How to dispute one-to-one, mobile learning criticisms

Ed-tech leaders discuss how to address critics of one-to-one initiatives 

one-to-one-criticsEd-tech initiatives will always have critics. But administrators can take action and leverage resources to ensure that their one-to-one and mobile learning initiatives are implemented carefully and successfully.

A panel of four ed-tech experts discussed how recent criticisms have questioned the effectiveness of one-to-one initiatives after several initiatives encountered much-publicized bumps in the road.

But these initiatives, when implemented properly, are tools that help districts transform teaching and learning into impactful models that give students skills they’ll need in the future, such as problem solving, critical thinking, the ability to locate and evaluate information, and more.

(Next page: One-to-one advice from four ed-tech leaders)

“There’s a recipe for successful one-to-one and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) with lots of commonalities, but there’s also a recipe for struggle,” said Lenny Schad, CTO of the Houston Independent School District. “The important part is making sure everyone in the school community adopts the recipe for success.”

Superintendents must think about what successful systems look like, said Pam Moran, superintendent of Virginia’s Albemarle County Public Schools.

“Look at what you do as something across the entire system,” Moran said. “Policy sits at the board level, and if the board isn’t wrapped around an initiative, it will impact policy.”

It’s also important to assess a district’s readiness for a one-to-one initiative or other mobile learning initiative of any scope. “You can’t neglect any aspect of your organization. You need systems that are good at managing change,” she said.

Planning and measuring

Creating a strategic and coherent plan before taking action is key, said Thomas Ryan, retired CIO of Albuquerque Public Schools and the CEO of e-MMERSION Learning. “I don’t think administrators are taught government, and [often] there is not strategic plan brought together.”

When it comes to measuring outcomes, realistic expectations aren’t always easy to come by.

“Be realistic in what you’re going to measure,” Schad said. “Is measuring academic achievement in the first year realistic? Or is measuring teacher and principal readiness more realistic? It’s cultural change–it’s not just about the device.”

Communicating goals

And what does it boil down to?

“Communication,” said Karen Cator, CEO of Digital Promise –and this includes being able to pinpoint and describe a one-to-one initiative’s purpose to any stakeholder. “Name what you’re doing in a very succinct sound bite.”

That communication and clear outline will be necessary throughout a tech program’s rollout.

“Having goals of which you can remind constituents and the board–‘Here’s what we’re doing, here’s how we’re measuring effectiveness’–[is important],” Cator said.

“You definitely don’t want to promise test increases,” she said. “Tests aren’t measuring what we’re trying to teach our kids.”

“What are your goals?” Moran asked. “Are they to educate kids who are able to plan and conduct research and use critical thinking skills? Our technologies allow kids to do things they otherwise would not do. How do these technologies allow them to develop those skills?”

One of the biggest mistakes is expecting grand changes immediately after introducing devices, Schad said.

“People have handed kids a device and have expected magic to happen,” Schad said. “If we change instruction and content delivery, let’s make technology an enabler. We still have too many people expecting magic with just a device.

One-to-one and BYOD initiatives are successful when part of a broader goal.

“Is BYOD’s core strategy to bring about transformation?” asked Ryan. “BYOD is a part of giving students access, but it is part of a larger framework. Don’t look at it as the end goal–the end goal is to make sure everyone has great access to content and learning opportunities.”

And focusing on those learning goals will help define other components of a one-to-one or BYOD initiative.

District leaders should frame their actions around “the tool or device needed to do the job or task.”

“It’s not about the device,” Schad said. “It’s about curriculum, access, and resources. When you talk about the device first, you’ve lost. Students should use their devices to access content, and the goal is accessing content online.”

Dependable resources

Partnering with other districts that have had success with one-to-one initiatives, and learning how to take a marketing approach to making district plans and successes public, can help.

A North Carolina State MOOC on how to lead digital learning is another good step, Moran said, as is using data and research to inform action.

An open mindset is also crucial, Moran continued. “Be open to lots of different models…there is no one-size-fits-all, and don’t try to replicate 100 percent what someone else has done.”

“Allow, as a district, the ability to personalize and customize an initiative for schools,” Ryan said. “You need to know what has been done, but you need to focus on what your kids and community need.”

“Think about how technology empowers your curriculum, your instruction, and more,” Moran said.

Innovative approaches to professional development can help empower teachers and buoy a one-to-one initiative’s success.

“I give professional development credit for teachers on Twitter–I see that as a professional learning network to help them as teachers,” Moran said. “What is it that helps a teacher move to innovative practice? Enforce that.”

In fact, putting the initial focus on early adopters can help ensure a one-to-one initiative’s success.

“Focusing on early adopters takes the focus off of everyone all at once,” Schad said. “When the pressure is off, you see a lot of really great collaboration. How do early adopters use this tool to teach their subject?”

Once early adopters have embraced the initiative, enthusiasm and implementation will trickle down to other educators.

While one-to-one initiatives encompass a vast number of considerations and “to-dos,” planning first for goals, and then identifying a device or devices to help students and teachers achieve the transformational learning, should be the focus of a technology initiative.

[Editor’s note: Managing Editor Laura Devaney moderated this panel discussion.]

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Laura Ascione
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