Places to People

One of the trends right now in educational technology is a move toward individual computing devices for each learner. Whether you go with a 1:1 program, a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model, or a hybrid approach with several different solutions, it’s clear that we are moving to a world where computers are assigned to people, not places. This personalization of technology is a trend we could have predicted: the same thing happened with the telephone just a few years ago. But I didn’t expect this to come so quickly. There are no longer discussions about whether every student having a device is beneficial  There’s no debate about computers in classrooms versus computers in labs versus computers in students’ hands. The conversations now are about managing 1:1 programs, supporting BYOD initiatives, extending wireless infrastructure to support multiple devices per student, and the changing pedagogy that comes with ubiquitous access to technology.

From my perspective, the decision of whether to go with a 1:1 program or a BYOD approach is a difficult question. I remember the early days of graphing calculators, when we told the kids to go out and buy a graphing calculator and bring it to class. They brought their Casios and Sharps and TIs and HPs in to school to improve their learning of algebra and pre-calculus. It took the whole class period to figure out how to do the most basic things, because everyone had a different calculator with a different interface. It wasn’t until we standardized on TI hardware that they became really useful devices for learning math.

In a BYOD environment, the school has little control over the capabilities of the student device. Can it access Google Apps? Does it work with Flash? What about Java? Can we install apps on it? Can we print? What is the least common denominator, the basic set of things that every student’s device can handle? These challenges make the technology get in the way of instruction. They keep the technology from being invisible. Many schools with BYOD programs in place report that not much has changed in the classroom. Teachers may turn to the devices as an add-on, but they are not an integral part of teaching and learning, because the technology gets in the way.

At the same time, a BYOD approach can force a change in pedagogy because it changes the role of “teacher” and “student” like no 1:1 program can. Traditionally, the teacher was THE authority in the classroom. She was the keeper of all knowledge, and the knower of all things. She used the textbook as the final word on the subject she was teaching, and there was no need to go beyond that resource. We don’t live in that world anymore, but the argument can be made that a 1:1 program perpetuates the model of the school being in control. The school selects and provides the resource. The school supports the technology. The school tells the students what to do with the technology, and what can’t be done with it. It’s very clean. It’s very efficient. But it doesn’t really prepare the students for life in an information-rich society.

Ultimately, PARCC testing will probably make this decision for us. In an environment where computers are allocated to people rather than places, we don’t need computer labs and banks of computers in classrooms. If every student already has a device, we don’t have to have rooms full of devices, too. But in a practical sense, we are going to need a lot of computers to administer the PARCC tests. If we go with a 1:1 program, the school owns and manages the computers, and those computers can be used for testing. If we go BYOD, though, the school does not own the devices. We cannot install software on them. We cannot force the students to let us lock them out of basic functions on the device as required for the tests. So if we move to BYOD, we have to maintain the infrastructure of labs just to facilitate testing. It seems much more reasonable to just go with 1:1 and save the redundancy, and that’s probably the direction we will head.

Photo credit: Clemson University Libraries on Flickr.