Dr. Akbar Ali Herndon, Chief Technology Officer
When you hear the term “one-to-one,” qualities like closeness, dedication, and relationship may come to mind. In educational parlance, one-to-one usually means having your own device. With the evolution of educational software and tools, schools have found more and more ways to integrate technology into the learning process. Today, giving students as much digital access as possible for academic purposes is believed to be not only desirable, but essential.
The One-to-One Learning program at Grace includes the ownership of a digital device by each student in grades 7-12. We believe ownership of the device - having the opportunity of initiating a knowledge search - extends to greater ownership of the knowledge acquired through the process of researching, collecting, analyzing and presenting solutions. We also value the immediate access and portability, and in the case of Chromebooks, the low cost, that a one-to-one model provides.
The device is now an integral part of a student’s toolbox and opens a digital door to information, apps, systems and relationships that were not accessible to students in the past. We believe the intimate, one-to-one relationship that it provides has the potential to result in a different type of learning. The closeness brings learning that is more integrated across disciplines and lends itself to a growth mind-set rather than one that is fixed.
In our youngest one-to-one grade, we require seventh grade students to purchase Chromebooks which continue to be used through their eighth grade year. The school ensures that cost never gets in the way of every student in every grade purchasing the required device. Although their computer classes are still taught using desktops (iMacs), computer instruction includes exploring the Chromebook and its G Suite environment (Google’s broad set of apps for the classroom), our digital learning portal “GraceNet” and all things Internet. Most of their classes use the Chromebooks for researching, writing, editing, presenting and submitting assignments.
We originally opened the high school designating iPads as our one-to-one device but have found the laptop to be a better fit. Ninth grade students are now required to purchase MacBook Airs or Pros as their one-to-one device. As each of the next three ninth grade classes enter with MacBooks, high school teachers are able to plan on every student having the same device, giving access to G Suite and GraceNet, as well as software and apps written for Macs.
We recently surveyed the faculty that teach students who use a one-to-one device, and they described many of the benefits:
- It removes the differences of income, by having a consistent level of device
- Students don’t have to borrow a device
- Technology related research can be planned and proceed with the knowledge that everyone has the same tools
- It allows peer reviews and collaborative work on shared documents
- I no longer need to take students to the computer lab to work
- I love the 1-to-1 program! It gives students imaginative tools to self-direct differentiated learning.
Of course, putting personal digital devices in the hands of students has its challenges. Directing students to take out their laptops offers the possibility of using their device to exit the classroom, virtually. While we ask students to resist falling down the rabbit-hole of checking in on their social media accounts when they should be working in class, we know having the device makes it difficult to resist. The temptation and resulting distraction is sometimes too powerful for some students. We consider our one-to-one program to be an opportunity to help students develop the ability to make good choices during class. Students sign an agreement to only take out their devices when their teacher asks them to and to try their best to stay on task. We encourage students to be aware of and in control of their attention as part of every digital experience, especially in school. Some schools use filters to restrict online activity, but we believe students cannot discover and exercise their ability to choose the right online action if they are not given the option. On the whole, our teachers believe the benefits of having access to a personal device, outweigh the risk of negative behavior.
Younger grades also have a range of devices for dedicated, digital access, which prepare them for eventual use of a one-to-one device. Sixth graders have individually assigned Chromebooks owned by the school that do not travel home, and third through fifth grade students share Chromebooks and MacBook Pros with classmates in their grade or homeroom area. Junior Kindergarten through second grades share iPads, laptops and the iMac lab.
As educators, we are challenged to rethink our curricula to take full advantage of one-to-one learning. More than just an add-on of technology to pre-existing lessons, a one-to-one learning environment has the potential to push teaching into new frontiers. Student expectations can be expanded to include a greater level of self-directed projects and class work.