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1:1 initiatives expect more than just tech readiness

Digital learning fails: Give me back my textbook!

Since 2010 Metiri team member Jody Britten has been observing and participating in 1:1 initiatives in various ways. Today, Jody shares some thinking about one observation that is still too prevalent in our schools: students that are immersed in digital learning begging for worksheets, textbooks, and quizzes in place of their tablets or other tools. Read on to get the scoop on when digital learning fails.

Prevalence of digital devices

Since 2013, the number of households reporting computer ownership has surpassed 83% with nearly 75% or more reporting access to high-speed Internet connections. With two-thirds of American’s owning a smart phone there is an increasingly reliance on being able to access information anytime, anywhere. Of those that have smart phones 15% have limited options for online access other than there cell phone and 10% rely on mobile data plans over Internet connections at home. Mobile computing is impacting the every day lives of individuals of all ages, with latest reports suggesting that among families with children that are 8 years old and younger, the ownership of tablet devices is now beyond 40% and ownership of a “smart” device continues to increase at 75%. As access to mobile, smart devices continues to expand outside of school, these devices are increasingly earning a presence behind school walls.

Effective mobile learning

Effective mobile learning today can help navigate the attainment of critical non-cognitive skills, improve student attitudes and work habits, increase student motivation, transform teacher practice, increase student-teacher communication, and positively impact the overall learning environment. While having a mobile, wireless device is central to any mobile learning initiative, at the core of effective mobile learning is a strong vision of what student learning and instructional practice will look like with the presence of mobile devices.

When digital learning fails

So why are students who are immersed in a one-to-one tablet program, carrying around a tablet instead of a bag of textbooks asking for their books back? From our work in one-to-one schools around the world, it seems that there is little attention being given to “prepping the students.” If we look at the general sequence of planning for and implementing a one-to-one initiative there are meetings with community leaders, parents and families, teachers, and maybe a select group of students. There are pilot programs, infrastructure improvements, and all sorts of staging and prepping taking place for years before a full-blown one-to-one initiative is launched.

“If I am walking through a building and I ask students about their laptops or tablets and their first response is that they want their textbook back it is a clear sign that something has gone wrong. It is at this very moment that digital learning fails to achieve its goals.” – Jody Britten

But who is prepping the students? Not prepping them to use the tools, but really helping them to understand why these tools are being used and why they are important. This “student preparation” might just be the linchpin for long-term success of one-to-one programs. When we see students disengaging from the learning that digital tools are supposed to enable it is a strong predicator that something has gone wrong. Since 2001, we have advocated for a series of 21st Century skills and most recently advocated for entrepreneur-ready skills that support much of the innovation that today’s economic climate and job-force enables. Both of these skill sets are focused on helping students to develop more than academic skills. They are focused on helping them to develop the “not so new” competencies that are required, demanded, and sought after by today’s employers.

Prepare your students for more than using technology

When we work with schools to develop plans for one-to-one initiatives we focus just as much on staging the technology as we do on staging the skills. But in all the work we have done, we have seen many gloss over any direct teaching of kids in why things that are changing at their school. What we have seen is that students want to know the why behind digital learning initiatives and in most cases students need to know why before they get thrown in. Time is short, and we understand that. But it doesn’t have to take long. Use a few hours to talk about how businesses look different today, talk about changes over the past twenty years with access to anytime, anywhere Internet, talk about sustainability from an environmental perspective (just the other day I told a college student that we didn’t have recycling when we were growing up – he was shocked!), and get into the conversation about why you are changing the status quo at your school. We don’t want to walk into classrooms filled with awesome tools, great trade books, and a million different resources and still hear students begging for textbooks, worksheets, and quizzes – if we do the entire premise for and promise of digital learning has been lost.

Keep up with Jody Britten and learn more about how Metiri can support 1:1 initiatives for more information.