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Our Confounding 1:1 Question, Open or Focused?

Moral Dilemma - is a situation in which there is a choice to be made between two options, neither of which completely resolves the situation in an acceptable way.

Nearing the end of our first year of full 1:1 implementation with iPads, our learners are wrestling the question; Should mobile device usage be open and autonomous, or restricted and focused to curriculum?

Option One (Open) - As school technology coordinator, I have recently experienced a professional rebirth as a result of getting better connected to a personal learning network. Social media interactions and ubiquitous access to information have allowed me personalize my learning while also allowing me to share my learning transparently with others. Several of my colleagues have enjoyed similar awakenings with their professional learning. Their experiences are helping to shift pedagogy resulting in a more student centered, digitally connected, collaborative learning environment. These teachers indicate learning experiences have increased relevancy, their students are gaining experience with learning relationships, and improving decision making through authentic practice. 

"The Internet is the most powerful mechanism we can imagine to match perfectly individuals who want to learn something, with people who can help them learn it."

Option Two (Focused) - As school technology coordinator, I have pleasure of supporting learning primarily through instructional technology integration. Part of my responsibility is to support teachers and their instructional practices. This is our first year of full 1:1 implementation. This means seventy-five percent of our teachers are teaching in a digitally enhanced environment for the first time. In their own words, they feel the stress of being first-year teachers again. It should come as no surprise that an overwhelming majority of our teachers would like to see student iPads focused to academic functions to limit distractions to classroom learning. Like most schools, we filter web content, but student iPads currently have unrestricted access to the app store, iMessage, and social media. Games, app notifications, and social media interactions are the primary distractors frustrating even our most experienced, tech-savvy, teachers. Some of our students, and many of our students' parents have also indicated their preferences for more academic focus through restricting the school issued iPads.

Dilemma - As our leadership discusses the merits and feasibility of restricting thousands of iPads to an academically focused state, I'm torn between my philosophical preference of socially connected, self-determined learning, and serving my colleagues' wishes of limiting distractions through a 1:1 device focused to curricular applications. Both options have captured my attention, although this dilemma will not likely have an either / or solution.

Other considerations - A friend and colleague, Megan Moran, recently surveyed 230 mathematics students, grades nine through twelve, asking them how the iPad has impacted their learning experiences.
  • 73% of the respondents stated the iPad helped them communicate and connect more readily with their teachers and their instruction.
  • 67% of the respondents stated the iPad helped with their note-taking and organization of assignments.
  • 43% of the respondents viewed the iPad as a distraction to their learning.
  • 27% of the respondents agree with restricting student iPads from distractors such as social media notifications and social gaming.
Last week, Brandon, a graduating senior who purchased his iPad, said, "Teachers need to understand that a worksheet saved as a PDF, and shared to us through Notability, is still a worksheet." He went on to say that he enjoys using technology, but that the iPad has not significantly changed his learning experiences at school.
Another friend and colleague, Jen Krause, recently shared research indicating adolescents struggle with focus and decision-making partially because the frontal lobes of the adolescent brain, the gate-keepers of decisions, have yet to fully develop. She, and other teachers, are saying students generally find it difficult to self-regulate, and focus on academic tasks.

"The problem with the adolescent is that they may not have the insider judgment, because their frontal lobes aren't completely online yet, to know when to stop." 
Dr. Frances Jensen - "The Teenage Brain"

As I ponder this dilemma of open versus focused, I am pulled back to my philosophical center with the help of thought-change leaders such as Alan November, Will Richardson, and George Couros. These educators remind us that the designs of learning need to change if we strive to provide new levels of achievement and understanding.

"Only when we look at it from the point of view of those we serve, can we truly be innovative in teaching, learning, and leadership." - George Couros

"Clearly, we must move our focus beyond the device and toward the design of learning." 

Alan November's questions from earlier this year hit me squarely in the face. We are currently "technology rich and innovation poor." Being our first year of complete 1:1 implementation, our focus is on the day-to-day capabilities and limitations of the student iPads. This conclusion tells me that my role moving forward should be centered on assisting my colleagues to become connected, transparent learners. Thus, they will become better prepared to guide students towards entrepreneurial, digitally connected learning once they have experienced this autonomy, and personal mastery, for themselves. My conclusions may be wrong, but my thoughts are heavily influenced by my own rebirth as a learner. We are all learners first.

"... transformation has little to do with giving every student a mobile Internet device. It has everything to do with changing the narrative of classrooms in response to these new affordances." 

Have you experienced similar challenges to your educational philosophy? What are your recommendations for solving this particular dilemma? Turn my reflection, and this information, into a learning conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comments section.

Related Reading and Resources

Why Teens Are Impulsive... - NPR Health News

photo credit: Alternatives via photopin (license)


David said…
The question you are pondering is certainly one that I would imagine many consider.

As a designer, I think the question or provocation focuses around this: What do you want the student learning experience to be? You know that this question drives much of my thinking, but until you answer that, then questions about distraction, digital worksheets, student vs teacher vs tech coordinator vs parents wants and needs will not have a clear focus for resolution and ideation.

The iPad is a terrific device that can connect students to the resources of the mightiest invention of ever created by human beings - the Internet.

Schools that do not take advantage of that, and scale that, and work with students to thoughtfully apply that to an understanding of how to become a connected learner over a lifetime should not have a 1:1 program, at least in my mind.

Adding devices is a potential catalyst for cultural change. That said, that change takes years. I would encourage patience, community dialogue, and continued exploration of the application of the devices to learning, while at the same time, working to understand the dramatic shifts that are occurring to the landscape of your learning culture.
Thanks David. You are reminding me of the important step of identifying cultural trends relating to desired learning experiences. I remember discussing this with you earlier this year. I will be having discussions with our Innovation Coaches over the next few weeks with the purpose of identifying trends and future application. Your comments and insights are appreciated. Bob
Tom Donovan said…
We're finishing the third year of our 1-1 program (grades 5-8) and our philosophy from the beginning has been to start from a position of openness and only walk back from that when absolutely necessary. As a result, we have relatively few technical restrictions on student iPads. Instead, we emphasize expectations for responsible use on the one hand, and school rules and policies that apply to student behavior in general (instead of adding a bunch of new rules just for the tech) on the other. We also give school administrators the ability to "lock down" individual devices when circumstances warrant. That doesn't happen very often but, more importantly, isn't the default condition.

I remember an early experience in a 4th-6th grade project-based learning program that was the most student-centered learning environment I've ever seen (sadly, that was 20 years ago). At an early parent event, a parent commented that she didn't think this environment was right for her child because the child was not very organized. One of the teachers responded that there is no better place for a student to learn to be organized than one in which they are given responsibility for organizing their own learning. I don't question the research on the adolescent brain, but I challenge the conclusion that our response should be to impose "focus" from outside. How do we expect students to learn to be good decision-makers if, at every turn, we take away opportunities for them to make decisions about their learning (and to experience the consequences of those decisions)? And I'm not talking about decisions like PowerPoint vs. Google Slides vs. poster board for a project. Your student, Brandon, nails it, by the way. (What does his comment tell us about the teenage brain?)

Another feature of that project-based learning environment was the presence of one computer for every three students. It was back before CIPA and all the fear about students doing bad things online. Students even had email accounts that they used to correspond with outside experts who helped them with their authentic projects. We had little or no misbehavior and the students took very good care of the equipment (something else I haven't seen the likes of since then). I believed the major reason for this was that the kids' work mattered to them, having arisen from their own interests, and the tools we provided helped them do this meaningful work.

Twenty years later, I still believe that if we empower students to do work that matters to them, then we won't have to spend nearly as much time worrying about whether and how to lock them out of things they (not surprisingly) find more engaging than the work we make them do.
Hello Tom, and thank you for your thorough comments. I am picking up Daniel Pink all through your argument, and I agree with your belief in the power of meaningful endeavors. Previously, I have written about a personal domain for every student. One of my arguments for this was to provide students a canvas to share their learning to authentic audiences. Digital contributors to learning are less likely to stain their canvas with irresponsible mayhem. Thanks again Tom - you put a smile on my face! Bob
Natasha Monsaas-Daly said…
As a school district that has recently gone 1:1 for our entire district, we are experiencing some of the same questions you are. We began this journey with an open environment. However, we are certainly hearing teachers (and admin) request a more focused option.
I, myself, have gone back and forth on the options. One of the chief complaints of the open environment is the distraction to the student. However, I believe in education it is our job to prepare students for a real world environment. College, their future occupations, will be full of distractions - the time is now to teach students how to effectively navigate those waters. I also believe the open option lends itself to more transformative teaching and a growth mindset in the classroom. The focused option does not truly eliminate distractions, it simply might minimize some. Students can always be distracted by their own personal devices, by the student next to them, by what is happening at home, in the hallways, etc. Additionally, students will always be able to find a way around the barriers we put before them. I would prefer to teach students how to navigate this, to the best I can, within the confines of the school setting.
An open option really asks teachers to look at student engagement in their classroom. If a student is so easily distracted, one must consider how the information is being delivered. Increasing student engagement can help eliminate some of those distractions.
I'm not sure there is an easy answer to this question. What works for one certainly doesn't work for all. In my opinion, the focused option is the easier option. But, easier isn't always right.
Thank you Natasha. Distractions are everywhere, aren't they? Could you share a few suggestions for teachers wanting to increase engagement in the classroom? Also, is engagement itself enough? David and Tom's comments above suggest student empowerment. I admire your purpose in helping students develop their decision-making capacity. The skills you mention extend far beyond the reach of formal education. Doing things the way they've always been done does seem easier, but does this prepare our students to #FutureReady? Thanks again for contributing to this discussion - your comments are appreciated. Bob
Joe Bires said…
This is a great post. I have two thoughts; one philosophic and one more practical.

First Philosophically, I think what you really are saying is what is the future of education; learning (which is open) or teaching (which is what you are calling Focused)? The answer is obvious to me as I think it is obvious to you; the future of learning (open). But your post is about next year, I think the future for most of the teachers in your school and the future for you and several other connected teachers are two very different futures and thus your dilemma. Perhaps therefore your question is not; what should we do, but rather what can we do?

Therefore let me be more practical by saying that in my opinion the most important characteristic of effective leadership isn’t vision, rather it’s service; service by listening and addressing the needs of the people you are trying to lead. Based on your post the vast majority are saying we need to focus the program; therefore I would do just that;

I would definitely limit what apps students have access to and I would also encourage some technology instructional coaching for the teachers to understand how to use iPads effectively; i.e.. often when teachers give students an assignment that involves technology they give them more time and less structure than a pen/paper based activity which allows for the students to go off and get lost in the technology. Rather you can do learning activities with the iPad that are shorter duration and more finite, that are tightly woven into a lesson. Then you can slowly build the capacity for each student to monitor their own learning and ease students into project-based learning (which the iPad does an excellent job of supporting).

Also look at when exactly the iPads are being used in what subjects, by what teachers and who is not using them. Then you can start to develop a curricular plan so that each class is actually using their iPad in a consistent way for learning. if a teacher in one grade is using the iPad in science and another grade isn’t; then it’s time to pair those teachers up or have the iPad using teacher find some apps for the non-ipad user.

You always have to remember that giving access doesn’t mine all students have the opportunity to learn (but since they can download any app they do have equal opportunity to goof around), unless you have a curricular plan that clearly articulates and supports opportunities for all students in all classes to use their iPad for learning. Access is determined by the teacher and they are asking for structure (specifically for students) and I am suggesting that perhaps the teachers themselves would benefit from a curricular structure. This way there is clear guidance, direction, and expectation for every teacher to use the iPads. Off task students are often off task not because they are bored, but because the structure of the classroom is facilitating their off task behavior.

The way to get the teachers who are not connected to a personal learning network on board is to slowly expose them to the ideas you are gaining from your PLN and being transparent about how you are gaining those ideas. Eventually teachers will realize that there is a wealth of people available to help them. Point them in the direction of a few teachers on twitter who are using the iPad successfully in a class similar to them and just have them read the twitter feed. Eventually you will turn a hungry teacher who is waiting to be fed into a fisherman themselves; slowly, over time.

In conclusion, be a servant leader and give them all (students and teachers) what they want; structure. Build up some stock of good will and then continue to build towards a vision of open, connected learning.
Hello Joe, and thank you for re-framing the dilemma and for your thorough explanation of your thoughts on the topic of open vs. focused. After thinking about this a bit, I agree with defining my role as a servant leader. Patience needs to be part of my thought process as I help learners attain the knowledge and skills they desire to grow personally and professionally. I appreciate the time and thought you put into your comments. I found them to be very helpful. Thank you for contributing to this discussion, and to our learning. Bob

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