Which tablet or device should we use? When I speak for different groups, I often collect questions that I could not get to during the live session. I commit to a dedicated blog post in reply to each question over the upcoming months. This present question is fequent, and past posts dealt with related themes (See articles like Task Complexity an Duration with 1:1 Programs, 10 Affordances of 1:1 Programs and Mobile Devices, and 12 Things You Can’t Do With an Ebook). However, this current question usually comes from people at schools who have decided to move to a 1:1 program, but they are struggling with which device to select.
At times it seems like people are hoping for a quick suggestion. Go with the iPad Mini, Chromebooks, Dell laptops, Android tablets, MacBooks, or a BYOD program. Unfortunately, my reply is rarely that simple. Instead, I suggest a process for deciding. This process requires the conscientious and collaborative exploration of 10 questions. While this is not the answer that most people want, the process has the promise of high-impact results, not to mention a rewarding learning experience. The questions also remind us that a 1:1 program is much more than just a decision to add more technology to a classroom.
1. How can we make the 1:1 transition part of the learning experience?
In most contexts, decisions related to a 1:1 program are done to students with little direct involvement from students or parents. What would happen if we did things differently? Consider ways that there could be true shared ownership in this decision-making process. It could even be repeated with groups of students on an annual or biannual basis.
This could be a powerful semester or year-long project, one that would produce far more than a decision about a 1:1 program. The students, in consult with teachers, parents, people in other schools with 1:1 programs, researchers and vendors, could agree upon the decision and help plan the implementation. It could be a group interdisciplinary project-based learning experience. Along the way students refine their skills with budgeting and finance, collaboration and group decision-making, critical thinking and analysis, current and emerging learning theories and educational models, self-directed learning schools, educational design, ergonomics and health considerations. They could even delve into the psychological and sociological factors. This is a rich and promising set of 21st century skills, and such an approach allows us to embrace a vision for democratic living as opposed to dominant schooling models that seem to relate more closely to preparation for life in a monarchy or oligarchy.
Even if this sounds too extreme for your school, the questions will guide you toward a better final result. It is still useful to ask, “How can we engage all stakeholders in the decision-making process?” At least, this allows for more commitment from different people and it helps to manage expectations.
2. Who are the learners?
In instructional design, we calls this a learner analysis. This can include things like age, background knowledge and experiences, beliefs, family values, and anything else that would help someone better understand the students. List out the teaching and learning implications of those attributes. Include parts about what is developmentally appropriate for different ages. Brainstorm a list of questions that you would like to discover. Again, try to involve everyone in creating the questions and discovering the answers. This is an important step, as it forces us to think about what is best for specific learners, and not just making a decision that worked for another school.
3. What is the teaching and learning vision for the school?
Not are schools are alike. Not all classrooms are alike. Moving to a 1:1 program is not just adding some technology to an otherwise unchanged classroom. The 1:1 movement is an educational technology conspiracy that carries with it values of student-centered learning, increased digital collaboration and connectivity, more project and process-based learning, and less teacher-directed classroom lessons. One of the ways that 1:1 programs fail is by ignoring the educational implications, not to mention the way that it changes the dynamics and management of a classroom. Similarly, different devices may impact the environment in different ways. Mobile devices are…mobile. They have the affordance of learning on the move. If you are just going to have students sit in straight rows in a classroom all the time, then why use something like an iPad? Instead, if you have a vision for a dynamic classroom with frequent reconfigurations, collection of media from the surrounding world, trips into the community, and learning on the go, then a tablet may be a promising possibility. If your vision involves students working on long papers and projects that need full-featured computers, then a laptop might be a better option. Do not make those device decisions yet. Just describe the vision for what students are doing and learning, and what it looks like.
Somewhere amid this exploration, take time to explore the SAMR model of technology integration from Rueben Puentedura. Do an honest assessment of where you are as a school and where you want to be. Again, my suggestion is to do this with all the stakeholders, not just a leadership team and/or teachers.
4. What is happening in contexts outside of the school environment where students hope to live and work? What will be happening in 5-15 years?
What are the goals and aspirations of the young people? Explore that and then see what sort of devices and configurations exist in the places where the young people hope to be some day. What are the tasks and responsibilities in these environments? Conduct research, interviews, and take visits to these places. Use this as inspiration for how your 1:1 program might look. What you will likely discover is that most contexts don’t use a 1:1 program. They use a 2:1, 3:1, or 5:1 model. Perhaps there is a way to recreate something like that in the school.
5. What infrastructure do we need in the school to support a vision that embraces ideas from questions 1-4?
This will include everything from needs for power to classroom configurations, adequate wireless access, lighting, projection and printing capabilities. The interviews and visits of people at other 1:1 schools and in technology rich outside-of-school organizations will be especially helpful.
6. What are the device options and what are the affordances and limitations of each?
Take time to explore the dozens of options available. Collectively create a massive chart to compare the options. Create rows dedicated to everything from technical features to the teaching and learning benefits and drawbacks with the different devices (and sizes of devices). The items listed in each row should connect to what you learned from answering the previous questions. Frequently reference the answers to question #2-4 as you build this comparison. It should represent values of all stakeholders: parents, students, teachers, and administrators. The list will may well include 50-100 categories if you are being thorough.
7. What do we need to learn to get the most benefit out of a 1:1 program?
This is the professional development plan necessary to make the dream described in answer to questions #2-5 a reality. This is not just professional development for the teacher. It is for everyone. Consider what you need to learn and different ways that you can learn it. This should be an ongoing learning plan, not just going through a few tutorials or a 2-day workshop (although those could be part of the plan). Make sure your plan includes lists of learning goals, a solid feedback/formative assessment plan, possible content sources, and potential strategies for reaching the goals (See the following article for more information about these four.).
8. What is our decision?
Reviewing answers to everything above, what is our top recommendation? What about a second and third option as well? Include a detailed explanation of your reason behind each recommendation, showing how it supports the goals and vision established in answer to the previous questions. As part of your decision, you might want to choose something that includes one or more pilot phases, and then return to previous questions based upon your experiments and discoveries. It might also include different phases or different options for distinct groups of students. This need not be a one-size-fits-all decision or something inflexible. Be creative and look room in your plan for ongoing adjustments.
9. What will it take for us to make this happen?
This is where we create an action plan. How will we address the funding, the infrastructure build, the ongoing technology management and the other parts of the implementation? Do we need outside help? How much can we do ourselves? Who is responsible for what? What is our timeline? What are our contingency plans?
10. What is our plan for evaluating and adjusting our plan?
Once we decide and the implementation is underway, things will go wrong. We will catch things that, despite our detailed planning, we missed. We want to create a plan for continually reviewing what is working and what is not? How is the implementation helping or hindering us from achieving the goals listed in answer to the earlier questions? This plan might include weekly surveys and focus groups, frequent completion of checklists or rubric that helps us keep our teaching and learning goals and values the focus, and intentional time to informally discuss what is working and what is not.
This ten-question process does not give you a quick answer for which device to use. Instead, it offers a means of answering the question as a group. It further provides the framework for this transition, and it brings to light what goes into a well-planned 1:1 project. It reminds us that a 1:1 program is more than device choice, and it invites us to be a learning organization of collaborative creators and not compliant consumers.