Ten Year Plan: One-to-One Programs Are Not Worth It

Perhaps I’ve gotten your attention with the title. Please take the time to think about what’s on my mind here. If I look out over the next ten years, pushing and prodding toward better learning, dedicating time and resources to implementing a one-to-one computing program is not worth it. That is not to say that one-to-one computing is not a worthy goal. In fact, it is the only goal. Anything we do or say revolving around better learning and technology means that the learners have to have the technology access. We do not talk about one-to-one teacher programs. Be it a desktop or laptop – most every teacher has access to computer technology. Why then would I say student one-to-one computing solutions are not worth it? Simple…

Students are coming to school right now, today, with their one-to-one computing device.

cellphone.jpgJust about every cell phone out today has not only voice, but data access, a camera, and more capability overall than computers of just a few years ago. I further think that the cell phone, or smart phone as prices come down, as a one-to-one device will not be affected by the digital divide seen in schools. While the schools that many students walk into may not be digitally equipped, the students mostly are.

Some states, and a number of districts, are investing heavily in laptop programs for students. The overhead in managing such programs is huge. Juxtapose that with the simple, powerful tool already in students hands that they use constantly while out of school, and what you get is a win-win situation. Cost of management of cell phone as technology tool – minimal; value – priceless (with apologies and credit to MasterCard).

Would such a solution be viable in elementary schools? No. Middle Schools? Maybe (upper grades especially). High School? You bet. If I were to accept a student response to a class question that has correct grammatical construction, capitalization, etc. but was typed with all thumbs, should that matter?

Here is one scenario that is young in thought process, but I think worthy of conversation. A school has a building-wide access phone #, and each individual class in the schedule has an extension #. A student walks into 2nd period English, and upon seeing the warm-up activity on the LCD projector, dials into the class, and texts his/her responses to the warm-up activity. In this case it is a daily edit, and the teacher watches as the responses from the students appear on screen, making comments as they appear. Since the students have linked to the class right at the beginning, attendance is done automatically with no intervention by the teacher. Instruction on the particular topic, along with feedback from every student, occurs within three minutes of class beginning.

Now, the other side, better know as reality. How do we manage an environment where students use cell phones as a learning tool? How do we keep them focused on learning, and not messaging, bantering, bullying, or distracting? I do not have the answers, but I think this is where we should spend the time, energy and money for the next ten years. My motto is that a school is people. learning. The people in this case, the students, need to learn how to manage and interact appropriately and effectively within the context of being connected. We need to focus on how to get them there.

There are a whole host of issues to think about in order to make a cell phone as learning tool workable, but that is a far better conversation to focus on. In this scenario the tool is owned by the learner, and the school does not have the exorbitant management costs. There will still be some equity issues to deal with, but even if some schools had to provide cell phone devices, that is a vastly different cost/maintenance issue than with computers. Will schools still need comptuers? Of course. So will students at home. However, if we want to focus on the best value for anywhere, anytime learning, the cell phone is the direction I believe we should proceed in.

Image citation:
JonJon2k8. “Cell Phone.” Flickr. 31 Dec. 2006. 23 Mar. 2008 <http://flickr.com/photos/jonjon_2k8/340305918/>.