Education Opinion

Chat Wrap-Up: One-to-One Computing

March 21, 2006 6 min read
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Education Week sponsors regular online chats on its Web site, edweek.org. On March 8, the topic under discussion was one-to-one computing programs, in which schools provide a computing device for every student. Bette Manchester, the director of special projects for the state department of education in Maine, which has the nation’s only statewide one-to-one computing program, for its middle schools, and Margaret Honey, the director of the New York City-based Center for Children and Technology, were on hand to answer readers’ questions. Below are excerpts from the discussion.

A full transcript of this chat is available at www.edweek.org/chat/computeone.

Question: If it were not for the cost, most states would immediately adopt a one-to-one computing program. In cash-strapped states, how would you propose implementing this highly desirable program?

Manchester: To do something at the state level takes vision from the governor. Without that, it would be hard, because there are so many competing needs. At the same time, though, there needs to be commitment from the education community to revisit spending practices, as in textbook funds, paper supplies, and professional-development resources. Laptops can give students access to digital resources that are richer and more current than many textbooks. And with staff professional development, the need for paper copies might be reduced by the use of drop boxes and increased efforts towards a paperless classroom.

Question: Could you comment on the quality and scope of the digital content available for one-to-one implementations?

Manchester: To provide quality content, we in Maine have an extensive set of resources available through the Maine Virtual Library. We also have organized the digital content providers into a fellowship known as the Maine Digital Media Group. Its members include museums, the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, the Maine Historical Society, the Northeast Historic Film archives, university and public libraries, research centers, and others. This group convenes a few times a year to share resources, write grants, and develop ways to get resources to schools and communities. Windows on Maine is a great example of a collaboration to provide high-quality digital content to schools.

Question: What do you see as the biggest advantages students and schools gain by using one-to- one laptops?

Honey: Principals, teachers and parents, and students report increased engagement in learning, more project-based schoolwork, and greater collaboration between students and staff members. In addition, educators say they have a greater variety of more-current resources, and are able to draw on special tools and resources that enable every type of learner to learn. Students are able to show evidence of their work and their understanding of concepts in ways we never imagined.

Question: Can a laptop program be viable if the classroom teachers cannot provide the help needed to keep students focused on the end result? What programs are in place to assure that teachers will be getting the support they will need?

Honey: Yes, it’s incredibly important that teachers build their own comfort levels with technology first. It makes no sense to drop computers in without laying a foundation for teachers. Our children are often much more savvy than we are, and that can be both good and bad. No educator wants to feel at a loss in front of her kids, and no educator should be put in this kind of situation. Back in the ’90s, when my group worked closely with the Union City, N.J., public schools, technology was very new to many teachers. We were, however, able to use knowledgeable high school students to help teach teachers. The kids were paid for their work and took it very seriously. There was an experienced computer teacher who worked with them. Across the board, the program was a big success, and it was not that expensive. So, yes, teachers need to learn, but we can be creative in how we go about making that happen.

Question: When I was a technology coordinator at a high school, I noticed that kids would gravitate to working in pairs or groups of three. Can you talk to the fact that one-to-one computers may not be necessary, and perhaps three-to-one is more doable for schools?

Honey: You’re right. Kids like to be social with technology, as they are with most things. Whether it’s one-to-one or three-to-one, the important thing is that they are talking, sharing information, and exploring ideas. I think there are two big advantages to laptop or hand-held programs: equity (they level the playing field), and ownership. There’s something important about kids having their own device, or tool. It’s both professional and helps to cultivate a sense of responsibility. Of course, as the cost of hardware continues to drop, this will become a reality in more classrooms.

Question: Providing computers to all students and teachers is a very expensive undertaking. What is the best source of funding for such an endeavor?

Honey: Yes, computers are still expensive. I have seen many different strategies used by schools: corporate funding, community fundraising activities, private donors, and others. The Public Education Network’s newsletter is a good place to go for funding information. To subscribe visit: www.publiceducation.org/subscribe.asp.

I was recently in the United Kingdom and had the pleasure of meeting with Dave Whyley, who is running a fascinating one-to-one project using hand-held computers. (Dave’s e-mail address is dwhyley@wolverhampton. biblio.net.) What was most impressive about the project is the wide range of applications they are able to make available to students, from the Internet, to e-books, to instructional-software programs that target specific skills, and many more. Of course, the British government is committing resources to educational technology in a way that our government no longer is.

Question: How do you monitor care of the machines? Is there a lot of expense involved in the upkeep?

Honey: Information technology is about the culture of the school. If there is a culture of respect and responsibility among students and staff members, then reasonable expectations, procedures, and consequences work to keep the devices in good repair. If that kind of culture does not exist, then the culture needs to be attended to, whether you have laptops or not. You do need to provide tech support for every 300 machines. The development of tech teams and collaborative strategies with the tech folks can minimize the cost of support.

Question: How can one-to-one technology at a school site aid in closing the achievement gap?

Honey: One-to-one has the potential (it won’t magically do this) to create opportunities for children to learn in ways that speak more directly to their individual needs. There is very creative software out there to help address, for example, the low levels of literacy performance that are often a core issue in students’ ability to perform. There is a program developed by the Massachusetts group CAST (www.cast.org) that supports literacy learning. A British company has developed a program called Kar2oosh that has enormous possibilities for supporting kids’ literacy learning. What sets these kinds of programs apart is that they are not about drill-and-kill remediation, they are about helping kids build up a repertoire of skills and apply them to solving interesting problems. You may find Donna Alvermann’s research in this area helpful as well.

A version of this article appeared in the March 22, 2006 edition of Education Week as Chat Wrap-Up: One-to-One Computing


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