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.