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Top 4 reasons why 1:1 programs fail

There is among K-12 schools a veritable on-rush to put a device in the hands of every student; a laudable and necessary ambition. However, while there are certainly successes, very many teachers and superintendents report that 1:1 programs are not correctly integrated, that the necessary training is not available, and that the focus is very much more on the “device” than what the device can do in terms of enhanced learning opportunities and outcomes.

A 2015 study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found that unless students achieve recognized base-lines of proficiency in reading and numeracy/math prior to engaging in a 1:1 program the results are negligible. They also found that although a vast majority of students, from across all social backgrounds, have access to computers, the pre-existing gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students are not immediately or thoroughly addressed by the simple provision of technology. Which helps us conclude that technology is not “the silver bullet” that will immediately create equitable educational outcomes.

So, where are we failing in our 1:1 roll outs?

Top 4 reasons why 1:1 programs fail

We focus primarily in this blog on successes, and how technology works well in classrooms, but today I thought we could explore some ways in which 1:1 programs, specifically, have failed, with a view to learning from those mistakes.

I read an interesting article here, and found the comments section even more interesting, as they describe “from the coal-face” how educators are struggling with either deploying a 1:1 program, or managing one.

  1. Focus on leadership, not devices

    Randy Ziegenfuss of Salisbury Township School District in Allentown, Pennsylvania comments “School leaders are terribly unprepared to lead for a vision beyond devices...Topics [at a conference I attended] included how one school implemented 1:1 with Chrome Books and another included apps for the iPad…such limited conversation that loses sight of the greater work and vision for teaching and learning. It’s leadership that will take us beyond the talk of devices and apps.”

    Randy, and other educators I have seen write online on this topic, feel that schools defocus on the technicalities of providing 1:1 devices, and forget or fail to construct a workable strategy, developed by an ed-tech professional, that addresses that particular school’s needs. Devices are a tactic, not a strategy, and do not in themselves demonstrate or provide enhanced education outcomes.

    Jonathan Dallwitz concurs, “As the newly appointed eLearning Coordinator at our college, I’m struggling to get through the noise of dealing with devices, workflows, apps etc (all year 8s & 9s have BYO iPads as of this year) and get more deeply into shifting our entrenched culture of teaching and learning; for students to be more empowered to steer their own learning, with global connections, rather than simply being receptacles of bits of data.” It is essential that the entire faculty understand the change in approach that is required, and that a tech-enabled learning environment is not an add-on, but a “shift” in teaching culture.

  2. Learning is already about creating and sharing

    Melissa Emler of the Shullsburg School District, Shullsburg, Wisconsin says, “I know the most important thing my district needs to do is improve our infrastructure so we can provide access to the digital world. Once we have that I’m committed to the learning. I’m not going to allow tech companies be our 21st century publishers that pigeon hole my students learning. I want my students to CREATE and SHARE, and they can do that with whatever tool they want.”

    Teachers are clearly wary of the trend of putting the cart before the horse, or in this case the iPad before the learning. They are satisfied that their district and schools need to focus resources on the hardwire and WiFi infrastructure, but are uneasy about being “taught” by ed-tech companies how to teach.

  3. Teachers are unprepared

    Erik Stafford makes an interesting observation about teacher graduate programs, “Unfortunately, undergraduate programs are not educating new teachers the shift from a closed classroom that is derived from knowledge of the educator, but more from the knowledge that can be gained from the Internet. Once universities stop teaching content and start teaching how to retrieve, organize, and share content that already exists on the Internet graduates will be unprepared.” Teachers need to be taught, at university level, how to best leverage technology for their learner’s benefits.

    P.Lee agrees, “Universities who have been teaching teacher education with a mindset back in the 50s and 60s. I don’t recall any of my teacher credentialing professors knowing how to effectively teach us how to use basic MS Office products, Google Drive, etc. I had to take this course through the Computer Science dept. Where is the reform in this outdated practice?”

  4. Clever pen and paper

    Henry Ford, automobile pioneer, famously quipped

    If I’d asked people what they had wanted they would have said “faster horses”.

    And indeed many 1:1 programs boil down to clever pen and paper applications. David Phillips puts this well in his comment, “The real problem I see with so many 1:1 programs is that we view devices as a means of gathering information and/or drill rather than as engines for creating meaningful, real-world artifacts that clearly meet curriculum standards. Before we start the technology acquisition process, we need a true revolution in our ideas about learning.” Or as another commentator put is succinctly “pushing paper down the wire”.

Wrapping up

There is no doubt that the future of education is a seamless blend of inspired face-to-face teaching and powerful online resources, which in combination fuel radical shifts in how we teach and learn, and ultimately serve our students better.

It is however also natural that integrating technology into an established well-understood system such as the classroom is going to be a bumpy ride. What’s clear though is focusing on device provision and infrastructure alone will not lead to a successful ed-tech strategy.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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