Although I tend to write primarily here about current books and publications, I’m also spending a lot of time this year doing “deeper dives” in two fields: Best practices in 1-1 laptop programs and in Assessment. Expect to see a few posts and commentaries here in coming weeks and months about books and articles from the past on these topics.
Livingston’s book was published by ISTE in 2006, and, to this reader’s eyes, continues to be a valuable resource and guide for schools undertaking 1-1 laptop initiatives– as, regular readers here know, I think should be occurring at every school.
The importance of this cause was reiterated for me recently in an inspiring post by my friend George Couros:
If you look around at most conferences, every teacher has some device that they use, whether it is a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Go into the classroom though, and you will be lucky if you see that as the norm.
1:1 schools get so much attention because they are so unique, but should they be? Shouldn’t that be the norm for our kids as it is outside of our world? If you really think of it, doesn’t it seem strange that we are nowhere near the point where every kid having a device in school is just the norm?
Livingston reports that when legendary MIT researcher and programmer Seymour Papert was asked by the Maine Governor about the potential impact of lowering student to computer ratios to 3-1 or 2-1, he responded, “in effect, nothing much. ‘It only turns magic when it’s 1-1.‘”
Eleven takeaways and tips from Livingston:
1. One of the valuable ways we can view and understand laptops and mobile devices in the classroom is as “digital assistants.” This metaphor conveys that these are more than tools; the metaphor begins with the user as the operator, the mover and shaker, and the tool as strengthening the capacity of that operator.
the importance and usefulness of laptop computers for learning goes far beyond the single purpose implied by those who would call them “just a tool.”
It’s a device which facilitates a student’s thinking, analyzing, presenting, writing, reading, researching, revising, communicating, questioning, proposing, creating, surmising and publishing.
A digital assistant offers much more functionality than any single tool: students armed with digital assistants have an advantage over those students without them.
2. She offers another fascinating observation that aligns well with the pursuit of deeper, higher order learning we are all seeking for our students: Laptops accelerate the process of fact-finding such that students “get to the thinking faster.”
If it takes 40 minutes for an environmental science class to gather weather data [already out-of-date data, I’d add] from atlases and almanacs and turn it into pencil and paper charts, how much time is left to think about what the chart is saying? How much time is there to consider “what if” scenarios, such as what if the mean temperature rose by ten degrees?”
3. Livingston offers a conceptual framework for laptop program success, which she calls EPC:
The E in EPC is for Educators: For a laptop program to be successful, educators [not just technologists] must be at the helm, whether they be education professors, K-12 teachers, or school administrators.
The P is for Planning, which is often the area given shortest shrift. Considerable planning needs to happen.
C represents commitment. Educators need to be committed to the success of the overall program and do their part to make it happen.
She returns to the this three part concept frequently through the book, and it is a moderately useful frame on which to organize her advocacy.
Looking at these particular three letters, and recognizing the commitment required and the impact these programs can have, it is impossible not to want to add a fourth letter, an I.
Innovation is tempting here, to be sure, but instead I’d put the word “Iteration.” These programs are most successful, and I am quite confident from what she writes Livingston would agree, when they are iterative, tweaking and adjusting and re-tooling each year going forward by learning from the events, and the mistakes, of the previous year. In this mindset, a mistake, a problem, a bad turn become not reason to abandon the program but rather an opportunity to improve it– thus reinforcing the commitment.
So I propose EPIC: Educators, Planning, Iteration, and Commitment.
4. The book, rightfully and understandably, makes a big emphasis on Professional development; one message I especially appreciate is about cultivating and highlighting faculty leaders in a strategy of internal capacity.
TAG is one example she shares from her own experience, standing for “Technology Adept Gurus.”
Faculty members who already had an affinity for computers and were willing to train a bit more were identified to provide peer-level technical support to other teachers. A special stipend was given to these TAG teachers. This initiative was based on the premise that it’s often less intimidating to ask a colleague for help than it is to call technical support.
5. Gradualism: Pro and Con. This is a tough issue, with strong arguments on both sides, though it seems like the author often favors a more phased in, incremental approach to 1-1 deployment. She shares the wisdom of Alex Inman, drawing upon his experience implementing 1-1 programs at Whitfield and before that University Lake School:
I understand why some schools try to go whole hog on 1-1 during the very first year, but there is no real advantage to doing so in the long run. Schools that proceed too quickly may lose faculty members and experience unanticipated network problems, because everything, and everyone, is affected.
The reality is that it’s next to impossible to help the entire faculty integrate laptops all at the same time. If instead you ease into the implementation, you can use the previous groups to help the next year’s groups. Ultimately, both curriculum integration and classroom management go much smoother if you phase laptops in over time.
Certainly there is much that makes sense here, and I immediately recognize the network/bandwidth problem described. But, I think there are corresponding advantages to going “whole hog.”
One is that there are fewer in-group/out-group dynamics among teachers and students: everyone is in this together. PD can happen for the full faculty and be immediately applicable to everyone– and everyone is learning together and sharing experiences broadly. Administration can be more consistent in setting expectations, managing communications, and managing the transition across the board. Everyone can understand that this is a fundamental and lasting shift for the school and its learning program.
6. Mike Muir, an architect of the Maine 1 to 1 program, is an important figure in the 1 to 1 movement, and it is wonderful that this book offers his recommendations. A few key points from Muir.
- You have to do it! Laptops programs better meet the needs of of this generation of students. Do it 1 to 1, not on carts.
- Pay attention to teaching and learning first.
- Leadership is vital. Leaders need to set a vision for teaching and learning.
- Students and teachers need complete, 24/7 access.
- PD is a an ongoing process, not a one-shot deal.
7. Livingston offers a great overview of what improves in schools and for learning when laptops are implemented, and it is hard not to delight in her optimistic and uplifting perspective. A round-up of some key aspects:
Student technology sophistication is much improved:
- At Urban School, Howard Levin reports, “it has dramatically improved computer technology confidence among everyone. This provides an enormous advantage because it enables students to be far ahead of other students who are not as tech savvy.”
- “Independent educational research compared students who have laptops with those who don’t and found laptop using students were far more fluid users of technology.”
- In a South Carolina district, they “marvel at how much more productive students become.”
Attendance always improves. This surprises me in some ways, but I know it has also been well documented in the Project Red research, and it shouldn’t be that surprising when you see the attitudinal difference among students at 1-1 laptop schools and those without.
- Maine has seen a significant increase in attendance since going 1-1
- Absences have declined 40% in a Florida county since going 1-1
- High Achieving student enrollment has increased also.
When students have their own laptop, their homework is always with them. The dog can’t eat it, it can’t be accidentally tossed in the trash, and it’s not likely to be forgotten on the bus or dropped in a puddle on the way home. All the resources my students need to complete their homework go with them: online resources and information, databases and spreadsheets, e-books and other primary source material, and so on.
“According to one principal, students who were reluctant to do homework became more willing to do it once it was on the computer. Students who did not have excellent handwriting could produce neat work, and in general, students had the ability to produce more professional looking products.”
Individuals involved in 1-1 programs are unanimous on the importance of planning.
Adequate thoughtful planning can keep a school or district from being broadsided by these and other challenges to 1-1 implementation.
Key recommendations for the planning committee include:
- Have a strong leader– who has one foot in education and one foot in educational technology
- Make it an education plan powered by tech, not a tech plan.
- Diversify the committee membership but keep it small too.
- Create a mission statement for your laptop program.
- Examine platform, infrastructure, network (and especially bandwidth!), technical support, funding, PD, communication, implementation, and assessment.
It is impossible to argue with the importance and value of planning: of course, planning is essential. I’d make two points, however. First, recognize that as valuable as planning is, plans often are less valuable. Eisenhower famously planned D-Day to the nth degree, and then once it began, never looked at the plans but instead responded to events as they happened, drawing upon the wisdom he gained in the planning process, but not by following a script. “Planning is everything, plans are nothing.”
Second, be wary of letting planning get in the way of action. Many issues are better handled if and when they arise, in the course of doing the work, then when they are anticipated in the abstract in advance. And too often, committees stall and filibuster, and progress is delayed, an injustice to student learning.
Patrick Larkin has written about this at his school’s transition to 1-1 ipads widely, and in those posts he makes the point again and again that while he was careful to plan as best he could, he also was determined to make this happen on his timetable– what was important for him was to get on the path, not get bogged down considering how and when to get on the path.
So plan yes, but plan and do and regroup.
9. Professional Development is essential-– and I expect that Livingston and I would agree that even the term PD can be problematic if it somehow implies a series of external trainings brought in and imposed upon a faculty, rather than meaning what it needs to mean, a transformative internal program of professional learning culture development.
Her recommendations include:
- it be “iterative, sustained, and understood by all parties”
- provide teachers with “meaningful examples of laptop integration”
- conduct pre and post deployment surveys to “track changes in teacher attitudes and student perspectives”
- provide “plenty of time for teachers to work in groups, laugh about common problems, and share stories.”
- give teachers laptops before students
- train a “cadre of tech savvy students to support teachers”
- reach out to master teachers and early adopters
- publish and present your program’s success frequently, and make this teacher-led. (KEEP A BLOG!)
- Vary your PD approaches: Boot camps, drop-in sessions, showcase sessions, teacher kiosks,
- Build in plenty of time. “Provide a venue for learning communities to flourish”
- “Give everyone something to take away and use immediately.”
- “Avoid giving teachers too much or too little to do during workshops, and have a back up plan incase things don’t work or are bored or stymied.”
10. Help frame student understanding of their responsibility with an easy to remember acronym. She recommends LARK: all tech use should be legal, appropriate, responsible, and kind.
I wonder about adding I, for Intentional, that students are consciously choosing what they’re using it for and the value it will bring them, and R, for reflective, that they are asked regularly to reflect on whether their use was useful and valuable, though certainly these two letters, I & R, are implied and contained within that A for appropriate.
I’d consider adding also an E for expansive: use technology to expand your tool-set to become more creative, more collaborative, more communicating. I’d also add a C for critical– as Rheingold says, the default mode should be critical-minded when encountering online information.
LARKINEC is an ugly acronmyn, however; maybe NICELARK?
the best defense is a good offense. If you can make what’s happening in the classroom more interesting than what might be happening on the students’ laptop, you’ll have few problems keeping the students’ attention.
- Make activities “challenging, fun, and social.”
- Make sure “technical support when something goes wrong.”
- “place desks and tables where they’ll work best” and so teachers can circulate freely
- considering “teaching from the back, projecting the lesson on the front while standing behind screens” at least some of the time or once in a while.
- Consider tools such as DyKnow for remote desktop monitoring.
- Develop techniques such as “stick-em-up” for having hands lifted off keyboards (for viewing screens) and “lids down” to re-center attention from the screen.
- Speak less, facilitate more.
Certainly any school of any size or shape which is considering or committing to a 1-1 laptop program would be well served purchasing not just one copy of this still-largely-current book but several copies to share with planning and program leaders.