Thursday, December 8, 2011

We Can't Afford 1:1

1:1 technology in classrooms is a much talked about topic in our Personal Learning Network.  In various schools and districts both large and small, students and teachers have their own iPads, laptops, or Smartphones, depending on the technological bent of that particular jurisdiction.  I have read numerous blog posts and articles showcasing the successes and levels of student engagement in these programs.  I also understand that there are numerous schools that are looking to move in this direction as fast as they are able to do so.

However, no matter whether I wanted to pursue 1:1 technology in our school or not, I am confronted with one big chunk of reality in our school of 1400 students.

We can't afford 1:1.

But just because we cannot afford to do this (and nor do I see us being able to afford this in the forseeable future), I do not despair.  In fact, over the last few weeks, I have been thrilled to see our pilot project with Android tablets take off in our school.  We have chosen to start with purchasing 50 tablets and distributing them to departments in pods of 7, along with power bars and a projector connector.  We did this purposefully, so that students in multiple classes could have an access point between groups of three or four (depending on the numbers of students in the class).  So far, I am thrilled with the pilot.  There are several things that I am seeing from our students that have excited me:
  1. Collaboration - It is not uncommon to see kids ask each other things such as "Where is a good website to find out about....?" ; or, "Did you bookmark that page we saw earlier?  How do you cut and paste that so you can send it to me?"; or "Is there an easier way to send myself bookmarks or share them?".
  2. Critical Thinking through Leveraging Different Technologies - While there may be one tablet at each quad of desks, students are also pulling out smartphones, iPod touches, and other devices that might connect them to our wi-fi network at the school and then determining which device might be best to do a specific task.  
  3. Interdependence - When students have an issue (technology or curricular), they ask each other questions as much (if not more so) than they ask their teacher.
  4. Peer Teaching - It is amazing to see how happy they are to share with other students are when they find a new function on their tablets, a new website, or a new way to do something.  They will shout out "Hey, look at this!"; other students and groups will crowd around to see, and then scurry back to their quads to make the new bit work for them.
  5. Excitement - "Hey, Mrs. Y, do we have the tablets today?"  x 28.  Enough said.
  6. Sharing - Call me old fashioned, but I still get excited when I see students sharing with each other.  No one is grabbing for the tablet, rather, they use it for a minute or two, and then put it back in the middle of the group of desks and move on.
And these are just the first few quick things that I have noticed in the classes that are using the tablets!  But there is something else that has piqued my interest. 

The kids need very little coaching to get going.
The first class to use a tablet-pod was a Social Studies 8 class.  The very courageous teacher had never used our tablets before (and in fact had never used a tablet, period), and the kids had never seen them before.  But within just a couple of minutes and the help of a teacher leader, the class was off and running.  And I mean running.  I walked around and asked the kids if they had used tablets before.  Some had, most had not.  I asked them if these were easy to use, and they gave me the classic "Well, DUH" look (respectfully, without the eye-roll), and nodded, all in hopes that I would quickly move on so they could get back to work.  I just shook my head and smiled.  OF COURSE they can use them.

While this may not be surprising to some, it has made me think a bit more about the way we do professional development.  Are we correctly focusing our PD?  And perhaps more importantly, are we using the resource sitting right in front of us (kids) effectively to help US become more comfortable with technology?  Are we able to give up the reins and let students lead US to where we need to go?

I am not so naive as to think that we can just toss a few tablets into a classroom with a teacher without some PD and expect kids to power a satellite or do regression analysis, but I am wondering if we can do some more basic PD with our teachers and encourage people to just TRY IT.  There will be glitches and bumps, but kids are good at finding solutions and work-arounds.  And if we can provide our teachers with some basics in terms of applications that can help them, such as Powernote for online bookmarking or subject specific sites they can access with their students while using the tablets, I think our staff will be encouraged to 'dip their toes in the pool' and eventually 'dive in' to technology integration.

We cannot afford 1:1, but we still can get technology into the hands of students.  By using the tablet pilot like we have, I am encouraged by the things I am seeing in our classrooms, and I am more closely examining the way that we in-service the adults in the building around technology integration.  In concert with students who are able to bring different technologies to schools, I am confident that we can leverage a small technology budget to create a technology-rich and skill-building environment in our school.