Tonight I took part in my first live Twitter chat (#1to1techat). The purpose, if you can’t tell from the hash tag, is to discuss 1:1 computing in the classroom. Since I work for a company that designs curriculum for use in 1:1 classrooms, it seemed right up my alley. Little did I know what a negative reaction I would have to the discussion.
Going in I had no idea what to expect. I went in hoping for a discussion, and I left thinking that Twitter is just not the most effective mode for talking about ideas in depth. 1:1 computing is a big topic with a lot of ideas embedded in it. Trying to capture significant thoughts in 140 characters (less after you write the hash tag and even less if you’re replying to one or more people) is frustrating to say the least. Instead of a discussion, where ideas are put forth, analyzed, and discussed, I felt like I was bombarded by platitudes about why computers in the classroom are good for kids.
“Equity for all!”
“Level the playing field!”
“1:1 help kids find their passion!”
“Makes learning relevant!”
I rolled my eyes more than once while following the discussion. I felt like I was at a fan club meeting – a bunch of people getting together who love 1:1 and love to gush about it. Which is great in a way. These people are obviously the pioneers with regards to 1:1, and usually those folks are the most motivated to use new ideas and share them. I applaud their commitment to integrating technology into the classroom.
There was some good questioning for sure. For example, one person asked what other schools had learned NOT to do with regards to implementing 1:1. It’s great to learn from others’ mistakes, and several people chimed in on this question. Unfortunately the useful aspects of the conversation felt few and far between. Overall, despite lasting an hour and generating a couple hundred tweets, the discussion felt shallow.
It didn’t help that I ended up reacting in a way I didn’t expect. As someone who works for a company developing 1:1 curriculum materials, I’m obviously all for 1:1 solutions in the classroom. I do think that technology can augment what teachers and students are already doing so that they can do even more amazing things. However, in my time with my company I’ve seen another side to the issue: cost, specifically as it relates to the added value of the technology.
Up until now teachers have managed to teach the required curriculum standards without the use of computers. They also managed to teach critical thinking. They even managed to connect globally through pen pal programs. What is technology adding to the mix that justifies the expense of buying every child a tablet or netbook? This is a question I’ve heard frequently.
I know technology devices are coming down in price, but they still cost a lot to outfit all of the students in a grade, school, or district. There are even more costs beyond that. What if you want to buy a digital curriculum to go with it? Or pay for yearly subscriptions to various learning sites? Or buy apps for your students to use? Oh, don’t forget you might need to put some money into getting your district infrastructure up to speed to handle all of these news devices and tech support to handle malfunctioning/broken/stolen devices.
The news is full of stories of districts that are having budgetary problems. Some districts have even had to let go of teachers. If a district really wants to take on 1:1, they better have something to show their taxpayers to justify the expense. And guess what they hang their hopes on. Test scores. Basically, if you invest thousands upon thousands of dollars to buy a computer for each child, it’s reasonable to expect your test scores are going to soar through the roof, right?
Wrong. An iPad or netbook does not raise test scores. (By the way, I’m not even a proponent of judging 1:1 based on test scores. This is just a reality I’ve had to learn to deal with in my job.) Technology is just a tool. How that tool is used will determine the effect it has on student learning. A tool can be used appropriately or inappropriately. A tool can have different features depending on what model you buy. A tool can be…a tool, nothing more.
I realize I could go on and on, but I’ve said enough for tonight. I’ll have to revisit this topic in greater depth later. I’m glad I stopped to reflect on my first Twitter chat experience. I’ll probably take part in more, but I can’t say I have the best outlook on them so far. I want to believe that Twitter is great for PD because it allows you to connect with so many people, but if you can only speak in sound bites and platitudes, how high quality can it really be?