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No Laptop for You! (Until You Set Goals)

A teacher friend of mine wrote me recently. She said that her school was working on bringing in iPads for grades six and seven next year and asked if I find that schools prefer laptops to iPads when moving to a 1:1 device environment.

That’s a question our center gets quite a bit. In the end, our advice is: be sure your school defines clear goals for what it seeks to achieve by having computing devices in the hands of its students.

For instance, if writing is an important goal, you probably want a device with a physical keyboard — so laptops are a good choice.  Schools that are integrating writing across the curriculum, for instance, would want to take this into account.

But if your goals are about enhancing overall student engagement with material, then tablets may be the way to go. iPads are excellent for giving students access to information.  If enhancing creative capabilities of students is critical, then laptops may be the way to go because of the wider array of applications and the ability save creative work to disk and share it across platforms (print, web, etc).

Regardless, it’s the setting of goals that’s important. It transcends most other school factors in determining 1:1 success. For instance, we’ve seen schools issue iPads to students but not do a good job of expectation setting and training only to have teachers leave the school because of it. Perhaps that’s a worst-case scenario, but it’s emblematic of the bad feelings that can creep in to the teacher ranks when changes are not well communicated. Other schools that have aligned curriculum, trained teachers, set clear expectations, etc. have students doing amazing things. The schools that are really good at this don’t call themselves 1:1 schools, even if they technically are.  Take for instance the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. They have five core values in their school, none of which are about technology. However, they do use technology to fulfill those values:  

  • Inquiry
  • Research
  • Collaboration
  • Presentation
  • Reflection
  • They are now doing things that are unimaginable without the devices. And they got there because they had broad agreement across their school’s stakeholders about what the goals should be. My colleague Nick Sauers talks about this in a post he wrote a while back. He notes:

    “One to one learn­ing is one way to enhance what stu­dents learn and the ways that they learn.  It can turn teacher cen­tered class­rooms into stu­dent cen­tered class­rooms.  More impor­tantly, it can move stu­dents from the bot­tom of Bloom’s Tax­on­omy to the top level where stu­dents create…Unfor­tu­nately, one to one could also serve as a tool to pro­mote the ways things have always been done. (The key is to) truly iden­tify what stu­dents should learn and make those things the focus of every­thing the school does.”

    Is your school thinking about implementing a 1:1 laptop policy? Some things to be aware of might include:

    • Thinking about how to get devices in teachers hands the year before students receive them.
    • Ensuring everyone feels the urgency that teaching and learning must change to produce successful students in today’s world. This “urgency building”, as we call it, helps teachers understand why a school is embarking on an ambitious move such as 1:1. Not all teachers naturally feel the urgency that can drive a decision to go to 1:1. Kotter talks about the 8 stages of creating change, and many schools skip step 1 and 3 (urgency and vision) in lieu of just getting moving. They just jump in but don’t know the why they really want to do it.
    • Integrating student voice into the planning and implementation process.  Increasing student voice in a 1:1 planning not only uncovers new ideas that a planning team will never think of, it provides students with a stronger sense of ownership in their school. Students highly value having their voices heard and honored. 
    • What else should a school embarking on a 1:1 journey keep in mind?

      Photo Credit: (cc) Flickr user flickingerbrad


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