Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why we need to go 1:1 with mobile devices

We have been using iPads for almost a year and a half now at our school with a lot of great results. The problem, however, is that they are being shared and students are not really being given the opportunity to make them their own personal learning devices. This hinders our ability to really achieve genuine technology integration.

Why sharing doesn't work well

Our ultimate goal is to get teachers integrating the iPad (and other computer devices) into the classroom seamlessly and in ways which transform the classroom itself. We do not want it to be seen as computer time or as a distraction from the natural flow of the classroom. There are some examples of this happening but teachers are getting too caught up in having to schedule iPads and figure out ways to get students to share content created on the devices with them. In addition, there is the headache of having to manage apps, keep the iPads charged and safely locked away, and making sure that students are correctly logging into and out of various accounts. The end result is that using the iPads (and other computer devices) are often seen as a hassle to use. What could be a five minute activity using the tool becomes a whole lesson of frustration.

Why mobile devices are a great choice for the 1:1 classroom

While I think that having some access to iPads or any other computer device is certainly better than no access at all, we can certainly do much better if students each have access to their own and be able customize it to their own individual needs. I am referring to iPads here but this would certainly apply to any similar device. I do believe that mobile devices like the iPad are ideal for 80% or what most students need and are the best type of device for students to really use both inside and outside of school.  With the ability to now get a powerful device for under $400, we are reaching the point where we really could get technology into the hands of all students. The touchscreen interface of tablet computers means that we do not have to force children to sacrifice good writing skills with typing. With a simple stylus and a handwriting app (GoodNotes, Inkflow, WritePad, etc) children can still maintain a balance between having good handwriting with learning how to use a keyboard.

More tech doesn't need to mean more money

If it were up to me, I would ensure that all students from at least grade 3 (and even lower) have their own mobile device (which they own and manage) and that the school provide access to computers and other  extra devices for when they are needed. This places less burden on schools to provide all the computer hardware and IT support that needs to go with this and instead allows them to focus more on ensuring they have a solid Wifi network and technology coaches to provide teachers and students with the training (skills based and pedagogical)  to use technology effectively in the classroom. The change to a 1:1 model in schools ultimately does not need to cost more. Mobile computers are cheaper than traditional ones and having students take ownership and responsibility for them will mean far less time and money being spent on maintaining them by the IT department. The availability of cloud computing virtually eliminates the need for rooms full of expensive servers in schools. The availability of amazing online resources and ebooks reduces the need to purchase expensive textbooks and spend money of photocopying and paper. This is also a great environmental incentive to get the technology into the hands of every student.

Who buys the technology?

In some cases, this may mean the school purchasing the devices and providing families with iTunes Gift Cards to buy required apps. This is the model that I saw being used when I visited schools in Australia and it seemed to be working very well. The problem with this model is that the school maintains ownership of the devices and makes it less likely that students will be able to really make them their own. My suggestion here would be to have schools either lease the devices to families so they own them over time or simply just give them to the families. Another option is to have each family purchase their own device and bring it to school (BYOD model). In the private school that I work at, most families already own an iPad and would not feel that having to purchase one would be overly expensive. This, of course, could be more of a challenge in areas where families do not have such economic means. Perhaps an ideal solution would be to have governments (or private organizations) provide assistance for schools or families that can not easily afford to purchase the devices (and required paid apps).

What can you do once you go 1:1?

Once a school does decide to go 1:1 with mobile devices like the iPad, here are some suggestions of how can be used to better support a technology integration model:

  • Use the Google Apps for Education Suite for its communication and collaboration features. The Google Drive App also lets students create their own documents and upload photos and videos to their account with 5GB of free storage. 

  • If Google Drive is not enough for cloud storage, make sure that each students has their own Dropbox account and encourage them to also use iCloud as a way to back up their documents and photos. 

  • Have each student create an ongoing ePortfolio with a blogging service like Blogger. They can maintain the same blog for a number of years which they can use when applying for post-secondary education. 

  • Use Edmodo to get your students collaborating with you, each other and the broader world. 

  • Take advantage of great free resources from iTunesU and replace expensive textbooks with cheaper online resources and textbooks. Teachers (and students) can even create their own content using iBooks Author.