The initiatives to place laptops, notebooks or tablets in the hands of each and every student and each and every teacher are spreading across the country, from Maine to California. Bringing this capacity to the poorest communities and to developing countries has become an agenda for foundations and nonprofits internationally. The advantages of access to digital resources and the life changing capacity they bring are evident.
For educators working in poorer schools, the capacity to be ‘in touch’ with colleagues and access to capacity for students and for professional development is exponentially increased. In rural communities with small schools, it is often the case that there are no colleagues with whom to collaborate and learn. There may be only one English or math teacher in a high school for example. Certainly transdisciplinary collaboration is possible and meritorious but increasing the partners in the dialogue contributes greatly. Technology offers opportunities for educators to connect with the dynamism that can exist where teachers have access to learning opportunities through business partnerships, professional training, college offerings and their colleagues in other communities, states and countries.
For students in those poorer communities and fiscally challenged schools, the advantages rise as the teachers use their growing knowledge about how to work with and within the possibilities this technology offers when available to all. The advantage for all students is dependent upon the skills and abilities of the leaders and teachers and the preparation and receptivity at the child’s home. 1:1 for students can fall far short of its potential and become like giving each student a textbook unless leaders and teachers:
- understand the need for systemic planning and implementation
- take part in professional development themselves
- prepare the community for the initiative
- support each student as he/she begins and grows in this arena, understanding that part of the educator’s role is to plan and utilize the technology increasing responsiveness to differences in students’ abilities and interests
Far More Than Hardware
The delivery of hardware and access to the Internet and other sources of information alone, with hopes that all will be well is ill advised. It won’t happen. We believe, as with all changes, unless this implementation is well planned for systemic implementation, including putting a learning and monitoring system in place, it will result either in another failed initiative, or one of those pendulum swings with which educators are far too familiar.
This is best not considered an initiative, rather an important shift in practice; one that can only benefit students if planned to effect their learning throughout their lives. Planning this as a “technology initiative” may be a mistake. To many, the word “technology” invokes a mindset that leans toward hardware, Internet access, programs and software. It leads inevitably to the choice of hardware, purchase, distribution, and maintenance of things. While these steps are imperative, they cannot be all consuming and obscure the end: engaged and inquisitive children learning daily, alone and together, in classrooms and beyond.
As in all aspects the leader’s, whether becoming an expert oneself, or simply a believer, remaining in the leadership seat during the planning, budgeting, implementation, management, assessment, and showcasing/celebrating phases is essential. In his piece, Why Schools Must Move Beyond One-to-One Computing, Alan November wrote about the implementation failures he has observed.
In every case of failure I have observed, the one-to-one computing plan puts enormous focus on the device itself, the enhancement of the network, and training teachers to use the technology. Then, teachers are instructed to go! But go where? That’s the critical question that must be addressed first.
We agree and support the Mr. November’s belief that it is essential that leaders learn first. Leaders must be given the training to:
- Craft a clear vision of connecting all students to the world’s learning resources.
- Model the actions and behaviors they wish to see in their schools.
- Support the design of an ongoing and embedded staff development program that focuses on pedagogy enhanced by technology.
- Move in to the role of systems analyst to ensure that digital literacy is aligned with standards.
- Ensure that technology is seen not as another initiative, but as integral to curriculum. (NovemberLearning.com)
The school leaders’ crafting a vision does not mean ‘on your own’. Of course leaders need to have a sense of the horizon line, and how to move toward it. But the next steps involves bringing board members, other administrators, teachers, parents, and students from all levels to the table. A discussion, that includes listening as well as sharing information, identifying where more research needs to take place in order to clarify questions, and mediating a consensus conversation is what ‘crafting a vision’ involves. That takes time and is time well spent. It is the process, not the device, which creates followership and energizes people.
Modeling actions and behaviors does not necessarily require that the leader become the most tech-savvy person in the district. It is more complex than that. Although many educators are familiar with technology and use it in their personal and professional lives, it is constantly changing....new versions, new apps, and new sites. Once we begin, it is a forever learning process. Professional development isn’t a one-time investment. How one person uses Twitter or Diigo, for example, can change the world of someone’s classroom across the globe. Sharing that across the district can benefit the system-wide plan.
And finally, leader’s must avoid the temptation to be led astray by the glitter and shine that technology can offer by being certain that the system plan includes alignment to learning standards and digital literacy standards. The excitement about 3D printing holds opportunity for important curricular inclusion for all or it serves the privileged few, or becomes distracted fun for some. It is only after all of these factors are attended to with fidelity and integrity, that 1:1 or any " technology initiative” will be successful, will outlast present leadership and continue as an embedded practice within schools and within students.
The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.