Jul 23 2007

Is One-to-One Dead?

Is One-to-One Dead?

Bruce Dixon

When The New York Times published a front-page story this year about schools giving up on one-to-one computing, many people might have felt the 1,800-word story was a death knell for the movement to empower every child with a personal, portable learning device.

Nothing could be further from the truth. While the May article certainly provoked a lot of discussion and may have dampened enthusiasm in some quarters, it brought to the surface the challenges and opportunities facing schools initiating a one-to-one program. The article highlighted a critical issue in the world of educational technology: Bad implementation will not create a successful program, an effective learning environment or an empowering atmosphere for children. The answer, of course, is not to stop the program but rather to identify the problems, fix the implementation, through all stakeholders — including students — and make it work.

Empowering Students

Teachers play a vital role in making this type of learning successful, but to this point, much of the emphasis on the changing role of the teacher has been misplaced. It’s not enough to say we must “integrate” notebooks into the curriculum; rather, there is a need to focus on the real steps required for a change in teaching practice, and this is underpinned by a change in belief and attitude. It takes a re-envisioning of how the teacher interacts with children, students and the learning process. The needed professional development in these schools must go beyond the basics of using software, hardware and superficial talk of the 21st-century work environment students today will face.

And that’s the power of the notebook as an aid for thinking — as Alan Kay so accurately states, it is “an instrument whose music is ideas.” So we continually find ourselves asking, what is possible when every child has his or her own notebook? What can students do when challenged and empowered to solve personally relevant, authentic challenges?

This is how anytime, anywhere learning prepares students for 21st-century learning and work. It allows expression; it allows creation; it allows empowerment. But it needs supportive elements to thrive, such as administrators who are willing to be farsighted in their approach to education and provide an environment for teachers, students and the community to grow. It requires teachers to reassess their training and learn to understand how to structure pedagogy around what is unknown as opposed to what is known. And it requires community support: A belief in future generations and a knowledge that empowered workers and leaders don’t spontaneously happen on their 18th birthdays, but rather develop over time based on the challenges and resources provided for them.

So, now that The New York Times article is out, what is to be done? There is a need to develop high-level leadership in states, districts and schools. There is a need for seasoned guidance from one-to-one veterans for those just embarking. There is a need to evangelize the word of one-to-one learning, changing pedagogy, and equality of condition globally.

New Ideas

As teachers and students grow more confident in their use of notebooks in all facets of their learning, we are seeing some exceptionally innovative ideas emerging from classrooms. Consider these three:

  • In New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, students in a one-to-one school developed blogs to keep in touch with one another, record personal experiences, and later, record community experiences.
  • In Maine, students regularly are involved in field trips to explore new environments, and they use a range of data collection and digital recording devices to explore and record their observations.
  • In schools across the country, students are challenging traditional communication media through Web 2.0 tools such as wikis, blogs and podcasts to share their thinking and communicate with other students across schools, states and countries.


Anytime, Anywhere learning is worth doing and these examples show the momentum continues to build.

  • The San Diego Unified School District is starting a one-to-one program using the open source Linux operating system.
  • The One Laptop Per Child project is close to starting a trial of its new machines in South Africa.
  • Lakeside School, a private 5–12 Seattle area school that once taught Bill Gates, gives notebooks to all students from seventh grade on. Students use the machines, in part, to incorporate foreign languages into daily classwork.