A subtle opinion of 1-1 computers in the classroom

One of the small schools in central Montana wrote a short request for information on the state techie listserve about how to implement a 1-1 program in their high school.  Oh boy, the cat is out of the bag now.  When it comes to 1-1 I am very opinionated.  It is sort of my pet project and pet peeve.  I feel EVERY high school should be 1-1 and every junior high should be preparing students for a 1-1 program.  1-1 to me means the device is the student’s.  They own it or it is on long term loan.  It should be treated as the device they are going to use in college or on the job.  It goes home with them, it lives in their backpack and if they screw it up they should be shown how to fix it.  The device should be like a textbook, it goes to class every day and if the teacher decides to use it the kid pulls it out.

If the student cannot afford a laptop I loan them one.  Our check out policy is simple.  I put the student’s name on a spreadsheet and from there on it is theirs to do with as they will.  I make the student an administrator on the laptop; they can install whatever they want on it.  When the student is in school the internet is filtered.  Outside the school it is the parents’ responsibility.  When I get it back in the summer I reformat the whole thing and start from scratch.  If it is damaged beyond repair or lost they buy me a new one.  Has not happened yet.  What is interesting is how few laptops I loan out.

It is interesting, and somewhat depressing, how schools lag behind developments in the world.  The military is always fighting the last war; schools are always seem to be teaching material and using methods from fifty years ago (math is like 2000 years ago).  I can still remember high school (hard to believe considering how long ago it was).  The only major difference I can see in the curriculum is the kids do not spend the first two weeks of chemistry learning how to use a slide rule.  Yes, there are now computers in the classroom and the kids turn in assignments typed on a computer.  And yes some teachers have developed methodology that is computer based and have accepted the changes that are required to bring kids into the 21st century.  But in general schools are still in the 1960s.  The computer is treated by many teachers as an inconvenience in their classrooms.  Many teachers can barely use the thing and they have absolutely no inclination to learn.  Their teaching methods have worked for the last umpteen years and they see no reason to change.  Student teachers are taught how to make Power Point presentations, how to use Excel and how to use a Smartboard.  They are not taught how to manage student computers in their classroom or how to take advantage of them.

Computers change the classroom in some interesting ways.  One of our math teachers is what I consider very progressive technology-wise.  He was one of the first in the area to use a Smartboard extensively.  He has since stopped using it.  His students use it.  He teaches from the back of the classroom with a tablet while his students take notes, work at the front of the room or use software at their desks.  He is still not satisfied with how he has integrated the possibilities that student laptops offer his teaching.  He is in a constant search for improvements.  Of course his move to the back of the room has solved another issue with student laptops; he can see what they are actually doing on their laptops.  There is no denying it, the laptops is a huge distracter for the student.  If the lecture is boring, hit YouTube.  Traditional front of the room teaching does not work when the kids have laptops.  The teacher should be able to move around the room freely, not just to help individuals, but to see what is actually on the computer screen.  Stuffing 25 kids in a small classroom makes this impractical.  Rows of desks are not conducive to teacher mobility.

To me teaching is all about looking for ways to improve or change your methodology to keep up with what is going on in the world.  This does not mean jumping on the latest band wagon, but looking at trends and actually seeing ways of integrating them into the classroom.  I do not see 1-1 as a trend for the future, it should have already have happened at least five years ago.  Walk on any college campus or into any office/job to see why.

Schools are starting realize the importance of 1-1 for the kids but I do not think they realize 1-1 is not just getting a device into a kids hands and turning them loose.  1-1 has huge issues: teacher training, student attitudes, classroom management, classroom layout, funding, and simple things like electrical outlets in older school buildings.  These are all trivial compared to designing a modern computer conscious curriculum.  If we get the device into the kids’ hands will the curriculum evolve?  Or is it necessary to build the curriculum first?  My opinion is if we do not get the devices into the kids hands there will be no motivation to evolve the curriculum.  The status quo is just so comfortable to too many.

1-1 should have happened in the past, we need to bring it into the present so the kids have it for the future.




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