Thursday, December 13, 2012

Why I don’t support 1:1 tech programs

I recently shared why Anthony Salcito said he didn’t support 1:1 tech. Some people didn’t read past the headline and responded with reactions like this:
Those who read before they reacted were encouraged that Mr. Salcito was saying what many of us have been thinking. Students, not devices, should lead our 1:1 purchasing decisions.  The unfortunate reality is that in MANY cases purchasing decisions are NOT made by the innovative educators who know tech purchases should be driven by learning goals, not the latest gadget the IT department or an administrator removed from the classroom.

I've experienced first hand when devices, not students, were the driver of purchasing decisions in my own work. I oversaw the PD implementation of a 1:1 program where every classroom got a Smartboard and every teacher and student got a laptop. One size fits all across the board. As a result I encountered some pissed off teachers who didn’t like this thrown on them without any conversation or consultation.

I see this time and time again when the very people getting the technology have no say in the purchasing decision.

When I ran grants in my previous job, I made sure to change that. Equipment was given to teachers who wrote proposals that included learning goals, then they were given a budget and the ability to select the equipment that best helped them meet those goals. We also asked them to have their students partner with them to write the proposals. You can see their work here.

I know I'm not alone. Last year a fantastic principal in my PLN was in a district that came upon some hardware money. This principal knows her stuff and knew what technology her teachers and students wanted.  It didn’t matter. Despite the fact that she wanted more tech for students, the district IT guy was hell bent on Smartboards for every class. It didn’t matter that she did not feel this was educationally sound for her students. It didn’t matter that she wanted to let student learning drive her tech purchasing decisions. It didn’t matter that she provided research to support her decision. The IT guy was in charge of purchasing and, like it or not, tens of thousands of dollars went toward "devices" she and her staff didn’t want. The, disconnected-from-the-classroom, Superintendent made a decision based on a device purchase that the IT guy was fond of rather than a decision driven by what the instructional leader thought was best for students and staff.

I love that Anthony trusts and values the intelligence of innovative educators. I appreciated that during my stay at the Global Forum, he didn’t talk about the technology or promote products. He and the teachers there spoke about best ways to learn and the tool and brand (just like a pen and paper would be) are in the background. The way they use resources and the resources they use varies, but these amazing educators, like Pauline Roberts and Courtney Woods, were allowing students to drive learning in ways that made the world a better place.

Thank you to Greg Dhuyvetter for pointing out the importance of this part of the conversation on his Work with Hope blog.  


  1. I did a cartoon kind of on that theme a couple of years ago ( The point of it was that the tech should be in the background, not the forefront. The tail should not wag the dog. The caboose should not drive the train. Can't think of anymore analogies ...

  2. I never could grasp how Smartboards fit into the 1:1 paradigm.

    From where I stand giving the teacher a laptop and a Smartboard does not equal 1:1. All that does is reinforce the teacher centered paradigm. 1:1 requires that the students have access to something (laptop, tablet) that will allow them to engage content and learning in a individualized manner.

    I work at a 1:1 system where piles of money was spent on Smartboards that nearly uniformly have never been used. With the teachers having laptops, iPads, the Smartboards seem like outdated lumps of plastic.

    1. Sorry James. I wasn't clear and will update. The students all had laptops too. It didn't matter though. Dump something on a teacher without their input and well, they feel dumped on...unless by chance it was something they already wanted.

  3. So true about the hardware decisions - when they are made in a vacuum - it's "whee here we go" and let everyone else adjust. Thoughtful and purposeful planning, including figuring out devices and how those device realize the 1-to-1 goals, is vitally important. I've worked with lots of schools in the U.S. and internationally as an outgrowth of my book on 1-to-1,and when the subject of hardware comes up, I advise visiting lots of schools and hearing their challenges and successes, and reasons for choosing a device. Unfortunately, it doesn't always happen that way.

  4. You are right on. I've seen (and been the one doing it) too many hardware plans that are efficient economic models for devices. I suggest also that professional learning (action research) is an important component of a learning with technology plan or initiative. I wrote this post last week with similar concerns

    I am developing an equity model for District investments in school technology and I believe it is critical that educators have significant influence over the investment of scarce resources in technology that will best support their student's needs.