Before I started to write this article, I asked two non-techie colleagues for ideas. Both of
them told me, “Write about how 1:1 programs are not improving teaching and learning.”
Technology Amplifies Instruction
Districts have implemented 1:1 laptop programs for several reasons, hoping to teach 21st
century skills, compete with other districts for open enrollees, and improve student
achievement (among other reasons). But we all know that there is no panacea in education.Buying technology, without changing instruction, can be very costly.
Technology is a wonderful tool, when used properly. The benefits include higher student
engagement, better technology skills, and cost efficiencies. But research has shown that
there is little effect on student achievement. The “reality may be that one-to-one laptop
programs are only as effective—or ineffective—as the schools that adopt them” ( Goodwin,2011 ). Goodwin goes on to say that “one-to-one laptop programs may simply amplify what’s already occurring—for better or worse—in classrooms, schools, and districts.”
We have found this to be true. Great teachers use technology to make their instruction even better. If a teacher has great classroom management skills, computers are a welcome tool to increase engagement, creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking in their classroom. Great teachers use technology to provide responsive feedback, differentiated instruction, interactive simulations, and scaffolding to ensure that every student succeeds. Unfortunately, not-so-great teachers often use technology to add complexity, confusion, and distraction to their classrooms.
Inappropriate Use Adds Needless Complexity
In Mishra and Koehler’s (2006) TPACK model , good instruction happens when the
technology matches the content and the pedagogy. Sometimes old technology, like
paper-and-pencil, is the best technology for the task. For example, some teachers try to
scan all of their textbooks and worksheets into Google Drive or Canvas as PDF files (which is probably a violation of the copyright laws), and then have their students complete their assignments online. Usually this means that the students have to download the PDF, use Adobe Reader or Preview’s annotation tools, and re-upload the PDF. There are hurdles and complications at every step for average students—imagine the hurdles if you have a learning disability.
Which is more important—the ability to annotate a PDF and upload files, or the ability to
show mastery of the Iowa Core standards? If a paper-and-pencil worksheet can accomplish that goal, why are we adding needless complexity and frustration to our teaching and learning? Maybe a better question is, why are we still using old worksheets and textbooks?
A Lecture is a Lecture
Many teachers have embraced flipped learning, where teachers record their lectures and
assign the videos as homework. Done right, flipped learning can be a powerful tool.
Students can view the lecture at their own pace, and watch it again if needed. Absent
students never have to miss another lecture.
In good flipped classrooms, the teacher actively provides guided instruction to students as
they collaborate and work through the content. In not-so-good flipped classrooms, the
teacher sits at their desk while students work individually through a set of problems. And if a student needs help, the teacher tells the student to “watch the video again.”
Too often, the content is front-loaded in flipped classrooms. Relevance is an essential part
of learning. If students aren’t curious about a topic, the content won’t be relevant to them
and they won’t want to learn about it. Student curiosity is often lost in flipped classrooms,
because the pre-class lecture provides all of the material to be learned ( Plotnikoff, 2013 ).
The flipped lectures usually become a cognitive brain-dump of information, instead of a
just-in-time learning scaffold that meets the students’ desire to learn.
The solution to all of these problems is better instruction. Technology will never replace
good teaching. And good teachers have student-centered classrooms where technology is
used to enhance instruction. Good teachers focus on the 4Cs: Creativity, Collaboration,
Communication, and Critical Thinking. The students in their classrooms use technology to
construct and connect knowledge, explore and extend their understanding, and solve
authentic and relevant problems.
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has developed five standards
for teachers . Briefly, they are:
1. Facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity
2. Design and develop digital age learning experiences and assessments
3. Model digital age work and learning
4. Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility
5. Engage in professional growth and leadership
The ISTE Standards for Teachers focus more on instruction than on technology. Notice that the standards emphasize inspiring students, developing learning experiences, modeling learning and responsibility, and engaging in growth. Teachers need time to reflect on their current instructional methods, collaborate with their peers, and work to transform their instruction. Rather than spending professional development time learning basic technology skills, teachers need time to collaborate, think, and create.
Technology amplifies what is already occurring in the classroom. Let’s focus on improving
our instructional practice, not technology.
Goodwin, Bryan. “Research Says… / One-to-One Laptop Programs Are No Silver Bullet.”
Educational Leadership:Teaching Screenagers:One-to-One Laptop Programs Are No Silver Bullet . ASCD, 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.
Koehler, Matthew. “What Is TPACK?” TPACK.org . Web. 16 Dec. 2015.
Plotnikoff, David. “Classes Should Do Hands-on Exercises before Reading and Video,
Stanford Researchers Say.” Stanford News . Stanford University, 16 July 2013. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.
“Standards for Teachers.” Standards for Teachers . International Society for Technology in
Education. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.