The Right Approach to 1:1 Learning

Laptops and tablets have been examined for their educational applications as early as they became widely adopted by consumers. Many schools across the country have deployed mobile devices such as laptops or tablets for each student in an effort to increase access to curriculum and cultivate digital literacy, with many more schools considering the benefits of 1:1 programs. Moreover, the federal government has staked its position on edtech through funding initiatives such as the Department of Education’s “Race to the Top,” which encourages adoption of collaborative learning environments.

Nonetheless, a 1:1 initiative can be fraught with challenges. One of the biggest problems has been the durability of the products. It’s to be expected that kids will be very hard on computers. In Guilford County, North Carolina, school district officials decided to stop using new tablets after only several weeks of usage due to product failures: ten percent of the tablets had broken screens, and one had melted after overheating because of a problem with the charger.

Device security is another issue, as discovered by a school district in Massachusetts when they provided MacBooks to all 8th-12th graders. Students installed a program that allowed them to bypass filters put on the district’s network. To correct the situation, the IT department attempted to uninstall the software remotely, but because some students hid the application files by creatively renaming them, the uninstall process ended up crashing every student’s laptop.

Other challenges have been software integration and ease of use. A tablet or laptop that isn’t functionally useful or easy to implement can quickly become nothing more than a digital note-taker. What’s more, when students receive little guidance on how to best use the technology, the devices become a distraction as students use them for non-academic activities.

To address these problems, educators need to strongly consider a shift from consumer-grade tablets and laptops to devices specifically designed for the education market. A purpose-built device could address issues such as durability and security, and also leverage features that promote collaboration, learning and exploration. Such technology would increase schools’ return on device investment by promoting active learning, improving classroom management and better preparing students for what lies ahead.