How 1:1 Technology Is Making School More Real

Back in 2007, I gave my students an end-of-year survey asking them how they felt their year with me had gone.  On it, one of my most quiet, thoughtful students left a comment I’ll never forget: “This year felt more real.”  Since then, I’ve made that a very intentional goal: helping students to have a classroom experience that avoids “schooliness,” where my teaching and the students’ tasks are consistently designed to be as genuine as possible.

In the fall of 2010, I was selected to be a pilot 1:1 classroom in my district and gained a class set of laptops for my students to use as needed.  In the two years since, I’ve realized that 1:1 technology can be an incredibly powerful tool in creating a classroom where learning is real.  Here’s how:

Students Write for Real Audiences

This is easily the most real application of 1:1 technology of all: the students are almost always writing for genuine audiences.  They each have their own individual blog upon which to publish their writing.  In addition, when they write opinion pieces, they submit them to the local newspaper.  When they write book reviews, they post them on Amazon.  Their short stories were made into a self-published anthology on Lulu.com.  No matter what the genre is that we’re studying, 1:1 technology allows there to always be a real purpose and audience for my students’ writing.

Writing for the teacher or to earn a grade on a report card is fake; writing for actual audiences as described above is real.

Students Work on Real Areas of Need

Classes that move forward in lockstep fashion, in which each student is consistently required to do the same thing at the same pace as everyone else, are inherently fake.  1:1 technology makes it possible to quickly assess students’ strengths and weaknesses and then differentiate or even individualize instruction based on each student’s specific needs.  Subjects like math, in particular, can benefit from this form of individualized instruction.

No More Isolation of Skills

Finally, in the best 1:1 classrooms, skills no longer need to be taught in isolation.  The distinctions between subjects get blurred as students are able to pick a topic in which they’re interested, read about that subject in depth, write collaboratively about it on a wiki or in Google Docs, Skype with an expert in that field, and so on.  Rather than using computers as virtual worksheets, when done well, 1:1 technology can be used to give students access to nothing less than the entire base of knowledge acquired throughout human history.

Here’s hoping that the technology explosion currently occurring in our schools leads to schools that feel real and which offer meaningful learning opportunities to all students.

About the Author:

Mark Pullen has been an elementary teacher for 14 years, currently teaching third grade in East Grand Rapids, MI. He’s an advocate for classroom technology integration, and writes extensively on that subject on behalf of Worth Ave Group, a leading provider of laptop, tablet computer, and iPad insurance for schools and universities.
Thumbnail source: Ruth Catchen

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