The 1:1 preoccupation

November 2011


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A computer in the hands of every child does not necessarily ensure they are meeting desired learning outcomes. JUDE BARBACK looks at different views on the subject.


Many New Zealand schools are preoccupied with achieving a 1:1 ratio of students per computers or devices. However, perhaps too much emphasis is placed on this goal at the expense of one-to-one teacher–student time.

Interestingly, Adam Garry, manager of global professional learning at Dell, agrees.  “1:1 should be a learning initiative instead of a tech initiative,” says Garry, in an interview with ZDNet Education’s Christopher Dawson.

Both Garry and Dawson agreed that technology can be leveraged in such cost-effective ways that the focus of 1:1 should no longer be on how we get students computers and maintain them all, but how we use the technology to improve teaching, learning and student achievement.

University of Southern Queensland’s Peter Albion says laptop programmes in schools are often promoted as an answer but many of those promoting them appear to be following a trend rather than asking the relevant questions.

As Dawson says, without an underlying platform for learning and a clearly defined strategy for using the technology both in and out of the classroom, ultimately all you have are a whole lot of expensive typewriters.

The reality is that financial hurdles will always be a factor for some schools in trying to supply computers to all their students, yet a variety of solutions can be used to maximise student access. After all, 1:1 can take many forms. Schools are increasingly providing the platform in the forms of wireless access, virtual classrooms and social learning, but allowing students to bring their own devices to access these platforms (with appropriate subsidies for those who cannot afford to). This approach obviously brings its own challenges, not least among them the disadvantage to those students who cannot afford their own device, even if computers are supplied at school for them.

Ultimately, however, it lets schools focus on the platform and learning rather than hardware acquisition.

Albion agrees. “The educational need is not to have a computer in the hands of every student but for students to be able to access appropriate processing power, software and data as required.”

Either way, schools are at that point where they have sufficient digital assets and access to support truly personalised learning. Dell is piloting a personalised learning platform with the underpinning notion being that every student can show mastery of subject matter in many ways. These platforms will be driven by formative and summative assessments and will cater to students’ learning styles and needs.

However, platforms such as Dell’s won’t drive success on their own. Student achievement can’t improve on technological advances and access alone. It is merely a tool to leverage student learning. The national drive for improved literacy and numeracy shouldn’t be forsaken for laptops and iPads. That is not to undermine the power behind technology as a means to achieving improvements in literacy, numeracy and all manner of subjects. Take reading for example. The introduction of levelled reading or remediation software could make a vast difference to student achievement.

Early 1:1 computing initiatives entailed significant technological challenges and sometimes seemed to be more about marketing than education. Though the suitability of technology for classroom applications has improved, the real issue continues not to be one of provision but rather of ensuring that learners and teachers can access and transform information as required.