In my previous post (here) I referenced an upcoming event at SFU, Targeting Technology for Maximum Student Benefit. To think out loud a bit, as well as to garner some ideas, I want to take a look at a number of issues that need to be unpacked, and to create some models for comment, pushback and refinement. So, the idea is to engage in a larger conversation, but less about the case for change, and more about a tangible idea of what that change might look like.
One of the points raised in the BC Education Plan under Learning with Technology is “The Province will promote the use of technology for both students and educators.” So, why does the BC Education Plan want to promote the use of technology? Technology is only the device; it is access to the benefits of a digitized world where everything is amplified that is the greater goal. For many, this part of the education plan speaks to moving to one-to-one opportunities. In the feedback I have seen around this, many have raised concerns over equity, and how one-to-one might further divide our students into have and have-nots, and while most believe technology can help overcome barriers of access and geography, we need to ensure there is some baseline. While it plays out as ‘technology’, what so many want for their children is the benefits of digital learning — relevant, connected, unlimited.
So, given that it seems unlikely that all students will be provided with a similar device (as was done in Maine and has been done in specific grades in BC at different times), what might a model look like that embraces personally owned devices, but would also tackle the issue of equity for all?
Some underlying background assumptions:
1) If we believe technology is crucial for students moving forward, we need to find a way for all students to have a base level of access.
2) Many still argue about the merits of technology; however, without question, the world is becoming increasingly digital. Accessing content, communicating, working, learning, and all facets of life are being shaped by the ‘digitization’ of the world. For our students to thrive in this world, they need to have access AND direction.
3) All efforts need to be learning efforts; the goal is to increase personalized learning that improves engagement, relevancy, achievement, and the technology is there to support this goal.
3) Given that it is unlikely any grand plan will come together to support all students and staff with technology, implementation will be incremental.
4) Simply encouraging students to bring their own devices is not enough, or an effective strategy. The strategy must be purposeful, supported and unified for both teachers and students. Failure to do this will leave us with pockets of innovation, and without a sustainable model.
5) There will be teachers who continue to push the boundaries, who will do amazing and edgy stuff — teachers always have and always will. But, while this should be encouraged, it shouldn’t be understood as a base expectation. Not every class needs to be Skyping with students in Europe for their assignments, or producing videos to explain their work (but it’s great in classes that do).
6) To be clear, one-to-one computing is not the solution to any challenge — it may, though, be part of the answer to going forward. If we think by placing an Internet appliance in a student’s hands alone will create a more creative, innovative, or more intelligent student we are missing the point. Like the paper and pen of the last generation, it is the ‘oxygen’ to breathe in a digital world.
So, what might a strategy look like:
1) It is important to start with either one grade or one school. While this post covers the technology, there is huge support needed for staff. This is not a pilot project — this is the first step in a strategy. The ‘sweet spot’ seems to be between Grades 4 -10. The elementary level is appealing as a starting point because it is one (or very few) teacher(s) interacting with each student, and easier for early success. Grades 4-10 is also the area where learning strategies can be integrated and cross-curricular, supporting personalized learning strategies.
2) Teachers need to have the technology in their hands early on to become comfortable with it and before students are using it on a regular basis. There is also a lot of work to be done to support teachers in adopting pedagogy in this ‘new’ classroom environment.
3) We need to identify what will make the digital learning ‘sticky’ for classes and schools to enable meaningful and powerful learning; it might be digital writing through a blog, student portfolios, or digital content (e-books/content). It will need to be supported for both teachers and students, and framed around an inquiry-based approach with student ownership and teachers as guides in learning.
4) A standard about what technology works best is required. Absolutely, bring what you have, but that strategy is far from perfect. Much can be done with a smartphone, but I am not convinced it is the best device for learning. I still think a small laptop that allows for work production is currently the best device, of course, this is changing with the growth of slates (iPads) and the potential of new devices like ultrabooks.
The really big question, how do we ensure equity?
- Have students with their own devices bring them. There are more students who have them than we think, and if the case is made that students are benefiting from the learning, more families will invest in the mobile technology for school and home. If parents can be assured that an investment in Grade 4 will carry their child through for four-to-six years with their learning, many will make this choice. I am often stunned by families that buy their child a cell phone, but don’t have a computer. I am also quite comfortable in saying that if they are investing in a cell phone and not a computer there are better options to support their child’s learning. We need to help guide families with what technology will have the greatest impact in supporting their child’s learning.
- Of course, not all students will supply a computer up front, this could range from a few students to the entire class depending on the school or district. The second option would be a lease-to-own option for students. There are a number of options available with price points around $20 per month. This picks up on the cell phone argument, and a more affordable device with more value for student learning. Families could be assured their child would be getting a device that would be ideal for learning for a number of years, and could be used at school and home.
- Finally, there are students that, for many reasons (financial and otherwise) won’t embrace the first two options. We need to find ways to supply these students with a comparable technology to use at school. Many schools have class sets of laptops that could be repurposed for this project; in other cases investments will need to be made. The challenge is that the investments will be uneven (and this is difficult to do) with some schools requiring a greater percentage of investment than others.
The uptake on the first two options will determine the speed at which the program could grow. There is also a belief (as evidenced) that devices will continue to come down in price over the next few years and the $100 Internet device for schools is hopefully soon at hand. We can take the approach that laptops may likely be what calculators were for me in senior math, something that I could bring, rent or borrow.
I realize that we are far from coming to terms on the question about whether the future is every student with a device, but I do think many see that as being part of schooling in the not-so-distant future. If that is true, we need to begin test models.
If we believe this is what we want for all learners in public education, we need to find ways to make sure it is available to all learners. If we believe that all students should have a level of access, given our economic and political realities, we need to engage and explore ways for this to happen.