Friday, May 28, 2010

One-To-One Classrooms

Since the 1960s, computer pioneers such as Seymour Papert (1980) have been advocating the educational value of computers in primary schools. Papert's vision, inspired through meetings with Piaget in Geneva, was for each child to have their own computer. In 1968, Alan Kay (Chen 2008) drew a picture of children with a computer each at a time when computers filled whole rooms. This drawing inspired designers and engineers to create the first laptop computers, which were aimed at the business rather than education market. Clearly these designers failed to recognise Papert's foresight as to the potential for laptops in education and schools.

"More and more I was thinking of the computer not just as hardware and software but as a medium through which you could communicate important things… an instrument whose music is ideas." (quoted in Stager 2003)

Several factors however, have recently meant that one-to-one computing in schools is becoming a reality. In 1990, Methodist Ladies College began one of the first significant one-to-one programs in Australia and industry started to take notice of the potential of the education market. Negroponte's (2005) One Laptop per Child program put further pressure on manufacturers to reduce the price of laptops. Also, the principle of one-to-one laptops being provided to students as a nation building and economic imperative, became manifest in the government policies of Portugal (Intel 2008) and Uruguay, which in turn may have influenced the Australian Federal Government's 2009 Digital Revolution. This implementation of increased computer hardware resources into Australia’s high schools has forced a rapid response from Australian private school systems (in particular).

Such implementation of one-to-one laptops poses many challenges to teachers (Donovan 2007). Although computers have been used in schools for over twenty years, rapid changes in hardware and software and the abandoning of school computer labs in favour of laptops, means that many classroom computer practices have to be revised (Simpson 2000). The training needs and range of technical abilities of teachers is an important political issue as evidenced in the Rudd government's Digital Strategy for Teachers (Digital Revolution 2010). Their announcement, on February 18, 2010 of $40 million in funding to support teachers’ ICT development highlights that this is both a political and educational imperative.

Part of this funding will be to determine how ICT proficiency can best be achieved. Very little research, to date, has focused on ICT professional development for teachers specifically in one-to-one laptop classrooms. Furthermore, in heeding the foresight of Seymour Papert (1980) in his early constructivist vision for laptops in schools, the value of a laptop is not as a tool to support traditional models of schooling, but for extending the natural ability of children to construct, explore and experiment. As such, any professional development preparing teachers for such a classroom context needs to move beyond technical skills or even pedagogical integration to fundamentally challenge and rethink the learning and teaching dynamic which happens in their classrooms.

From a more utilitarian/functionalist perspective, it may be argued that teachers have an obligation to prepare students in the use of technology (Barrett, 2002, p.47), as computers are used extensively in the workplace and society (Carter, 1998), but if one-to-one laptop programs fail to lift levels of engagement and improve learning outcomes, it is difficult to justify the cost. The program will fail to be sustained if teachers and parents do not see any benefits flowing from it. Teachers who are not supported to effectively embrace not just the technology, but the pedagogical strategies that it enables, will inevitably limit the outcomes for the children which they teach.

It would be naïve to suggest that the presence of the devices alone in the classroom lifts levels of student engagement. The devices may provide a brief increase in student interest in school because of their novelty value. However, it seems more likely that teachers' values and attitudes, their pedagogical practices and student-teacher relationships are more important factors in building and sustaining levels of student engagement.

In order to gain a clearer picture of the complex interaction of factors impacting on students and teachers in one-to-one classrooms, the following questions will be considered:

What changes happen to teachers’ pedagogy when a one-to-one laptop program is introduced in their classroom?
How might the changes to their pedagogy be influenced by their values, attitudes and beliefs?
What professional development or learning might best support their effective transition to a one-to-one laptop classroom?
What might be the impact of the introduction of one-to-one laptops and associated pedagogies on the engagement of learners?
How might relationships between teachers and students change in a one-to-one laptop classroom?

The Australian government's Digital Teacher Strategy highlights the importance of professional development of teachers affected by the Digital Revolution one-to-one laptop program. Such professional development needs to be authentic and reflect a thorough understanding of the factors influencing successful use of laptops in the classroom. This study will help provide a more in-depth picture of the nature of related student-teacher interactions with one-to-one laptops and provide recommendations for teacher professional development.


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