Moving Beyond the Creation/Consumption Debate in #1:1 Programs? Not Quite

As more schools continue to move to 1:1 programs, there is the ongoing question about which device. Should we choose iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, Android devices, or maybe the Microsoft Surface? If you ask school leaders how they made the choice, you find a fascinating and sometimes eye-opening variety of answers.

  • There was a sale on _______.
  • I like this brand best.
  • We had someone willing to buy this product for us.
  • This one had the best support plan.
  • A vendor made a compelling case.
  • A special grant or corporate partnership.

There are many others reasons as well. However, I’ve yet to find a school that described the following process.

  1. We decided what we wanted learners to be able to do.
  2. We tested the usefulness of each device in doing these things.
  3. We took into account the unavoidable realities of things like cost.
  4. We made our choices based upon steps 1-3, recognizing that we don’t always need to make a single decision. We might choose one device for each student, but we also make sure to resource learning spaces with enough other options to address the different usage scenarios we defined in step 1.

I’m sure there must be plenty who chose to do this. I just don’t hear about it. Yet, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes to me. I own all the devices listed above and I have a pretty good sense of which device is most helpful in accomplishing different tasks. If I am working on a complex project with multiple browser windows open, a spreadsheet (or two), and a document where I am recording my findings; I use a laptop connected to a docking station and two nice-sized monitors. When I’m traveling and working on the same project, I settle for my MacBook Air, sometimes using an iPad next to it as a second monitor. However, the second option takes me longer, sometimes longer. In fact, it slows the process so much that I often opt to work on projects with a less complex workflow when I am traveling and using my laptop. In other words, the device available to me influences the type of work that I choose to do.

I decided to test this out. I was working on a project where I had to analyzing content from multiple sources and organizing it in a Google spreadsheet. It required the use of three short web sites, a 5-page PDF document, and a 2000-word Google Doc. This was a task that is very similar to what I would expect to see of students in a project-based learning environment. To make things easier, I opted for a simple but common task of collecting quotes from the different sources and organizing them by source in a Google spreadsheet. Then I repeated the same steps using three other devices. Below are the results. Note that I should have gotten better at the task each time that I repeated it. In other words, the last devices should have had an advantage over the earlier ones.

dual screen setup with full-sized keyboard and bluetooth mouse – 5 minutes

I copied 22 quotes from three web sites, a PDF, and another Google Doc, placing them in the right categories in a Google spreadsheet, including references (just a simple name for the source).

single laptop (Macbook Air) – 5 minutes

I attempted to repeat the same steps. I finished 17.

iPad – 5 minutes

I attempted to repeat the same steps. I finished 12.

iPhone – 5 minutes

I attempted to repeat the same steps. I finished 7.

Of course, I didn’t take into account all the possible variables. Perhaps I could have set up a couple more similar tests and then averaged the results. In addition, there are skills to consider. Part of the challenge might be that I don’t type as quickly as others on an iPad or iPhone.

My point is not that we should give all students a dual monitor setup. Money, space and any number of other factors might rule that out. I’m simply suggesting that we test things out a bit more. Come up with the types of tasks that we want learners to be able to do and then involve learners in testing out which device is most helpful for different tasks. How might such a process change our device and learning space design decisions?

By the way, if you’ve done something like this at your school, I would love to hear from you.

10 Critical Questions for High-Impact #1:1 Programs


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.

Why We Want to Cultivate a Generation of Life & Learning Hackers

There is a wonderfully engaging conversation taking place in the ISTE LinkedIn group about whether student “hacking” of the Ipads in the L.A. 1:1 debacle was “awesome or awful.” This is not the first discussion about the topic, as there are many thought-provoking blog posts and articles that take creative approaches the the question. I am, for example, especially fond of the one by Katherine Mangu-Ward. She argues that, Kids Should Hack Their School-Provided Ipads.

I posted a shorter reply to the recent discussion in the LinkedIn group, but I’ve posted a slightly extended version here for a broader readership. Of course, my response does not take into account many of the real and practical issues related to running a major school district like what we have in L.A. Rather, I chose to use it as a chance to reflect on the broader issue…what types of students we want to cultivate in schools of the 21st century.

Student hacking is awesome. What is our goal for graduates of our schools? Is it for them to become complacent, compliant, controlled, conventional, consumers and conformists? Or do we want them to grow into creative, collaborative, cooperative, competent, confident, compassionate citizens? I do not have adequate context to speak intelligently about the wisdom or folly in specific decisions with the L.A. schools’s iPad program.  However, the question posed is whether student hacking is awesome or awful.  To answer this question, we need to define hacking, and there are certainly several working definitions. Some hear the word “hacker” and think of illegal or forbidden activities on a computer or network? From that perspective, there are  moral and legal factors that I am not condoning or dismissing. That is not the only use of the word. Others think of a hacker as one who engages in creative, playful experimentation and exploration, taking one or more items with intended uses and repurposing them for often unexpected and wonderfully creative alternate uses.

Which definition best fits what happened in L.A.? I’m not sure, but I am quite certain that playful repurposing what a part of it. I recognize that there were also probably forbidden activities, touching upon the first definition. Whatever the case, we ultimately want to see our students cultivate competence and confidence with such playful repurposing. Unfortunately, rigid policies and procedures, conventional and increasingly outdated schooling models, and factory-like approaches to teaching and learning thrive upon large doses of uniformity and control.

I welcome this recent event in L.A. as a challenge for us to reconsider how we think about teaching and learning in the 21st century.  Some look at the event at L.A. and critique it as a poorly planned and flawed implementation of a 1:1 program. I look at it and wonder if we can reconsider how we approach 1:1 learning? 1:1 is an educational technology conspiracy that invites us re-imagining schools as creative, student-centered communities; places where students hack their educations, developing wonderfully playful and high-impact strategies for ethical and purposeful hacking of life and learning. There was a recent news story about scientists used a virus that originally came from HIV to hack T cells, thus treat a girl who was dying of cancer. Imagine the possibilities if we could cultivate a generation of learners who hacked the greatest challenges and issues of their times!

We need a world of creative and courageous hackers.

  • Scientists hacking their way to remedies and cures for health crises around the world.
  • Educators hacking educational systems to increase access and opportunity to high-impact learning.
  • Government leaders hacking tired and outdated policies and regulations to meet the needs of a changing world.
  • Architects, artists, and designers hacking conventual thought to create beautiful and inspirational spaces and artifacts.
  • Hackers of the musical world creating things like Jazz.
  • Life hackers applying the spirit of MacGyver to pretty much everything in daily life.
  • Athletes hacking the laws of physics and human physiology to reach levels of performance of excellence thought impossible in just a generation ago.
  • Social entrepreneurs and for-benefit businesses hacking the principles of capitalism to address social needs in the world.
  • Healthcare workers hacking the current system to improve patient outcomes.
  • Psychologists hacking conventional psychology to set up completely new and promising approaches to human well-being like positive psychology.
  • Countless people hacking the digital world to discover new ways to volunteer, stay connected with friends and family, feed their families, collaborate across networks, and even address crises in different parts of the world.

This is just the beginning of the life and learning hacker list. If we think of hacking in this way, as playful, intentional and experimental repurposing, then I contend that we need an education system that no only allows hacking but cultivates it.

Why Some Educational Technology Efforts Decrease Student Learning

“There is plenty of research to indicate that educational technology does not improve student learning.” “Many studies show a ‘no significant different’ result for educational technology.” Studies indicate that educational technology can moderately or even significantly increase student learning.”  Depending upon the person, place and time, it is possible for you to read or hear one or all the above statements. Which one is correct?  All of them.

Educational technology, as we all know, is not a single practice or entity.  There are hundreds of thousands of different educational technologies. Even with a single educational technology, there are countless factors that influence the impact (or lack thereof) of integrating that technology in a learning environment.

To say that educational technology is effective or ineffective is a bit like claiming that tools are effective or ineffective at fixing things around the house.  Which tools?  Which project? How skilled is the person using the tool?  How is the too being used? Or, it might be like saying that books are effective or ineffective at communicating content.  Which book?  Which content? To whom and under what circumstances? These and more questions are important aspects of considering the potential impact of a given integrating technology initiative.  It is too general to simply state that SmartBoards do or do not improve learning, that 1:1 programs increase differentiated instruction, that iPads are the key to bridging the achievement gap, that the flipped classroom with result in students functioning at higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, or that online learning matches or exceeds student performance in face-to-face classes.  It is possible that each of these statements may be true in a given case, but it is equally possible that they could be false.

With this in mind, how do we engage in integrating technology efforts that actually improve student learning?  Here are eight tips, focused upon answering why some efforts have little or no impact, or that they decrease student learning.  Take care to heed the insights from this list and you are much more likely to use educational technology in a way that enhances and improves student learning.

1. The Novelty Effect – This is a well-documented phenomenon.  Adding a new or novel technology to an environment might have an initial positive impact upon student learning, but the benefit quickly fades as the technology becomes more ordinary to the learners.  Our brains attend to novelty, so adding something new is a way of gaining the attention of the learners, hence increasing the chance of learning.  However, as the technology ceases to be experienced as novel, it also fails to keep the attention any better than classroom activities without the technology.  As a result, the justification of technology initiatives needs to be based upon something more than simply that it is something new, especially given the consequential cost in time and money that goes into many educational technology efforts.

2. Bad Instructional Design – How we design a learning experience that impacts what students learn, which students learn, and how much they learn.  There are many models and approaches to instructional design, but I argue that any good design needs to ask, answer, and take into account six basic questions (borrowed from multiple ID models as well as DuFour & Eaker’s work on Professional Learning Communities).

What do I need to know about the learners?  “Know your learners” is fundamental to any good message, speech or lesson.  A well-designed lesson for one audience might be terrible for another audience.  Age, demographic, prior knowledge, attitudes and beliefs…all of these and more can give helpful insights into designing a high-impact lesson.

What do I want them to learn?  Without a target, it would be hard to measure whether students learned what you wanted them to learn.

How do I make sure that students are interested and attending to the learning? Without attention, we don’t learn.

How will I know when they learned it?  This is where you decide upon an assessment or means of measuring whether they met the stated learning objective.

How will I help them learn it? This is where we select the best methods, strategies, resources, and activities that will aid students in meeting the stated goal(s).

What will I do when/if some students are not learning it? As a teacher, it is easy to feel like all is well when only half of the students are “getting it”, but that means that half or not. What is the plan for that other half?

In my years of consulting with schools and teachers, I almost always find that the problem with student learning resides with a failure to ask, answer or apply insights from one of these questions.  The best technology in the world will not improve student learning unless it we dress it up in instructional design attire that is appropriate for the occasion.

3. Cognitive Load Problems – This likely fits with #2, but given that I often see it as the specific problem in classes, I chose to list it as a separate item.  The working memory in the human brain can only handle so much at a time. Overload it and you risk decreasing learning, confidence and attention.  That is a recipe for decreased student learning.  Consider a math teacher who adds PowerPoint to the class.  I have seen classes where students are directed to frequently switch attention between a textbook, notebook, mobile device, the projected PowerPoint as well as worked problems on a traditional white board.  This requires students to determine what to look at and when.  Especially when it is a complex task, this switch tasking will leave students with less mental energy to focus upon the real learning.  So, as we add educational technology, it is important to take into account the impact of potential switch tasking.

In the cognitive load literature, we often see the distinction between extraneous, intrinsic and germane load. Extraneous load comes from how you design the lesson and/or how the content is packaged.  For some tips on addresses it effectively, I have seen no better source than Ruth Clark’s work on the subject. With regard to intrinsic load, that is the load that comes with a given task.  Some tasks are more complex and so they naturally take up more of a load in the working memory.  The more complex the task (and the larger the intrinsic load), the more important it is to manage the extraneous load.  Germane load is another item that we can address. This refers to the load required to process the information, to make sense of it, and to create new “schemas” in our brains.  Effective teachers can help to manage both germane and extraneous load.  For more information about that, consider help from this recent and excellent article on the subject.

4. Make it About the Technology & Not the Learning Objectives – Educational technology can be like a shiny new toy, and I find instances where that takes the place of a focused learning experience with a clear goal or objective in mind.  I recall one instance where a calculus teacher excitedly showed me how he integrated this new web site into his class.  The site was rich with activities for teaching math…but they were all focused upon basic math, nothing that remotely resembled the goals of a calculus class.  When I mentioned that to him, his dismissed it, noting that they were having a great time.  That seems like a prime case of making the technology usage the goal and not staying focused upon the purpose of the class, unit, or lesson.

This is why I express some concern about a popular graphic that is spreading around the web, the pedagogy wheel. This is a graphic that seeks to line up apps with different parts of Bloom’s Taxonomy (and the SAMR model, something that I will describe in a moment). The problem is that most of the apps listed in the chart can be used in many ways, addressing almost any level in Bloom’s Taxonomy.  To me, this chart is too simple, and it risks leading teachers to thinking that simply using a given app results in students functioning at a given level.  That disregards the critical “design” considerations that I mentioned before. It is not just what you use, but how you use it.

5. Replacing Higher Level Learning Activities with Lower Level Learning Activities.  Think of Bloom’s Taxonomy. The lower levels deal with tasks like remembering and understanding.  The higher level tasks involve applying, evaluating, and creating.  In many elementary and secondary 1:1 programs, I see teachers excitedly using new subject-specific apps with students that were little more than drill and practice exercises (or the equivalent of digital worksheets). In many cases, these replaced previous low-tech activities that involved students applying their knowledge or even learning through creation.  In other words, by using the app, they significantly decreased the challenge of the learning activity, spending more time at the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

6. Replacing Lower Level Learning Activities with Higher Level Learning Activities – I also see the opposite problem from #5. In these instances, the educator uses the technology as a tool for project-based learning, learning through creation, or some other task that requires functioning at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  In doing so, the teacher removes time that she previously spent helping students gain foundational facts and understandings about the topic.  This leaves some students struggling and confused with the project, resulting in poorer overall performance for a given populations of the students.  Project-based learning and learning through creation are both wonderfully promising activities, but there is need to plan and prepare for ensuring that students gain the necessary prerequisite knowledge to thrive in such a learning environment. This can be done in a number of creative ways, and it is sometimes as simple as directing students to resources that help them with the “basics” when and if they need them.

7. Using Technology as a Simple Substitute for Previous Technologies or Resources – Dr. Rueben Puentadura conducted research on technology use in classrooms and produced a helpful model for thinking about the different ways in which technology is used, giving keen insight into how given usages do or do not impact student learning. You can review much of his work here. His model breaks up usage scenarios into four categories: substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition. The substitution level is simply using one technology as a substitute for another. This might be like a teacher who gets a SmartBoard and uses it just like they did a white board.  Augmentation is when they use the SmartBoard mainly as a high-tech white board, but they start to dabble with some enhancements not otherwise available with the whiteboard (like the fact that you have nearly unlimited white board space on a SmartBoard).  Other than as a result of the novelty effect, we would not expect significant improvements in student learning with substitution or augmentation.  However, when we get to modification and redefinition, that is where we start to leverage the technologies to do things that were not easily done or even possible without the technology.  It is at those levels (granted carefully and intentional planning) that one just might get at enhancements and improvements in the learning outcomes and experience. There are many videos and articles about this topic, but the resources on Dr. Puentadura’s web page are a great place to start.

8. Not Addressing Motivation – Careful consideration of all the above items might still leave us with little to no effect with a technology integration. In that case, I will draw out yet another aspect of good design, planning for student motivation.  This might even be an “ethos” or culture problem in a given class or school, where student’s just do not come to class with much interest in learning, regardless of the lesson, method, or technology.  For those instances, I offer two considerations/models for starting to tackle this formidable foe.

The first is something that I often mention on the blog, the PERMA model (popularized by Martin ). While this is not specifically about motivation, it is about cultivating well-being. A culture of well-being in one where motivation is likely to be less of a challenge.  Here is a resource for getting you started on the PERMA model applied to education.

Keller’s ARCS Model. What leads to increased motivation?  According to Keller, it is increased attention, relevance, confidence and satisfaction.  A learning environment rich with student’s experiencing these four items is one where motivation is likely high, leaving students much more prepared to learn.  Here is a quick primer on the ARCS model.

In the end, the simple reality is that some technology integrations work and others do not.  There is an experimental aspect to teaching and learning.  It is both art and science.  Nonetheless, I contend that taking into account these eight elements will greatly increase the chance of using technology in a way that actually improves or enhances student learning.