What factors hamper the success of a 1-1 laptop program?

I don’t purport to have the answer to this question. I do have the predicament of a program that simply isn’t working.

Like all other DEC schools my school is in the final year of a four-year federal government initiative where all students in Years 9-12 are given a laptop. It is because of this so-called Digital Education Revolution that I started this blog. DER is why I started using Twitter. It is why I started looking to the Internet for learning tools for my classes. It is why I started my Masters. And it is why I am still a teacher. And whilst it certainly has started pushing teachers at my school in the direction of becoming the fabled ‘21st century teacher’, it certainly isn’t the success story I imagined it would be by the final year of the 1-1 program.

Each year I see teachers becoming more and more confident with their use of technology in the classroom. The number of IWBs in classrooms has grown tremendously … I guess that’s a start. Each year I have more and more teachers ask me about registering for edmodo because they want to connect with their students online to share ideas, resources and set assignments for electronic submission. Some teachers have even purchased iPads and have started using them in the classroom. Other teachers have taken to using tools like ClassDojo to help them create a positive learning environment. Lots more teachers are finding ways for students to use video cameras to create films that demonstrate their learning. These are big wins.

What I’m not seeing is an increased use of laptops in the classroom. I am seeing students in Year 10 – who have had their laptops for less than a year – asking to keep them in my classroom because they ‘don’t need them for other subjects’. I am encountering more students requesting to not use their laptops in my class. Why? Because it takes so long to load that they feel the waiting is hampering their learning. They only use it in my class and they can share with a friend and still achieve their learning goals. And I get that. I really do.

So is the loading lag the only reason teachers aren’t using the laptops in the classroom? I can’t say that is the only reason. I think that the main issues are still related to pedagogy and the pressures of a crowded syllabus and a high stakes external examination – the HSC. These two reasons mesh to make the use of laptops really difficult for lots of teachers. Add to that a machine that is unreliable and you can understand why teachers aren’t rushing to use laptops in their classrooms.

It has always struck me as odd that the so-called ‘edutech gurus’ criticise teachers for failing to integrate technology into their students’ learning and yet a quick look at the booking sheets for computer labs invariably finds them booked out. And it’s not just the TAS teachers making the bookings. It’s all subjects – LOTE, creative arts, HSIE … the lot! I should know – recently I was kinda reprimanded (in a nice way – I wasn’t named and shamed although I’m pretty confident everyone knew I was the one being spoken about) because I’d booked every one of my lessons into a computer lab for the rest of the term. My colleagues were understandably annoyed by the fact that they couldn’t get into a lab when they needed to. So why are teachers more comfortable taking their students to the computer lab than they are having students use laptops in their classrooms? I’m keen to find out why from the teachers themselves. But I’m pretty confident they could all be categorised under the three reasons I already listed above.

I must confess that I feel responsible (almost entirely) for the semi-failure of the 1-1 program at my school. Last year I hid in my classroom. I was unwilling to spend another 12 months doing ‘show and tell’ at staff meetings and trying to run lunchtime and after-school workshops that were attended by one person or neglected entirely. I hadn’t worked out how to ‘fix’ the 1-1 problem. In my lack of persistence I have done my colleagues and our students a disservice. I need to make up for that this year and I’m still trying to work out how. Of course showcasing Project Based Learning to the staff is one thing I will be doing this year. I spent so much time last year experimenting with student-centred pedagogies that I reckon I should start sharing that at my school at some point this year. I can’t even explain why I’m so anxious about doing that.

Anyway, if your school has been successful in ensuring all students in 10-12 are using their laptops productively in their classes when they are needed, I would love to hear your story. Does your school run 1-1? What do you do to make it work? What professional learning strategies have you used to target this teacher and student resistance to laptops? I want this last roll-out of laptops to really sing – I want it to be the best year yet for 1-1 at my school!!

Re-reading this post has helped me to remember one thing about my dilemma. I haven’t actually asked the students or the teachers how often they use the laptops or why they don’t use them. I reckon that sort of information might come in handy. And maybe I’m just naively trusting the words of my students who claim that the laptops aren’t being used … perhaps they are?

And then, as a final twist to the story, I think maybe the teachers and students are just ‘voting with their feet’ so to speak. Maybe they are sending a message to all us edutech wannabes and saying ‘No, we don’t want to use laptops in the classroom. That’s not how we want to learn.’ There’s something exciting and organic about that idea. They’re not saying they don’t want to use technology, they’re just saying that the 1-1 idea is flawed. Maybe it’s that the 1-1 thing encourages a teacher-centred pedagogy and an individual-worker mentality. Maybe the love of the computer lab indicates that teachers and students thrive on a variety of learning experiences and learning spaces. Why would a kid bring a laptop to school every day if they’re not needed in every lesson every day? It’s inconvenient. Maybe this is why laptop trolleys have had more success. Perhaps variety is the key. Perhaps.