Having one device per child in a learning environment is a luxury dreamed about for decades. With the growing ubiquity of handheld devices in the hands of school aged children and the prevalence of BYOD policies, 1:1 is now attainable. Now that 1:1 is really possible, the question arises, “Is 1:1 really necessary?”
In my current school, we are making slow but steady investments in mobile technology through the purchases of iPad minis. As with any expensive technology purchase, we are purchasing small quantities at a time and trying to maximize their use. The approach some teachers have taken is experimenting with engaging students with the devices is through a learning centre approach. Within their learning centres, one centre makes the iPad minis available for research, discovery or reinforcement of curricular concepts. This didn’t result from an application of a grand theoretical plan but out of necessary. When we only have 4 iPad minis to use, this seemed like the best way to start.
After observing this learning centre approach in action, I am seeing 1:1 in a new light. True, those students engaged in the centre with the iPads are in a 1:1 setting, but that is only one of several learning stations with each station focusing on a different skill. The approach seems to work so well that I have started questioning in my own mind whether it is really necessary for all students in a given class to have mobile technology in their hands at the same time.
To add a bit is context: the above observations are mainly from Kindergarten and early primary classrooms. However, I’ve also seen the technology being used successfully in this format in a junior level grade.
Here are some of the benefits that I have noticed thus far:
Less Distraction:: students are focused on the planned activity as the tool is being used in a really focused way;
Focus on Skill Development: the centre uses the iPad to develop a particular Skill;
Increase in Application: the various centres focus on different skills and the centre with the iPad is often used to reinforce and/or apply learning in the other centres;
Learning Centres Bring Increased Student Engagement: while this benefit mainly comes from using a learning centre approach, utilizing technology further reinforces the appeal to learning for students;
Fostering Inquiry: with an increased focus on the implementation of inquiry-based learning, learning centres naturally support inquiry and the use of mobile technology in one centre provide diversity in opportunity and access.
As a support tool, mobile devices seem to be a natural fit when the teacher uses a learning centre format to engage students in inquiry. Of all the benefits listed above, the one that really surprised me was the lack of distraction. This has always been one of the criticisms of incorporating any form of technology – the technology distracts students from the learning goal as they use the technology for activities not related to the learning. I can see this happening in a whole class 1:1 situation. However, when utilizing a smaller number, in our case 4 iPad minis, in a learning centre where students are rotating between centres, students tended to be more focused and teachers, who now naturally fall into the role of facilitator, are able to observe student activities more directly and provide that timely descriptive feedback that everyone is talking about these days.
To conclude, more observation and reflection is needed before any sort of definitive statement can be made about 1:1. For me, time and slow immersion of this learning format into more grade levels would allow a broader look at the strategy of using mobile devices in a learning centre format. In the meantime, necessity had created an environment that has challenged my thinking about 1:1 and the best way to utilize mobile devices to support learning in classrooms.