Emerging Technology

Every Student Needs a Computer

Not necessarily true.

It is very likely that most of us assume all school districts must move to a 1:1 computing device to student ratio in order to create a “digital” student centered learning environment; but that is not necessarily true. There is a major difference between creating a “digital learning” environment versus creating a “digital learning And content” environment: eliminating textbooks.

You can create a very productive and engaging digital learning environment where each student has access to technology when and where they need it to accomplish specific instructional activities without moving to a 1:1 computing device to student ratio. I have run through planning for a project where once you reach a 1:2.5 ratio, you should have a sufficient number of student computing devices to meet all of your digital learning activities. Providing that number of devices will also force a major change in how the teacher functions in their classroom. it will drive them to student-centered learning. The reality is that unless you are eliminating textbooks, you do not need a 1:1 ratio.

There are a few specific points of how the 1:2.5 ratio actually works. first of all, there may be a difference of how you distribute the devices based on grade levels. The issue is whether you are driving changes in your middle schools and high schools requiring your teachers to move to some type of student-centered instructional delivery method. secondly, you need to eliminate all computers labs, which are not serving a specific content area. high schools are the only place with content areas requiring every student to have a computing device for every class. stop moving students to a special location and place the technology where the students are.

The primary grade levels will typically have students working through all content areas of the curriculum in one room. in that situation, placing six devices in each room and sharing a cart with multiple student computing devices between four teachers meets the majority of their needs. The size of the cart is dependent on your typical classroom size. each cart should be sized so that when a cart is brought into a room and added to the six devices already in the room, there are enough devices to reach a 1:1 ratio. The teachers will need to coordinate their schedules when their student activity requires individual access to a device and the cart comes to their classroom. When the instructional delivery method is some type of project-based system, this same configuration will work for your middle school and high school facilities. school districts located in parts of the country where campuses are comprised of clusters of classrooms connected by covered walkways, will have a harder problem ensuring the cart is moved from one classroom to another in a safe manner.

If your middle school and high school facilities are not oriented to some type of project-based instructional delivery but remain more departmental, the distribution system described above will not work. if I am an English teacher, either all of my students need a device for today’s activities or none of them need a device. At that point, you would need to distribute five carts with 12 devices for every six teachers.

The interesting point for me is that if you are currently at a 1:5 desktop computer to student ratio and allocating annual refresh funds to replace old devices; you can get to the 1:2.5 ratio without allocating additional dollars to your computing device refresh funds. instead of purchasing desktop computers, you use the same dollars and purchase as many netbooks/Chromebooks or inexpensive tablets as you can. The February column provided the overview that those devices should not cost you more than $300 per computing device. your replacement ratio will be better than two for one, meaning that over your five-year cycle, you will reach the 1:2.5 ratio.

Simply purchasing the more productive and less expensive student computing device does not complete the picture. you will need to find funds for implementing a high-density wireless network (be careful not all wireless products are equal).

There is one other major issue you will need to address. if your teachers require students to do digital homework, how will the district enable equity of access? Not all families have a computer at home. Granted, using one of the cloud-based office suites means even the slowest computer works just fine. But how will you enable access?

This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at gmeeks@meeksgeeks.com.

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