on asking the right questions and what it’s like to be a dog with a bone …

'iPad and iPhone' photo (c) 2012, Sean MacEntee - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Our institution is in the process of exploring a 1:1 computing initiative.  All of our teachers have had school-issued laptops for better than a decade, but we’re now seriously exploring the what a 1:1 computing program should look like for students.  Do we go with uniform school-issued laptops? Uniform school-issued tablets such as an iPad, a Surface from Microsoft, or other tablet-type device? Do we set some parameters for performance and go forth with a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative?  Last Spring, all of our faculty received school-issued iPads with the mandate to use them and think about how we might use them with our kids.

We’re about to launch into the deep dive that is making a decision about our 1:1 computing program.  We’ve been asked to consider the following:

  • How could the use of a web-enabled personal electronic device enhance how you deliver content in your courses?
  • What goals could ubiquitous access to such a device accomplish in your courses?
  • What would you individually like or need in order to achieve successful implementation of this program in your courses?
  • What concerns (pedagogical, classroom management, logistical, etc.) do you have about implementing this program in your courses?  What do you need to alleviate your concerns?
  • What is the relationship between student and textbook in your courses?  Could an electronic textbook work, even one you make yourself?

Honestly, I’m not so sure these are even the right questions.

I’m curious, if you were in our position, what questions would you be asking of your faculty?

In a really timely post titled, What’s Worth Investing In? How to Decide What Technology You Need Tina Barseghian writing over at the Mind/Shift Blog shared a framework shared at this year’s ISTE Conference by Karen Cator from the Department of Education:

  • WHAT DOES IT PROMISE TO DO? Is the main purpose to build students’ knowledge of content, or is it to develop skills and dispositions? Are there meta-cognitive strategies or learning strategies associated with the product?
  • WHAT DO YOU EXPECT IT TO DO? Do you expect the product to raise students’ test scores? To grab students’ attention? To flip your classroom? To open up dialogue? To help students’ inquiry process? Be clear about your goals.
  • WHAT CRITERIA WAS THE PRODUCT DEVELOPED AGAINST? How was the product conceived and who designed and built the product? What classroom experience does the designer/entrepreneur have? What research was done during the designing process? Was it piloted in schools? Is this a rapid prototype with the flexibility to change and improve?
  • HOW WILL IT HELP OR CHANGE TEACHERS’ ROLES? Will the product keep the teacher in the center of the action in class, or will it give more control to students? Does it help the teacher meet the needs of the students, and if so, how? Does it augment teachers’ performance?
  • HOW WILL IT CHANGE WHAT HAPPENS IN CLASS? What kind of class environment does it create? Does it encourage collaboration, risk-taking, and student control? If the product is software that allows kids to do practice exercises, how will classroom time be spent on that subject? Will a different kind of curriculum be created, and who will create it? Can hands-on projects be incorporated into class time that build on what students have practiced on computers?
  • HOW DO OTHERS RATE THE PRODUCT? Just as you would do with a personal purchase, checking Amazon reviews, Consumer Reports, Yelp, Facebook or Twitter recommendations, asking friends, do your due diligence and research to find out what other educators like and don’t like about the product. For example, some schools have already experimented with certain kinds of software that’s billed as adaptive, or encouraging critical thinking skills, and found that some are much better than others, and have switched. Sharing this knowledge can help educators root through the overwhelming number of choices, and find products that deliver what they promise.
  • HOW WILL IT SCALE AND GROW IN THE FUTURE? If the product is going to be used systemically, how sustainable is it? What are the chances that the company will stop providing this service, or start charging or raising fees? What’s the ease of adoption and use? Are there built-in ongoing improvement processes?
  • IS PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT NEEDED TO USE IT? If so, how much does it cost, and how much time will it take? Too often new technologies are not used to their maximum potential, or are left completely unused. Educators should make sure they have the time and budget allotted to ensure smooth transitions, and that the principal will make professional development a priority.
  • IS IT A NATURAL FIT? This question is also quite subjective. The best product should be like electricity, Kator said — there’s no question whether you should or should not use it. There should be an intuitive need that the product fulfills, rather than having teachers tangle themselves into knots trying to find ways to use it.
  • IS IT WORTH THE INVESTMENT? This is the most complex question to answer. How much is the cost compared to the amount of time and effort it takes to train staff to use it and to implement it system-wide? Based on what other educators have said, is it worth the time and effort?

Her framework makes a ton of sense to me, but I’m doubtful that I’ll be able to get that many questions launched in our discussion sessions.  I’m thinking of paraphrasing and focusing on some of the ones that fit our context best.

As a faculty, we’re thinking about launching into a 1:1 computing initiative: 

  • What do we want to gain by going 1:1?
    • Higher test scores?
    • Differentiate instruction to meet the needs of our kids differently that we’re doing now?
    • Lighter backpacks?
    • Squeeze in more content?
  • What are some of the possible advantages/disadvantages of the choices before us?
    • How might each student having an iPad change the learning experience?
    • How might each student having a laptop change the learning experience?
    • How might each student having his/her non-standardized device change the learning experience?
  • What will bring the best return on investment?
    • Understanding that implementing this initiative well is going to require an investment of time and energy on the part of teachers and money (lots of it) on the part of both the school and our families, which option do we see as giving us the best ROI?
    • Are we looking for improving efficiencies in what we’re already doing or are we looking to do things we currently can’t do?

That’s where my head is right now.  I think that I’m more lost now, than when we started this decision-making process last May.

What are your thoughts?

By the way, the second part of the title to this post has to do with the fact that try as I might, I can’t seem to get myself to let go and go with the flow on this decision. I, literally, am like a crazy dog with a bone that won’t let go …

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One thought on “on asking the right questions and what it’s like to be a dog with a bone …

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