In a recent post I predicted that by 2020 a great many teachers and students would be using hand-held devices for downloaded textbooks, versions of Twitter for instant communication, and that online learning, while growing, would still be peripheral to mainstream public schools. I did not even mention 1:1 laptops.
A reader thought my analysis and predictions were off-base, particularly over the absence of 1:1 laptops and directed me to an article that she believed more accurately portrayed the situation while offering a vision of the ways that schools should use technological devices.
In “The End of Techno-Critique: The Naked Truth about 1:1 Laptop Initiatives and Educational Change,” Mark Weston and Alan Bain summarize the evidence and arguments of those who have questioned 1:1 laptops. Weston and Bain profile my writings as representative of the “Techno-Critique.” Except for a few critical points, I found their summary of my articles and books fair. Furthermore, their review of the evidence of laptop use and effects in Maine and Texas is far more damning than anything I have written.
The authors then situate 1:1 laptops within the larger context of innovation and conclude that most efforts at “educational change, innovation, and reform” (p.7)—including laptops—has had “little or no sustained and scaled effects on teaching, learning, and achievement” (p.8).
Why such a dismal record for 1:1 laptops? Weston and Bain acknowledge that inept implementation of innovations may account for failures. But that is not their target. “A more likely cause,” they argue, “is the autonomous, idiosyncratic, non-collaborative and non-differentiated teaching practices that largely remain uninformed by research about what it takes to significantly improve student learning and achievement” (p. 8).
If these uncoordinated and varied teaching practices untouched by research is the problem, what solution should policymakers and practitioners, eager to achieve “scalable and sustainable change,” grasp?
It is here that Weston and Bain invoke 1:1 laptops as a precursor for the kind of change they seek. Even though they point out that laptop programs have failed to achieve their goals, they have created a “potential foothold for change” (p.9). Their vision is that laptops are “cognitive tools that shape and extend human capabilities” (p.10). They are tools that are now so thoroughly integrated into daily professional activities—a surgeon using an arthoscope to trim cartilage, a civil engineer using computer-assisted design to figure out metal and concrete stresses in a bridge—that future use by students and teachers will become second-nature (p.10).
Weston and Bain then lay out their vision of a school that uses technology as “cognitive tools” to transform teaching and learning (p. 11). Such schools have six features (pp.12-13):
1. Agreed upon “simple rules” that the entire school community “believes about teaching and learning.”
2. School community “deliberately and systematically uses its simple rules” to design and implement school tasks and actions.
3. All members of community are “engaged in creating, adapting, and sustaining the … design of the school.”
4. Real-time feedback from all community members “drives bottom-up change,” and makes each member accountable.
5. The interaction of rules, design, collaboration, and feedback lead to a shared conceptual framework for daily classroom and school activities that is self-organized and ever changing.
6. This self-organized, dynamic community “demand(s) systemic and ubiquitous use of technology” (p.13) to use “cognitive tools” everyday in classroom practice.
Soaring to rhetorical heights, this rosy picture of community solidarity in designing and implementing schools where 1:1 laptops can now—as never before–effortlessly and quietly transform teaching and learning is startling in its denial of history and context.I found no mention of the frequent ideological wars over the best ways of teaching and learning and the constant political struggles over dollars, staff, and buildings–all of which have shaped the course of school reform in the past century and a half. Nary a word about severe inequities in teaching and learning in big city schools. Even worse, feature 6 where the community stipulates that technology has to be used in classrooms daily ignores all of the prior conflicts over innovative devices and assumes that even with community agreement, desired student outcomes will be achieved.
Had the authors identified private and public schools over the past decades that have had these six features and used technology to transform children and adults, their argument would have been stronger. Absent the naming of such schools that have sustained and scaled up change to districts and states, and without any sense of frequent political conflicts over choice, competition, entrepreneurial innovations, and the low return on investment that instructional technology has accumulated over the past quarter-century, I found the authors’ analysis of the problem of 1:1 laptops far superior to their blue-sky scenario for creating school communities that “demand” use of technologies as cognitive tools to completely overhaul teaching and learning.