Bring Your Own 1:1

As we’ve been discussing next generation learning, it has become increasingly clear that every student needs a device. I’m not sure yet what the specifics of that device are. I know it needs to be network-connected. I know that it has to be portable. I think it should be a content creation device and not just a content consumption device. But beyond that, I’m not sure how much it matters.

Throughout this process, our thinking seems to be moving between a bring your own device (BYOD) program and a 1:1 program. BYOD implies that students bring the devices they already have — whatever they may be — to school and use them as part of the learning process. A 1:1 program is typically one in which the school provides a device for each learner. In most of these programs, the device is assigned to the student for a whole year (or multiple years). The student can take the device home, and it’s also used at school in most classes.

From an educational perspective, 1:1 is a lot easier than BYOD. I remember the early days of graphing calculators. Teachers asked the parents to buy graphing calculators for their high school math students. They couldn’t say “you must buy the TI-81.” They simply explained the features the calculator had to have, and the students brought in whatever tools they had. The results were good — the students learned how to use their devices, and most of the time everyone was able to accomplish the required tasks. But the road to success was pretty rocky. Teachers spent countless hours in class trying to troubleshoot problems with the various devices the students had. They would consult the manuals and the help systems and help the students try to figure out how their particular calculators did all of the functions they needed. It was a pretty steep learning curve.

The same can be said of BYOD programs. Some students will have iOS devices that can’t access web sites with Java or Flash. Others may have a phone or other small device that’s difficult to type on. Some students can watch videos. Some can create videos. Some have great e-readers that work with just about every format out there. Others can read some e-books but not others because of competing DRM and file format systems. Some students will have unfiltered access to the Internet through their mobile plans. Others will have to rely on wi-fi at school and home. Figuring out the various capabilities of the devices and trying to take advantage of the tools available without leaving a child behind will be a major challenge for the teacher in this type of environment.

A 1:1 program is a lot easier, because it gives the school a sense of control and the students a degree of standardization. If we give every sixth grader a netbook, for example, we can easily enumerate the things they can and cannot do with those devices. The teachers know what can be done. The tech support people can more easily identify and troubleshoot problems, and it’s much easier to make productive academic use of the devices. In short, a 1:1 program helps us stop focusing so much on the technology. Instead, we can concentrate on the learning.

But 1:1 programs are expensive. Some experts warn that the cost of purchasing the device is only half of the cost of the program, once you factor in the needs for technology infrastructure, tech support, professional development, and instructional support. In an age when we’re cutting staff, increasing class sizes, and constantly trying to stretch our education dollars, spending $200-500 per student per year on technology is probably unrealistic.

So we’re faced with the decision: do we try to go with 1:1 or do we use BYOD? I’ve been leaning toward both. Let’s plan for a 1:1 program. To do that, we’d be looking at a year of planning, and probably a 3-4 year implementation. If we pulled the trigger today on a 1:1 program, it would be the fall of 2016 before every student in grades 6-12 has a computer. Our current eighth graders will be seniors. Our second graders will be in middle school. That’s a long time. So, in the meantime, let’s do a BYOD program. Let the students bring the things they have. Do some work on the infrastructure to support a lot of technology. Increase the focus on professional development, and prepare teachers for the connected classroom. In addition to meeting the current students’ needs, it’ll help make the transition to a 1:1 program easier.

But there’s this little voice in the back of my head.

You’re doing it wrong.

What’s that?

Stop building the networked world. Use the network that’s already there.


Don’t bring your students to your learning network. Bring the learning to the students’ networks.

That’s a major paradigm shift. It ties back to the work I’ve been doing with Massive Open Online Courses. When we take an online course, we typically enroll in some kind of learning management system. We log into Blackboard or Moodle or whatever we’re using, and we interact with the course content there. We complete readings. We write reflections. We participate in discussions with our cohorts. In the good classes, we build a little learning network and we actually learn from one another.

Then the class ends. we lose our access to the learning management system. We lose the connections to the other participants in the class. We can’t get to our discussions or our reflections or any of the course content. Our time is up. The learning stops.

Instead of building this artificial learning environment, though, what if we used our existing personal learning networks? So instead of posting assignments in Moodle, the instructor posts them on a blog. Students interact through Twitter. They write their own reflections and respond to prompts using hash tags and their own blogs. Maybe it’s as simple as writing in Google Docs, sharing publicly, and tweeting out the link. (Stay with me, here, I’m about to drop an F-bomb). What if the course content were actually integrated with my Facebook feed? I go there every day already. So I see the photos of my cousin’s kids. I see that I’ve been challenged to a new Words With Friends game. I see the link to a news article that my wife posted on her wall. And I see a discussion about the online course. I see a post made by the teacher and comments from the students. Or a question raised by a student that sparked a discussion.

What happens when the course ends? Nothing. All of the stuff is still out there online. If I want to continue those connections I’ve made with my cohort, I don’t have to do anything. They’re still there. Learning can continue.

What if online learning for our students were like that? What if social networking and social learning were the same thing? That would be a lot more like “real life” wouldn’t it?

Back to devices. Shouldn’t our students — or at least their families — be making the decisions about what’s best for them? For all the complaining I do about Microsoft and Apple, I really couldn’t care less what people use. I mostly just don’t want them to tell me what I have to use. If they understand what the device will and will not do, and the merits and shortcomings of their decisions, who am I to tell them what to buy?

So, yes. 1:1. Every student needs a device. And let’s do BYOD while we’re working on getting to 1:1. And if we never actually get there, that wouldn’t necessarily be such a bad thing.

Photo credit: Ken Colwell on Flickr.

What’s not to MOOC?

The two-week break in the #change11 MOOC has given me an opportunity to catch up a bit, and to reflect on the experience so far. It’s now sixteen weeks since the start of the course, which has included thirteen weeks of content, a week of introduction, and a two-week winter break. According to Stephen Downes, the course has 2,000 registered participants. The course web site has had 38,000 visits. There have been 1300 blog posts tracked with the #change11 tag, and there have been 2500 tweets with the same tag.

On a personal level, I’ve spent about 25 hours on the course, I’ve blogged about it four times, and I’ve tweeted about it, umm, more than once (I think).  I’ve read or consumed more than 70 posts, documents, videos, and web conferences related to the course, and I’ve commented on about 10% of them. My notes are more than 16 pages long and are summarized in the Wordle image on this post (click on it for a better view).

Mostly, I’ve kept up by reading the daily email that comes from the course, which lists the upcoming events, recent blog posts, and tweets that use the #change11 course tag. I also set up a newspaper using the #change11 course tag. This gives me an overview of the links posted via Twitter related to the Change course, all formatted as a daily newspaper. Admittedly, I haven’t always been faithful about using the tag, and I’m sure others have been doing the same thing. So the numbers cited above are probably estimates on the low side.

I’ve been trying to keep track of my level of engagement because I’m participating in a pilot project involving graduate workshop credit for MOOC participation. We’re trying to figure out how to make this authentic learning experience fit into the framework of formal continuing education workshops. Why shouldn’t work in a MOOC count toward teacher licensure renewal or salary advancement? Some would argue that participation is a MOOC is more relevant than taking a graduate workshop at a university. But the challenges are many. We have to find a way to ensure that people are really participating, that they’re really engaging with the content and other participants, and that they’re finding a way to make it relevant to their own professional lives. Plus. the regents like to see things like contact hours and some sort of tangible product that can be assessed.

In my case, then, a typical week consists of about 107 minutes of engagement. I read about 5 web resources. I take just over a page of notes. I make a comment on a blog post about every two weeks, and I post on my blog about the course roughly once a month. That’s well below my expected level of engagement, which called for about 30% more consumption of others’ content, and about double the contributions from me.

But none of this counts the related non-change11 stuff I’ve been doing. I bought and read Chris Lehmman’s new book on Web 2.0 tools and Will Richardson’s book on Personal Learning Networks. I passed them around among our administrative leadership team, and we’ve had many conversations about the future of schools. I attended a 21st Century Learning summit with my superintendent, and we spent a lot of time talking about how to reinvent our successful public school to continue to meet the needs of our students. And because my professional learning network is already in tune with many of the topics in the Change11 course, the same ideas keep coming up over and over in the normal conversation flow through those networks. That happens with or without the course tag. For most, that’s just lifelong learning. It’s great that my personal professional development is so embedded in my professional life and my online identity. But in this case, because I’m trying to track it, it’s a little messy.

The challenges for me, moving forward, are to increase my level of engagement with the other MOOC participants, and to bring some of these conversations down to the local level. I need to be engaging my teachers, my administrators, and my community members in these ideas about what next generation learning looks like. I hope to use several different strategies to accomplish this. Without using the terminology and structure, we may be bringing some of the elements of the MOOC into our school district as a professional development model.

2012 is going to be an exciting year.

Analysis Paralysis

I started last week’s presentation on Google Docs with this xkcd cartoon.

I’ve commented many times that my smartphone replaced more than half a dozen devices that I used to carry around with me. I no longer need a digital camera, digital video camera, mp3 player, navigation system, PDA, or wristwatch. I have access to the Internet all the time. But even if I didn’t, I could text Google and they would try to answer my questions.

I can also send a message to anyone in my personal learning network, regardless of where they are, and typically get a very quick reply. The network is always there. It’s always on.

That’s what Erik Duval means by abundance. His  session for this week’s #change11 course,  Learning in a Time of Abundance, resonated with me more than any of the others we’ve had so far. As a computer science professor, Erik has the opportunity to model the change he thinks we need in academia. Why do teachers stand in front of a group of students for 40 minutes (or 80 minutes) and present information? The students already have the information. Facts are easy to find. Explanations of nearly all of the concepts we teach in school are readily available online. And they’re going to be online forever. What does that mean?

Before written language, we had to remember everything. The entire sum of all human knowledge had to be passed down from generation to generation orally. If it wasn’t, it was lost. Eventually, we developed ways to store things outside our brains. We started writing things down. And it’s a good thing we did: I can’t remember even a tiny fraction of all of the things I’ve learned, let alone all the stuff everyone has learned.

But now we’re in a new age. The sheer volume of stuff we’re writing down is growing faster than we can count it. The current state of the art changes faster than we can identify it, let alone teach it. Duval is a professor and researcher working on human-computer interaction. He knows a lot about the subject, and stays on the cutting edge of that technological frontier. But if he focuses just on information — just on passing on the current state of knowledge in his field — his students will be behind by the time they leave university.

Instead, his classes take a different approach. He starts by giving his students access to the information. All of the information. All of the time. They have cell phones and laptops and tablets and all kinds of Internet-enabled devices. They use them in his class. All of the time.  They don’t have to unplug. And this era of information abundance is a two-way street. In addition to having access to everything, his students also share their work. Everyone has access to the work they’re doing. They’re blogging and tweeting and publicly sharing their work. The students set goals that are measurable and trackable. They build tools (it is a computer science class, after all) to track their goals and visually monitor their progress. The students develop and use a variety of quantitative measures for formative assessment. The summative piece looks more like a job performance review than a course exam. Look at the goals. How have you progressed? It’s a conversation between professor and student. The result is a narrative, which is then boiled down to a numeric score.

Things are a little more difficult in K-12 education. We have a lot of cultural baggage that is hard to change. Classes have to be 50 minutes long, and students have to take 5-7 of them per day. Each teacher has his own teaching style, his own grading methods, his own philosophy of how this education thing should work. Parents, for all they say about preparing their children for the future, really just want school to be like it was when they were students.

Duval suggests that teachers work to change the things in their control — the things that happen in their classrooms. Don’t try to reform the entire educational system. Give students access to the information. Stop lecturing so much. Adapt grading styles to be more authentic. Push students to move from remembering to applying and creating. Get over the fact that you can’t be in control of everything. Seek forgiveness rather than permission.

We spend a lot of time talking about these things. There really is nothing new here. From Bloom’s revised taxonomy to the framework of professional learning communities, to the 21st Century Skills movement, everyone is talking about the same things. But we suffer from analysis paralysis. We spend too much time talking about what schools should be and not enough time making them that.

Be the change.

Image credit: Randall Munroe, xkcd.