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Saturday, September 22, 2007

NJECC - 1-to-1 Assessment and Pre-Assessment

Part 1: NJECC meeting

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking to NJ tech directors from NJECC at Montclair University's beautiful campus (see photo of this room) and also saw my friend Dr. Donna DeGennaro, a talented professor at Montclair who wrote Chapter 8 of my book.

The topic was 1-to-1 and the discussion was lively and challenging.  Trevor Shaw of Dwight-Englewood School (year 3 of their tablet PC program just beginning) kindly came to participate as a panelist and administrators from Springfield provided panelist expertise and advice as they are also in their third year.

Here are some ideas from that discussion.  One question came up about budget - how can a school district afford one-to-one?  We all agreed that the answer is varied and depends on the school or district.  Some have parents pay for all or part of the hardware, some use bond money, some reconsider how their budget is spent (e.g., not replacing desktops anymore but using the money for laptops.)  At The Urban School in San Francisco, selling parents on 1-to-1 was part of the approach at this independent 9-12 school, so they polled parents to see who was planning to either purchase a new computer or dedicate a computer just for their high schooler and nearly 90% said they were.  Urban offered to purchase the computer instead of the parents, put educational software on the computer, fix it, have loaners, and have it used in the classroom. As so many parents now consider a computer an essential part of their child's education, the program was a go.  

Another important discussion was about leadership.  It was obvious Springfield has solid leadership and commitment as does Dwight-Englewood.  We agreed that having both a principal/school head and tech director onboard are vital to successfully starting and continuing a program.  

One question was - what if the tech director is onboard but other leadership isn't?  Some said not to move ahead, but a few of us suggested starting with carts or with a pilot program to demonstrate what's possible.  An element here to consider is that the students are continually moving on to the next phase of their education or to their careers - and not preparing them with 21st Century learning skills hampers their success.

One agreed theme for success - 1-to-1 needs to be systemic and part of learning/pedagogy/curriculum and not just an isolated technology initiative.

Part 2. - Assessment and Pre-Assessment

The NJECC meeting discussions and several recent requests from schools have me thinking more deeply about assessment of existing 1-to-1 programs and pre-assessment for schools considering 1-to-1.  

While there are a number of components to evaluate before starting 1-to-1 including infrastructure (can the network handle 1-to-1), logistics (cases, transportation, insurance, repairs, loaners) and support issues (internal or external people to troubleshoot and repair), there are important philosophical elements that don't respond to the same "list-making" approach and require delving into mission, school culture, and the school's prevailing instructional model.  

If most teachers at a school or district are the center of the classroom most of the time and aren't comfortable with morphing from teacher to learner,  aren't sometimes the coach and facilitator, and don't walk around while children work independently or in groups, 1-to-1 won't achieve deep learning goals.  This doesn't preclude the necessity for some whole class activity and times when laptop lids or tablet pens are down.  It just means a different dynamic is operational when every child has his or her own powerful digital learning assistant.  The question becomes - can enough educators shift to embrace the potential benefits.

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