Thinking 1:1? Think Twice

As a follower of various e-learning enthusiasts online, I see several posts each day saying “We need 1:1 laptops”, “We’ve got 1:1 iPads”, “Everything your spam ever promised you and more, when you get 1:1 technology in your classroom”, and so on. OK, well maybe not that last one…

The greatest teaching efficiency I ever experienced was as a student in a third world secondary school. They had 1:1 technology too. There, it meant things like one spirit burner to one science lab, and one tape deck to one school. It didn’t hold us back in our learning – people from that school went on to Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and Yale. Put kids who are passionate about learning together with teachers who are passionate about teaching, and a lack of material goods has surprisingly little power to hold them back. I didn’t stay on, returning to a less exhilarating education in a developed nation, and my best chance with any of these universities is via their free online courses, but my point is, let’s think twice!

Moving back to New Zealand, I attended a school opposite the beautiful Martha Hill, covered in Rewarewa trees, with leaves that sparkled in the sun. Here is Martha Hill today:

Martha Hill, a mountain no longer.

The electronics industry is a huge user of gold. If you join me in thinking that gold mines are not something we want more of, please consider that 1:1 also means One Chance : One Planet.

Photo by Flickr member Velvet Android, with attribution, non-commercial and no derivatives licenses.  See larger photo here.

All electronic appliances that I know of use non-renewable resources in their manufacture, and some of it comes from the enormous goldmine where Martha Hill once stood. All use electricity to run. We need to consider whether the environmental cost is being matched by the learning gains. Some schools are going paper free – perhaps the environmental equation balances if you have no books at all – but that is an extreme and unusual situation, while many schools aim for 1:1 laptops or iPads. I’m not sure what those schools do during power cuts, either.

As you may be noticing, I’m not too keen on One Techtoy : One Child ratios, but I am an online educator, and I am passionate about technology in the classroom. In developed countries, with our ever-spiralling education budgets, we can learn huge amounts from developing nations, especially those with constructivist paradigms that align easily with current trends in our own educational thinking. With Dr Sugata Mitra, 1:1 means one computer to one village, and he notes in his TED talks that groups of about four children seem to teach themselves to use computers the fastest. What children have learnt through his various technology projects is very impressive indeed, but sharing ideas around the equipment, as well as through it, is an essential part of the package.

Learning to share both ideas and objects of value is a life skill, and one which is enormously important to many cultures and faiths.  Once you’ve learnt it, all that it requires is a little maintenance. No costly upgrades to sharing, and no foreseeable obsolescence, just the odd tweak when we get it wrong from time to time.

Looking at creative ways of sharing computers has far more appeal for me than 1:1. I’m into COWs, and not least because the Tron is a cowtown! Computers On Wheels are sets of laptops or tablets on tea trolleys. Wheel them into your classroom, hand them out, plug them in, use the technology for focused purposes, and then wheel them along to the next classroom. You can have 1:1 or 1:2 for a brief time, and then all you need is a couple of permanent computers in the classroom for shared use across the curriculum. This gives you a lot more space in the classroom, lowered expenses, and more excuses to polish your environmental halo.

Post me things about how you are sharing technology, and what kids have learnt through that. Then I’ll get excited!


About Mary St George

I teach in gifted education, both online and face-to-face.
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2 Responses to Thinking 1:1? Think Twice

  1. Susanne says:

    There is a loblolly garden in town where the lady will not bring out all of the metal watering cans she’s been broughten because she feels like if she does that then they can’t learn to share.

    I like that idea. I have 4 students and one doesn’t use the computer. But we do have a laptop for just the other 3. They take turns using it. They learn to share, they learn to budget their time, they learn how to give someone the next turn without getting upset, and they learn how to prioritize their computer needs, and to hustle!

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