-to-1. And with a computing device costing about the same as a pair of sneakers, the move to 1-to-1 is accelerating. (It’s actually 1 student to many computers since "phones" (aka smartphones to non-millennials) are ubiquitous, even in elementary school.)
Now, educators have been using technology in their classrooms since the mainframe days, e.g., write using a text editor, play a few games, watch some videos — and now more videos — for better or worse. But, by and large, computers have been used as a supplemental resource — a nice to have, but not something essential to the curriculum. The textbook, on the other hand, has been essential; it has provided the backbone for the curriculum, for the learning activities.
So, 1-to-1 is just a way to increase access to technology; 1-to-1 just makes using technology that much easier. Thank you, 1-to-1.
No, no, and no! 1-to-1 is special. 1-to-1 is not just providing a little more technology. 1-to-1 can afford a qualitative change in the classroom. 1-to-1 means every student in a class has access to a computer on a regular, day-in, day-out, basis. Having a 1-to-1 classroom means that computing technology can replace paper-and-pencil technology as the essential tool — relegating paper-and-pencil technology to playing the supplementary role.
Of course "can" does not imply "will." In a recent article about the Maine 1-to-1 laptop program, the longest running — and only — statewide 1-to-1 program in the nation, it was observed that: "But in Maine's higher poverty and more rural schools, many students are still just using programs like PowerPoint and Microsoft Word." And, who would bet against the claim that even in non-poverty schools "… many students are still just using programs like PowerPoint and Microsoft Word."
- Question: Why aren’t educators taking advantage of the unique affordances of their 1-to-1 classrooms?
- Answer: Lack of curriculum that teachers can use that explicitly takes advantage of 1-to-1.
Of course, there are a myriad of issues involved in taking advantage of a qualitative change in the classroom. And, perhaps we should be more conservative and say "hypothesis" rather than "answer" — but still, to a first order approximation, the key to enabling teachers to use their newly minted 1-to-1 classrooms effectively is to provide teachers with curriculum, with lessons that guide the student in using the devices while still maintaining a teacher-led classroom.
Interestingly, the Blended Learning (BL) promoters are doing exactly — well, sort of exactly — what we are saying needs to be done. That is, in BL students in a class take a course — follow a curriculum — on an online computer. And now, BL courses can even provide highly personalized curriculum, using machine learning to deliver just the right nugget of content at the right time to each student! And where is the teacher? Playing a management and motivational role, but not so much of an instructional role — to put it mildly.
As readers of this blog already know, in general, we are not big fans of education being delivered to kids sitting pliantly in front of a computer screen. One learns by doing, by actively engaging in projects – not by just reading text/watching videos/taking mastery tests/rinse/repeat.
So, where can teachers go to find curriculum — concrete lessons — that help them exploit their 1-to-1 classrooms? We went to the Share My Lesson website – a typical OER website. For grades 3-5 there were roughly 25,000 lessons. While we didn’t review each of the 25,000, our sample of about a hundred lessons turned up zero that were explicitly geared to 1-to-1. Of course there were lessons where the computer was used — "write using a text editor, play a few games, watch some videos" — but our search turned up zero 1-to-1 specific lessons. (If we missed some, please let us know!)
Please, please, we are not picking on Share My Lesson. The AFT — the American Federation of Teachers — that runs Share My Lesson are absolutely sincere supporters of teachers — as are all the OER websites that provides "lessons." But the lessons that are provided are, to a large extent, just digitized paper-and-pencil lessons. Lessons where students "write using a text editor, play a few games, watch some videos."
Over the next chunk of time, in our blogposts we will take a deep dive into the following issues:
- What really is so special about 1-to-1?
- Why is 1-to-1 potentially a qualitative change in the classroom?
- What makes a really good 1-to-1 lesson?
- Why are there no websites devoted to 1-to-1, non-Blended Learning, lessons?
Our intent is to answer the question we posed at the outset:
- Where is the curriculum – the daily lessons – that specifically exploit 1-to-1?
Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at www.imlc.io.
Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at www.imlc.io.
Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at thejournal.com/rc.