Emerging Technology

1:1 Initiative?

There have been some high-profile and spectacular failures of initiatives providing 1:1 computing device-to-student ratios around the country, to the point it has given the concept a bad name. I personally predict we have not seen the last of well-intentioned but incomplete roll-outs resulting in big failures. At the same time, there have been a decent number of lower-profile and substantially smaller initiatives that have been successfully rolled out. Obviously, the size of the district has a huge impact.

However, defining success based on whether the “roll-out” happened without a major problem is an inappropriate metric. The technology (computing devices,) is nothing more than a tool; today’s version of the No. 2 pencil and paper we older people used in the classroom. The question we should all be asking is, “Has it positively affected student achievement?” Unfortunately, the answer to that question regarding most of the 1:1 initiatives I have observed would be “few and far between.”

What? We need to circle back around to the “Why” question. In today’s educational environment, why would anyone spend the time or funds for initiatives that do not positively impact student achievement? Why is your district pursuing a 1:1 initiative?

The primary focus should be changing how students learn in your classrooms, shifting to 21st-century learning methodologies. Even if the initiative is correctly focused on students, how do you plan to measure whether your staff is implementing the expected changes? And, does it actually impact your students in a positive manner? Are you going to wait until the end of year assessments? Good luck, your data is lagging so far behind the classroom activities that you cannot fix the problem once it has been identified.

A truly successful 1:1 initiative that positively impacts student achievement is complex, with a large number of moving pieces, parts and connections. It must be approached from a system viewpoint. A poor analogy is your car. It takes multiple systems connected together to make your car move from point A to point B. It has an electrical system, fuel system, the actual engine, transmission and drive train and steering system. If any single part in one of those five systems breaks down and stops operating, your car is inoperable. Disparate systems must work together. That is what I mean by a system approach.

When we look at the system of changing the learning culture of an educational organization, there are multiple issues associated with, “What and How Students Learn” (data driven learning processes including formative assessments, learner profiles, digital content, student technology literacy/fluency, to name most).

We then have the professional development issues associated with the definition of what 21st-century learning methodologies and technology proficiencies are. Should each teacher demonstrate mastery of these? How will they obtain that knowledge and skill set? What digital tools do teachers need?

We have district policies and processes that relate to software/hardware adoption and quality control monitoring. Technical support from both the IT and instructional technology must also align with all of the other issues. Finally, we have the actual computing devices and network support.

There are issues associated with buildings and furniture but districts will not have funds to deal with those unless they passed a bond referendum or other substantial capital budget sources.

The car analogy falls apart because it is a mechanical system, whereas the culture of learning involves people. With a mechanical system, there is a logical and sequential troubleshooting process that assists in determining where the system has broken down. Changing how you deliver high-quality instruction in the classroom involves people, and it is more about their perceptions than anything.

We have moved out of the realm of education into “organizational change management.” Every CEO knows they cannot demand, dictate, mandate or require a high quality of effort from individual employees. All the CEO can do is to create a culture where the employee voluntarily chooses to focus on delivering a high quality of effort. Placing a computing device in every student’s hands, with token stabs at changing the surrounding culture of learning, is simply inadequate — resulting in failure. Change is hard, and changing the organizational culture requires a thoughtful concentrated effort. Why, and more importantly, how, is your district approaching a 1:1 initiative?

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 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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