The rapidly growing number of 1-to-1 laptop schools calls to question what a laptop learning school is. Very simple mathematics suggests that a school merely needs to purchase enough laptop computers--one for every student--and Presto! suddenly it becomes a 1-to-1 school.
But can a school spend all that money on technology and still miss the mark? I believe it can, and some do. There is a difference between laptop learning schools and schools with laptops. Before your school invests in the hardware to become a 1-to-1 school, take some steps up front.
1. It Starts with the Realization of the Need for Change. Examine the 21st Century skills. Think about the future our students will enter. Discuss what a classroom should look like now. If your system does not recognize a need to change instruction, adding technology is rather pointless. But change begins with having some fierce conversations about the need for change and the school's vision for the future of education.
2. It Takes Vision. The expression a computer is just a tool is overused to the point of becoming a cliche. Unless a school knows how it wants to use the tools, its evolution will be hampered. Schools that are using the laptops most successfully are trying to create student-centered classrooms. They want teachers to take an assisting role as students learn to teach themselves and each other. The vision may be for research using online resources and digital text books. This may call for 1-to-1 tablets. Or the vision could require more powerful technology tools to facilitate project-based learning and knowledge creation.
3. Hit the Road. One of the reasons many technology plans are never realized is that people don't know what they don't know. By the time they understand it, there is something new. The faculty need to get out of the building and see how other schools are using technology to accelerate learning. They need to attend conferences, seminars, and sales demonstrations. After broad exposure to a number of ideas and systems, staff can return to help forge a new direction for their own school.
4. Share the Decision. A major acquisition of technology should result in a sea change in the pedagogy of the school. Therefore, this decision cannot be made by the administration and school board alone. The teachers who will be implementing this system need to be deeply involved in the decision. The discussion should include the support staff as well. The school needs to unite behind such a significant shift in methodology. This can only be accomplished if there is participation and support from the rank and file.
5. Include the Community. Ultimately, it is your community that is paying the bill. They are your customers, and a school always need to be responsive to its public. Begin the dialogue in your PTO and advisory groups. Have the conversation with the people at the coffee shop. Involve your business leaders. Your local businesses may be your strongest proponents because they see how technology is changing their workplace (maybe faster than it is changing schools), and they need a technologically literate workforce.
So does this mean we should wait and take our time? Certainly not. With the speed at which our world is changing, we do not have time to wait. But I will address this in a post yet to come.
What other steps are necessary? Please feel free to offer your additional suggestions in the comments below.