Over the past few years, I’ve ranted a few times about the 1-1 computing project in the overly-large school district that used to employ me. Last September, every high school student was issued their cheap laptop, and the plan is to do the same for middle school students next fall. Pending approval of the budget, of course.

And, as you might expect, administrators are hearing from some parents with concerns that the “devices are harming the way young children learn”, and worse.

Many parents fear that time spent on screens is eroding the quality of classroom instruction, causing skills such as math and handwriting to atrophy. Others worry that laptops and tablets are damaging children’s eyes and posture. And others have shared stories about students viewing pornographic or other inappropriate material on school-issued devices.

They wonder what is lost when so much of childhood is spent staring at a screen instead of conversing with classmates or spending time more creatively. They say that schools are usurping the authority of parents who may limit screen time at home or monitor their children’s Internet activity on personal devices.

The parents, of course, have some valid concerns, although most of them fall back on blaming the technology itself rather than how it’s used.

However, these parents, and the Post writers who love to find the most provocative quotes from most extreme corners of the topic, miss the more complex issues of how 1-1 programs are usually designed and implemented.

Starting with the fact that, with rare exceptions, technology is the only part of the instructional equation that changes.

The devices are distributed into classrooms where the curriculum, based heavily on the accumulation and prescriptive use of facts, remains the same. Where teachers ask students to do virtually the same assignments, using the same materials modified into digital form.

If everyone has a connected device, with quick access to all those facts and more, teachers should be asking students to investigate important problems and bringing the outside world into the classroom.

Considering the amount of misinformation being distributed on the web these days, a good use of classroom time would be helping kids learn to organize, manage, and validate all that data.

Standing in the way of any sort of fundamental change is that assessment also doesn’t change. The success of students, and the 1-1 program as a whole, is based on the usual standardized tests. No matter how creative the teacher might get in using the technology, if we don’t see “improvements on student performance in reading, math or science” (aka the spring exams), the whole thing is declared a failure.

And we blame the technology.

Which all reflects back on the most vital part of planning for a 1-1 program that usually gets the least consideration: why?

Why are we going to spend all this time, effort, and money to give every student a device? Is there a compelling instructional rational for this project? Will having these devices help students become better learners?

If your 1-1 program results in nothing more than replicating the same classroom experience on a screen, then it will be a huge waste of everyone’s resources. If nothing changes, why bother?

I think I’ve used this image on a previous post. It’s from Wikimedia Commons and used under a Creative Commons license. However, I never noticed the description before: “Photos of elementary students using iPads at school to do amazing projects.”. Somehow I’m missing the “amazing” in that image.