By Daniel Donahoo
The introduction of technology into a classroom should never be taken as a guarantee of improved learning or results. As more schools introduce tablet devices at 1:1 ratios into classrooms, the more we will see teachers who haven’t had exposure to the ideas that surround the educational technology space and who will be grappling with the questions: How does this fit into our school? And, how do I fit this into my teaching?
Initially, there are more challenges to rolling out a 1:1 tablet program than solutions — one of the first being that school administrations become focused on the technical, financial, and infrastructure issues of implementation, which leave the broader ideas and issues around teacher engagement, professional development, and alignment to the school culture a distant second. This means money that should be invested in the thinking and planning of how to get real value out of such a program isn’t available because it is used up paying for technology and technical services.
The technical issues do exist, but they should come second to the school and community discussion about how mobile computing is going to work and help change the culture of learning within the school. The New Media Consortium has recognized that mobile computing is at the school gate, but individual schools are feeling ill-equipped to make the change.
In my anecdotal experience this is certainly true with many school budgets being shaped for 2013 by the need to integrate mobile technology, but with school leaders unsure of where to begin. Here in Australia, every second school I walk into is asking the question about how, why, and when they should implement a 1:1 tablet program into the school or classroom.
The issue begins right there. If the technology is mobile, it isn’t about how it fits the classroom or school, but how the technology facilitates learning for students both in and outside the classroom and at home and anywhere in-between. The challenge is how to simultaneously adopt new technology in a way that maximizes its benefit by changing the school’s approach to education.
Of course, we read the great examples in the NMC Horizon Report series, but the best practice we read about is a misrepresentation of the reality of education systems. I recall hearing a talk on the Canby School District iPod Touch trial. It demonstrated terrific results in lifting grade scores, especially in the most vulnerable student cohorts. But, the presenter pointed out that the teachers who were used for the program were the best teachers — the most enthusiastic and willing teachers. It was suggested that the results, while promising, did not reflect what a whole of district roll out would look like.
So, the key to technology supporting and improving educational outcomes is on how well administration, teachers, and the whole school community are supported in both understanding and managing the changes new technology offers. By understanding, I mean the school appreciating that to really get value from a 1:1 mobile technology program, you have to change business as usual. You have to use the technology to increase parent engagement and you have to work with teachers to become facilitators of learning. You have to consider what value you will put on test scores versus the long-term change that comes from technology-driven, self-directed learning. You need to see that mobile technology requires you to trust and respect students, and it is the approach (not the technology) that strengthens their ability to become lifelong learners who know how to ask great questions and not just find the right answer on a multiple choice test. The key to a successful 1:1 implementation is how well the change is managed. This means:
The capacity of technology to make a positive impact on education and learning is well demonstrated by the early adopters, but it is not a guarantee. A mobile tablet device can easily just become a simulation of the math worksheet. A 21st century classroom full of students with tablets can look very similar to an 18th century classroom of students with chalk slates.
There is no education revolution, just a continuum of change from one new tool to the next and the next. It is he way we manage that change that ultimately determines how successfully we use the tools that we see on the horizon. And, this is where the work of NMC and its associated researchers and partners in promoting best practice and sharing how this is helps take education to the next stage is the strongest.
The challenge of going 1:1 isn’t the cost because money can be found and sourced and raised. It isn’t the technical challenges because we have overcome them before with computer labs and internal networking. The challenge is providing schools and those who work in them with the template for how to do this well, a way for early adopters and champions to bring everyone along for the ride in an inclusive way that doesn’t leave them banging there heads against brick walls because of another lost opportunity.
About NMC Contributor Daniel Donahoo
Daniel Donahoo is a researcher and author interested in childhood learning and development, as well as technology and emerging literacies. He has published two books, Idolising Children and Adproofing Your Kids. Daniel is currently the Director of Project Synthesis where he works with education and community organisations to support digital capacity, inclusion, and research. He is a contributor to Wired's GeekDad.com and collaborates on digital projects like In B Flat 2.0. He tweets @ddonahoo and can be found at danieldonahoo.com. The NMC first came to know Daniel through his Horizon Report coverage in the Huffington Post.
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