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To See Increases in Student Achievement in 1:1/BYOD Classrooms Teachers Must be Given Curriculum with Technology Activities Baked In

We can't ask teachers to use 1:1 computing devices (BYOD or school-purchased) while still giving them only pencil-and-paper curriculum and askign them to figure it out on their own. We need to give teachers new curriculum, with detailed lessons that exploit the affordances of the computing devices, if we want to see increases in student achievement.

The data are absolutely clear: Only when computing devices — desktops to smartphones — are used as essential tools for teaching and learning does that lead to increased student achievement[1]. There is a range of definitions of "essential use," but simply put it is this: 60 percent to 75 percent of use during school day with multiple applications where the underlying pedagogy is some variant of learn-by-doing, inquiry-oriented, project-based, and used as an after-school tool.  Using computing devices — even 1:1 laptop programs — as supplemental tools simply does not lead to increased student achievement. From the New York Times[2] to SRI's reports[3] for the Department of Education, the literature is replete with stories of failed impact of supplemental computing technology.

And, the key to having students use computing devices as essential tools is a teacher having a detailed, cohesive, coherent CURRICULUM:

  • The curriculum needs to include detailed, day-by-day lesson plans with instructional strategies plus assessment plans.
  • The use of the technology in those lessons and assessments must be "baked" into the lesson and assessment plans; the use of the technology can't be added onto existing paper-and-pencil curriculum. If the technology activities are added on then what is on offer are paper-and-pencil lessons implemented on a computing device — not a lesson that exploits the unique affordances of the computing device.
  • The curriculum needs to foster "active" learning and inquiry, rather than implement a direct-instruction, didactic pedagogy.

Developing such a curriculum is a significant undertaking. While there are one-off lessons that purport to integrate technology available on the Internet, a two-semester, one-year, coherent, cohesive, project-based curriculum — where the technology activities are  baked into the curriculum, not just integrated — is, to the best of our knowledge, not available for free or otherwise!

It is more typical than not that when a class goes 1:1 with laptops or with BYOD or even with a computer cart, the teacher is told: Take the existing, paper-and-pencil curriculum and make it work with computing devices. Now, the "artisan" teachers — the early-adopting teachers, the teachers for whom teaching is a mission — can "make it work" by dint of hard work and significant talent.

But the Everyday Teacher, who works only 50 hours a week and tries to have a life outside of school, typically falls back to using technology as an add-on to their existing curriculum. However, as has been documented in the literature, when Everyday Teachers are provided with curriculum that they can follow, their students can use computing devices as essential tools and increases in student achievement can be observed.

To you, the classroom teacher, we are preaching to the choir; tell us something we don't know! But, does your principal know how important being given a curriculum with baked in technology activities is? Does your superintendent? Does your school board?

And, where is a coherent, cohesive year-long curriculum? Houston, we have a problem! We have seen districts form committees of their teachers that develop the needed curriculum over the summer or districts that hire curriculum developers to construct the needed curriculum. These are stop-gap techniques. With the 1:1/BYOD initiatives growing exponentially it's time that the curriculum development companies join in — schools need curriculum with technology activities baked in and they need it now.

Here's the danger: Without the right curriculum, teachers may well use all this wonderful 1:1/BYOD technology as supplements, as add-ons to the old curriculum — and we won't see increases in student achievement. That would be a sad waste of an amazing opportunity!

About the Authors

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

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

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at

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