One-to-One: The Future :: 9/14/2006

T.H.E. Focus

T.H.E. Focus

September 14, 2006

One-to-One: The Future

In previous articles (“One-to-One: Shifting Perspectives,” August 24, 2006, and “One-to-One: Lessons Learned,” September 7, 2006), I described some of the challenges faced and the lessons learned by trainers and trainees alike when implementing a one-to-one (one computer to one student) program, such as Michigan’s Freedom to Learn (FTL) program. In this article, I’ll focus on the future of such programs.

“We have to keep moving forward. It doesn’t matter how we get there; we just owe it to the children to get there . . .” That’s from Amanda Harthun, lead teacher and “supercoach” from Bear Lake, Michigan. She knows what she’s talking about. Not only has she been involved in one-to-one learning, but she’s also recently completed a paper on her experiences (“Using Ubiquitous Computing to Increase Student Achievement” [June 2006], the conclusion of which was that “students need uninterrupted access to technology, curriculum, and activities that are meaningful to students’ lives, and immediate feedback in order to maximize student achievement.”). When I ask Harthun what she sees as the future of one-to-one learning, she says, “There isn’t any other option. I cannot imagine going backward.”

That’s a sentiment shared by many FTL teachers, coaches, trainers, and administrators. Harthun’s colleague, Sara Harless, is equally adamant: “There’s no turning back. We can’t.” Shawn Massey, from Flint Schools, says, “Even with funding challenges, one-to-one computing will grow. We cannot rely on a single lab for 700 kids and give them a 21 st-century education.” And Chelsea School District’s Scott Wooster makes the point that “The laptop itself is a tool. You’re still teaching curriculum. . . . People use new technology in their jobs. Do we not give them the tools?” If it was up to Harthun and Harless and Massey and Wooster, every student would receive one-to-one learning.

But there are difficulties.

One difficulty seems also to be an overriding strength of one-to-one learning: an initial reluctance by some to adopt what in some circles is called “constructivist learning”—learning that’s more student-centered than teacher-centered. This reluctance comes from teachers, parents, and anyone skeptical of deviations from traditional pedagogical norms. A program like Freedom to Learn, a program that strives to give students individual laptops to use 24/7, is exceedingly constructivist because students now have more responsibility—and more access—to find answers to their questions. That responsibility even extends to the actual hardware: Bear Lake’s technology committee discovered that they got more production from students when students brought their laptops home. Not only that, they discovered that students took better care of the laptops when they brought them home.

But it’s not the hardware that’s difficult for some teachers to accept. As Chelsea’s Joe Tinsley says, “The technology is a conduit for the pedagogy. Teachers are teaching differently because of the tools. We’re empowering kids. It’s a different classroom.” That’s a positive for Tinsley, but not so positive for others. Leslie Wilson says that for many teachers, “second-order change is more than moving the furniture around. It’s challenging the core of their belief system.”

A second difficulty is lack of money. Even with companies like Hewlett Packard offering lease deals, computers and software are expensive. Leslie Wilson, FTL’s Director of Professional and Curriculum Development, is acutely aware of this difficulty. By October 2006, she wants to create software that will help leaders plan more effectively for allocating funds for technology. The software, called “Dynamic Technology Planning,” will identify different financing mechanisms, state and national resources, and strategies to project investments (An on-line tool to examine the Value of Investment in one-to-one programs is available from the Consortium for School Networking—CoSN). Federal and state monies can’t be assumed limitless, and Wilson wants districts to be thinking of imaginative ways to fund the technology. School boards across the state of Michigan have already contributed financial support, for example, laptop insurance. Other communities are considering fundraisers. Amanda Harthun says that schools have athletic boosters, so why not tech boosters?

Wilson is not being passive in the face of diminishing funds. “It’s a challenging time,” she says, “to look outside the sacred cow expenditures we’ve had to find ways to be able to implement this kind of program systemically in a school or district.” Wilson claims that fully 25% of the 100 largest school districts in the country are seriously looking at implementing one-to-one programs, so they should be motivated to find those sources of revenue.

Wilson herself is a founding member of the management team of the One-to-One Institute, a national nonprofit organization that’s an offshoot of the Michigan-sponsored Freedom to Learn program. The goal of the institute is help educators implement and manage one-to-one programs through planning, training, assessment, and evaluation. This is part of the institute’s vision:

  • students taking charge of their own learning through experiential, problem-based, multi-disciplinary activities
  • students accessing homework assignments and school information online, anywhere and anytime they can connect to the Internet
  • students researching topics online, downloading coursework, checking e-mail, collaborating with other students, and submitting assignments online
  • parents and other caregivers communicating with their children’s teachers and viewing daily classroom work and homework

The One-to-One Institute plans to launch in fall 2006.

So the future of one-to-one learning is in the hands of the Believers, who must persuade the Funders to become Believers. If experience is a guide, they’ll be successful. Everyone I’ve spoken to has seen the change in adults coming to grips with this new technological pedagogy—the change from skepticism to devotion, from anxiety to enthusiasm, from naysaying to proselytizing—and this despite the enormity of the change that some teachers have to undergo.

Everyone I’ve spoken to has seen the change in students, too—newfound abilities, resurrected confidences, explosions of industry. My favorite example is simple, subtle, yet incredibly significant. It’s from Sarah Harless, who hears a student blurt out a question and before she responds with more than “Did you . . .,” another student is saying, “Here, I’ll show you where to look.”

“It’s definitely changed the dynamic of my classroom,” says Harless. “I’m not the know-it-all anymore. And that’s a good thing.”