The best 1:1 device is good teaching


Over the course of two years, I, along with the BPS Tech team, had the opportunity to meet and connect with over one hundred schools. The discussions usually involve what device works best in the classroom and how the iPad is affecting teaching and learning outcomes. Usually this conversation is focused on what hardware works best for teaching and learning. While this is an important decision to make, it should not be the focus. In fact, the best devices a school can employ are great teachers.

We have reached a point in education technology where devices are, for the most part, adaptable. Most of the programs a school uses throughout a typical day are web-based and hardly anything is stored locally. At Burlington Public Schools, our Director of Instructional Technology, Dennis Villano, likes to take someone’s iPad and make the motion as if he were going to smash it into a million pieces. This hypothetical simulation is a great example of how little hardware actually matters anymore. While both the iPad camp and the Chromebook camp will argue their respective device is superior, I can easily envision both working well for a variety of content area classrooms. In fact, the idea of going all in with a singular device is starting transition. What School districts and administrators can control is the ways in which they create and foster a culture of adaptability before instituting a 1:1 environment.

As I mentioned earlier, the best device a school can roll out is a teacher who can adapt to new and emerging technologies, does not always require formal training for learning and staying current, and is not tethered to a product (PowerPoint) in order to teach. Education technology will continue to progress and part of this evolution will be for students and teachers to stay current with both curriculum and digital literacy. Even in the absence of technology, a great teacher will continually seek out ways to engage his or her students in great lessons, simulations or challenges.

To illustrate the points I’ve made, I’ll share a story from a school visit we had last week. We had a visitor from Perth, Australia visiting our High School and while our visitor expected to see iPads being used to engage and instruct, what she actually saw was fly swatters. Yes, fly swatters.

We walked into Todd Whitten’s class and witnessed two students at the front of the board slapping fly swatters over terms projected on the wall. The concept was novel, yet effective. Some students were using their iPads to record the review via Evernote, while others watched their classmates have a debate at the board over the subject at hand. Basically, Todd was providing a prompt, students had to slap the term on the board that coordinated with that prompt, and then discuss or debate their reasoning. Regardless of the devices or applications the students were engaged. And I am certain there are many other classrooms out there like Mr. Whitten’s classroom. I’m certain that the use of technology can be veiled by innovative learning goals and objectives. I’m certain that Todd did not need training on the technology he and his students were using at the moment to create an engaging lesson.

The simple point is, Todd can adapt to the environment and challenges he faces as an educator. Which is why his classroom desk design is never the same. He not only adapts to new and emerging technologies and teaching strategies himself, but challenges his students to adapt to different classroom designs daily.

Contrary to my assertion is that sentiment that teachers don’t have enough time to learn new things. Or, that professional development must come during contracted hours approved by a union. And that is fine. Eventually these “educators” will be replaced as quickly as the technologies and progressive pedagogy (alliteration breakdown: say it five times fast!)  they refute or hold on to for dear life. What will sustain is the teacher who is constantly curious, driven by the possibilities of his or her classroom and never satisfied with repeating lessons and practice. Devices come and go, but progressive teachers who adapt will sustain longer than any device.

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