Start With Why, Not How

Our superintendent has said several times in public statements that she wants a 1:1 program here in the overly-large school district. Although it’s not clear how she would pay for such a program, the super has established herself as someone who pushes big changes to happen sooner rather than later.

So, trying to get out in front of the concept, we have been having a lot of meetings around what a 1:1 program would look like. But, since the IT speaks for instructional technology in our system by default, a large part of the discussion is about the type of device, how it will be deployed and managed, and how we keep kids from doing personal things on what is supposed to be personal machine.

Which is completely the wrong conversation to be having at this point in the process. We first need to address a long list of questions related to instruction and weave in the technical pieces as needed.

Why do we want every student to have a connected device in the first place? If our primary goal is improving test scores, we can probably find better, less expensive solutions.

How should the curriculum and classroom practice change as a result of every kid carrying a powerful communications tool? If teachers continue to lecture, drill, and test based on a largely fact-based program, 1:1 would be a huge waste of money. Very similar to the way we’ve wasted a lot of funds on instructional computing over the past decade and a half.

Maybe we should step even farther back and ask what’s the purpose of school? Schools certainly have a very important role to fill in our county but is it the same as only a few decades back when what an educated person needed to know was largely contained on paper and distributed by a few, specially qualified gatekeepers?

Anyway, these are just a few of the issues that I would like to see our district (including teachers, students, parents, and community members) work on before the first dollar is spent on equipment and software for a 1:1 program. However, in the rush to maintain an illusion of relevance, I’m not at all confident we will stop to seriously consider the why before rushing off to work on the how.

6 Comments Start With Why, Not How

  1. Pingback: Moving Forward by Delivering Devices

  2. Doug Johnson

    Hi Tim,

    Good post. I have definitely decided that although we will eventually supply school-owned devices to all 6-12 students in our district, we will not call it a 1:1 program. Instead it will be based on using our learning management system to provide differentiated instruction and ubiquitous access to resources to all students. And co-incidentally, all students will need a device to get access to these opportunities in order to insure equity.

    I don’t think this is just semantics. This really is the “why” of addition the technology to system.



  3. Bill Storm

    Hi Tim, happy to discover your blog. I just wrote the following response to Doug’s post, and in re-reading yours just now it seems fair to copy my response directly to the discussion you started, so here ’tis:

    Phew, you had me worried there for a moment. The wisdom of this point of view (merely throwing technology at an instructional problem fixes nothing) is deep, and using this kind of language does get the conversation going. The problem with taking an extreme position (“If our primary goal is improving test scores, we can probably find better, less expensive solutions”) to make a point is that there are real live taxpayers out there who heartily agree with that statement and would love to be able to quote an educator who agrees with their “spend nothing” world view. Yes, context is everything, but people will read what they want it to say.

    Lacking a system-wide mandate to adopt tech-mediated instructional strategies such as the Common Core State Standards (seeing that a few states have that disadvantage), school districts are left with the need to be more clever than wrestling with chicken-and-egg arguments. That would include the strategy you allude to, that of equipping and supporting “the pioneers” robustly. Done well, with lots of public fanfare, instructional support, conditions, and training, “1:1” becomes understood to not be a simple device:student ratio, but an acknowledgement of fundamental equity in a school.

    There is one bit of tech a smart school district should have in place, district-wide, before allowing the pioneers to fly: diagnostic progress monitoring and common assessment. Data is everything in school reform. School leaders should be helping faculty clearly understand who they are teaching, and what effect their teaching is having. Without some way to measure the impact of your pioneers using new pedagogy, you will not win converts. And we must do more than wait for generations of teachers to retire. They are bringing our new teachers along, and we need them all.

    There is nothing like real data, real progress indicators, to convince teachers there is a better way. They are SICK of anecdotes of “the next great thing in education.” Show them data, and you win. And, this is a complicated process to undertake. Enjoy.

  4. Will Richardson

    Hey Tim,

    So, technology rollouts begin with a clear vision for teaching and learning first, with or without technology. The device should amplify your vision. So, does your district have one? What do you mean by learning? ;)



  5. Pingback: Do We Have Vision?

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