It is inevitable. Sooner or later, the acceleration of technology integration in schools will lead to each student having their own device at all time.
Whether your opinion is for or against it, there will come a time where this will be true everywhere. Cost will be low enough, and as teachers we will all have learned to deal with it. Blocking technology is no longer an option. Channeling it’s use is definitely essential. Technology should not be a distraction.
The appropriate role of technology
The key to technology to have any effect at all on learning has been clear for some time now: the pedagogical approach must be adapted to its’ use. The clearest description of this is still in my opinion the TPaCK model, which can be resumed in the following way: Define what students need to learn, figure out the best pedagogical approach for this to happen and pick the tools which allow this to happen. Sometimes it is traditional technology (paint is technology in this scenario), sometimes it is digital technology. It is the combination of all three elements: Technology, Pedagogy and Content that makes it all relevant.
Beyond this, the choice of technology should be in the hands of students. Students will pick tools to respond to a challenge, where the tool feels right, empowers them and increases their sens of accomplishment. Creating a movie using the modern digital solutions available to them today makes the result look great and they feel great and as a teacher, you can then focus on making sure that what they are saying or exploring is more profound. The look and feel is not what is judged, but the content, but all feel great that their result is something they can be proud of.
Beyond this, students can pick the means to express what is asked of them. If a movie is not their thing, perhaps they like to draw, write or anything else. Let them.
The only challenge remains access to technology. For students to be able to pick the tools they think are better adapted to the task, possibly tools you as a teacher are not even aware of, they actually need access to technology at all times. Not just when there is a “technology” project. Or in the one classe where we use technology. Everywhere, all the time. And to make them responsible, they should take them home and also use them for leisure. Don’t we all? C’mon, I see that copy of Candy Crush on your phone… technology cannot be segregated to only be used for one thing. We use it all the time. We do our accounting, banking, watch Netflix, research, presentations, find recipes and whatnot.
This also means students must learn to balance their lives and act appropriately. This is no small affair. But not giving them access to the tools is not the appropriate way to deal with cyberbullying or any other inappropriate use or distraction. We must step up as educators and help them deal with this. Give them true challenges to deal with and it will improve their chances of staying on task. Force them to listen to hour-long lectures and they might look for distractions. Is that not what we do ourselves when we are not active during a workshop we attend?
The holder of the Canadian Chair of Technology Integration, Dr. Thierry Karsenti once observed during a research project on the Eastern Township School Board’s on-to-one initiative, that students that were allowed the use of Facebook ended up realizing that it became a distraction and that they had to manage their time in order to succeed. Coming to that realization themselves. That is a powerful learning experience and not one we learn by being controlled, but educated and trusted.
The only environment where all this can happen is in a true One-to-One project, and more and more schools are adopting them. They are difficult to implement, force change and disruptions, require changes in pedagogical approaches and a lot of support for teachers as well as strong leadership from administrators. They are huge undertakings. But this is the only possible direction.
Classroom sets of devices, even if there is one per student, are not one-to-one projects. They are simply a shift from having a computer lab and move it to the student’s desk. It is certainly an improvement, but it should not be your goal.
And if cost is what you are worried about, you are correct. This is not cheap. Not because devices that are completely appropriate for the job are not cheap enough, with Chromebooks and iPad minis leading the pack in the sub $400 range. The cost is to build a project that is supportive of teachers, encourages appropriate use, does not focus on control but enablement and is high enough on the leader’s agenda that they will learn to say no to a multitude of other things to allow this to happen.
But if we don’t, the true cost will continue to rise. The cost of our students not developing the skills they need to succeed in life. Call them the four C’s or 21st Century skills, we call them entrepreneurial skills. The skills to be who they are, to build, to be creative and to respond to challenges.