Teaching Opinion

Response: One-To-One Technology ‘Is Really About Building Effective Relationships’

By Larry Ferlazzo — April 12, 2014 11 min read
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(This is the first post in a two-part series on this topic.)

This week’s question is:

What are the Dos and Don’ts of having a successful one-to-one computing (where every student at a school gets a device) program?

Though the iPad debacle at Los Angeles schools might have slowed-down the expansion of one-to-one computer programs, more and more schools are adopting the practice.

Today, and later this week in Part Two, experienced educators will share their advice on how to successfully implement such a program. I’m also eager to publish ideas from readers, and hope to receive many of them.

Today, Alice Barr, Mark Pullen and Troy Hicks will share their suggestions. Part Two will include contributions from Richard Byrne, Nancy Frey, Doug Fisher and comments from readers.

You might also be interested in a ten-minute podcast conversation I had with Alice and Troy on this same topic.

I have no personal experience with a one-to-one program, but have compiled these resources that readers might find helpful:

The Best Resources On “One-To-One” Laptop/Tablet Programs

The Best Advice On Using Education Technology

The Best Research Available On The Use Of Technology In Schools

The Best Resources For Beginning iPad Users

Now, for today’s guests:

Response From Alice Barr

Alice Barr is the high school Instructional Technology Integrator at Yarmouth High School, in Maine, a 1:1 laptop school since 2004. She is also a Google Certified Teacher and teaches classes on incorporating technology into education for The Professional Development Center at The University of Southern Maine. Follow her on Twitter at @alicebarr:

There is plenty of discussion about preparing our students to become innovative, digital, and global citizens. Many schools have addressed these skills by making the decision to have 1:1 technology in their classrooms. A Pew Internet and American Life Project report found that digital technology has become central to classroom work, but that it also offers challenges. How can a 1:1 classroom complement the way we teach our students?

Students Manage the Rollout

The most important thing that I have found to a successful 1:1 program is having students involved at every level. It starts when we issue the computers in the fall. Members of the Student Senate tech committee put together a presentation with updated information, guidelines and a bit of humor. They also offer support during the grade level assembly on making sure the network card works, logging in to email, and set up of the backup software.

Classroom Habits

We can write down and post the guidelines for technology use but if students don’t make appropriate technology use part of their daily practice, it won’t work. Modeling how to use technology is key. If the rule is not to eat or drink near the computer, then everyone, including the teacher, must practice and remind others.

In our building, there are designated areas to store laptops during breaks and lunch so they are not just left all over the place. If a teachers turns in an unattended computer, students must sign” the book”. There is a page for every student with three questions to answer: 1) What happened? 2) What was the result? and 3) What will you do differently next time? The first time it happens, it is a warning. Second time is an after school detention. The third time is a period by period check out or a loss of take home privileges. It really helps students remember when they write the infraction down in their own writing.

Classroom Jobs

Many classrooms have weekly jobs. Some of these can be adding the homework on the class calendar, posting the classroom news to the class blog or being the photographer of the week. As we work harder to make our classrooms transparent, publishing our work on online has made a positive difference in supporting what we do with technology in the classroom. Students help with the management and take great pride in being part of that process.

Students as Technical Support

Students are excellent help desk assistants. In some classes it is also a weekly job. They are helpful when it comes to giving a quick tech tip, suggesting alternate programs, and fixing the projector or printer. Students can also help set the tone for how the hardware will be used. One of the things that we find is that over the years is that the number of repairs has gone down. Aside from having more durable machines we have found that students take good care of their computers because they have to have the device for class. It is an expectation that they will use it in class.

Giving Students Choice

One big change we have seen is the way students present their work. They want to create. We made a page of suggested digital tools for projects. It’s linked on the technology page and we tweak it every year. Teachers can link to the site when assigning a project and they have learned to use Google Forms to “collect” digital projects. Student assignments can be differentiated giving every student the success they deserve.

Be Prepared for the Messiness

There’s no question that teaching with technology can be messy. No one has said we must completely shift everything we do to technology. Try one new thing at a time. As it becomes part of everyday practice, you can add more. One example is to try an activity with one section of a class. Or try a low stakes, fun project before the real one. Be sure to get feedback from students.

I believe the benefit of a 1:1 classroom is the amazing work and learning that students and teachers can achieve. Our students deserve to learn in an innovative, digital environment.

Response From Mark Pullen

Mark Pullen teaches third grade in a 1:1 classroom in East Grand Rapids, Michigan. He blogs about his experiences at mrpullen.wordpress.com, and his twitter handle is @mpullen:

Are you fortunate enough to be teaching in a 1:1 classroom? Starting a 1:1 program for the first time? Here are three quick suggestions based on my four years teaching in a 1:1 third-grade classroom.

1. Let 1:1 technology transform your teaching

It’s easy to use technology to keep doing what you’ve always done, without harnessing its power to change the way you actually teach. But 1:1 technology should be more than just a way of changing from a paper/pencil worksheet to a digital worksheet.

I find it helpful to think of three ways in which access to 1:1 technology can transform your teaching: as a differentiation tool, a creativity tool, and a connection tool. When you’re planning a lesson or a unit in a 1:1 classroom, ask yourself: How can technology enhance the differentiation in this lesson? How can it be used to allow my students to display more creativity in this lesson? Finally, how can the technology be used to connect my students to others (such as by giving their writing an audience or allowing them to Skype with a subject-matter expert in the topic being studied)?

2. Tap into your students’ expertise

No matter what age level you’re teaching, your students will come to you with extensive prior technology experience. Make the most of it! Encourage your students to work together to solve their various technology-related questions rather than looking solely to the teacher for tech support. In addition, make your tech-based assignments as open-ended as possible: rather than asking your students to create a PowerPoint about the non-fiction topic they’ve been studying, why not invite them to create a multimedia project of their choosing? You’ll end up with a more fun and diverse collection of projects, and your students will gain exposure to a wide variety of multimedia options as they view each others’ work.

3. Don’t expect your students to fully understand digital ethics and safety

This may seem to contradict the previous point, but even though your students will come to you with a wealth of previous tech experience, it’s not safe to assume that they fully understand the perils and permanence of the Internet. You’ll need to explicitly teach them to steer clear of plagiarism, to be judicious in what information they share publicly online, to treat others with kindness, and to engage in civil discourse in their online conversations.

Many of your students will come to you knowing how to use the computer as an entertainment tool, but not an educational or creative tool. It will take explicit instruction for some of your students to learn to use their 1:1 device in a productive, educational way. This is not a bad thing; in fact, I see it as one of the biggest opportunities a 1:1 classroom offers, as helping students to become productive, civil digital citizens is essential to their future success.

Response From Troy Hicks

Dr. Troy Hicks is an associate professor of English at Central Michigan University and focuses his work on the teaching of writing, literacy and technology, and teacher education and professional development. A former middle school teacher, he collaborates with K-12 colleagues and explores how they implement newer literacies in their classrooms. Follow him @hickstro and at hickstro.org:

Congratulations! You are embarking on a 1:1 initiative this fall, a process that is bound to be both exhilarating and frustrating all at once.

You’ve probably heard the standard advice about how to successfully implement 1:1, and your students can learn to search more effectively, develop creative project-based learning, and share their ideas with the world with lots of great web-based tools and apps. So, I won’t repeat all of that advice here. Instead, I want you to think beyond the device.

Because, in short, 1:1 is not about the device at all.

Because, as with all good teaching, 1:1 is really about building effective relationships.

In a time where most of the public discourse about students and technology use centers on the negative effects of cyberbullying and leaving the wrong kind of digital footprint, I encourage you to take time with your students to talk about the kind of relationships they want to build with their peers, both in the classroom and around the world.

For instance, we can help students build relationships with one another through writing. By guiding them through the process and then helping them learn how to reply -- critically, yet kindly -- to the work of their peers, writing can be a powerful relationship-building tool. Paul Allison and his colleagues who coordinate the Youth Voices network acts as mentors to students. Together, they create a respectful, engaging space for teens to share their writing.

Their mission is to have youth “voice their thoughts about their passions, to explain things they understand well, to wonder about things they have just begun to understand, and to share discussion posts with other young people.” To help create better writers and foster thoughtful responses, Allison and his colleagues have created a number of guides, or templates, for students to use as they learn how to reply to one another. Through thoughtful dialogue, students develop trust and respect for each other as writers and responders.

Another possibility for relationship building is to be proactive about the ways in which we help students create a Digital ID. The two teachers who coordinate this project, Gail Desler and Natalie Bernasconi, argue that “It is only by developing a clear sense of both our rights and our responsibilities that we can become fully engaged, contributing ‘Citizens’ of all the communities in which we find ourselves.” Their curriculum includes four foci: “Stepping Up” (Against Cyberbullying) “Building Identities,” “Boundaries” (for copyright and intellectual property) and “Online Privacy.” Their students have created a variety of Digital ID projects, including Public Service Announcements. In the process of understanding their own digital identities, they learn to respect others, too.

For both Youth Voices and Digital ID, these teachers have taken the time to build relationships with students, and invited students to build relationships with one another. While 1:1 gives us the opportunity to have a device in every child’s hands, please don’t let the device do the teaching. Take time to talk with your students, inviting them to think about who they are as individuals as well as the person, the individual, that they are interacting with on the other side of the screen.

By focusing on relationships, and not just on the latest app or website, we can encourage 1:1 learning that connects students to one another, not just to a device.

Thanks to Alice, Mark and Troy for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post. I’ll be publishing comments from readers in a few days.

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Education Week has published a collection of posts from blog -- along with new material -- in an ebook form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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I’ll be posting Part Two in a few of days....

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo 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.