Is Your School Ready?
by Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain
Handhelds, laptops, tablet PCs...Which is best for your school?
Guest columnist Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain offers a simple rubric for administrators,
teachers, and parents to use when evaluating their school's readiness
for one-to-one computing. Print this rubric and share it with your entire
Many studies have been done, and much information -- formal and informal --
has been shared, about how one-to-one computing can be funded, implemented,
and managed in schools. Much less information is available to help a school
initially decide among the options. Perhaps a self-definition rubric is
the answer for schools seeking to implement some type of 1-1 computing
Is your school ready for one-to-one computing? Click here
to share your thoughts.
Positive outcomes from technology investments require three things: visionary
leadership, ongoing support for teacher training, and valid tools for
assessing the impact of technology on student learning.
If we are to believe recent reports and the anecdotal evidence of our colleagues, less than 30 percent of school leaders (principals, superintendents) have a driving vision for the use of technology in the 21st century classroom. This is not about budget -- this is about providing dynamic leadership for learning on a day-to-day, face-to-face, authentic basis.
A growing disconnect is occurring between school leadership and the 40+ percent
of teachers who are eager and/or prepared to use technology in the classroom.
The gap is becoming a crisis in schools where leadership has supported
or initiated purchasing initiatives (especially such high-profile technologies
as tablets, laptops, Internet-connected handhelds and such high-volume
technologies as handhelds and AlphaSmart) that create expectations within
the school community, and then has failed to articulate or energize a
vision for using those technologies.
Unfortunately for students and teachers, by and large the only tool available
to leadership for measuring the value of the purchased technology is standardized
testing. The fact that standardized testing is not an appropriate
tool for measuring 21st century learning in general, or learning with
technology in particular, has yet to be addressed in a meaningful way.
Let's suppose, however, that the dialogue about one-to-one computing choices has been ongoing -- and it is decision time. Just as they do when choosing a math text, SIS (student information system), CMS (content management system), or classroom teacher, school leadership needs to find the best "fit." In my opinion, they can use some core indicators to help make that decision. Those indicators are:
Group 1 Identifiers
- The degree to which the mathematics and history classrooms are student-centered.
(English/language arts and fine arts are not in this equation because
those disciplines are, by their very nature, generally student-centered.)
- The degree to which the science curriculum is project and problem-based.
- The size and flexibility of the initial budget for change.
- The robustness and flexibility of the network.
- The size of the IT staff in relation to predicted technical needs.
Other, causally related, identifiers, which can be rated as High, Average, Low, are:
Group 2 Identifiers
- The degree to which the school community tolerates risk-taking in
- The degree to which the school community tolerates change in the curriculum
- The soundness of the budget in a 3-5 year projection.
- The flexibility of the IT staff (knowledge base, training, experience,
- The degree to which learning is differentiated.
I highly recommend that Intel's Visual
Ranking tool be used to sort out and personalize the interrelationships
between those identifiers. I have, however, also created a simple rubric
schools can use:
for a printable version of the rubric.
What do the values tell you?
- If the majority of the initial values are 3, it does not matter which
portable technology is adopted -- the probability of success is high.
However, the best solution would probably be a combination of tablet
PC's and mobile sets of Internet connected handheld devices.
- If the sum of the initial values is 20-25, the more conservative choice
of one-to-one laptops is indicated. If the low scores are identifiers
3, 4, 5, and 9, however, because of cost, handhelds would be a better
- A sum of between 14-19 would indicate that a limited number of mobile
laptop carts and handheld kits would be a choice to consider as an entry-level
solution, for the school might not be ready for a large-scale solution
in terms of either cost or commitment.
- A sum less than 14 should send up a red flag. If identifiers 2, 9,
and 10 are strong, a limited handheld program is indicated. By and large,
however, the school would do better to stick with a desktop lab solution.
- Identifiers1, 2, 6, 7, and 10 are focused on value-added to the student experience. When the majority of those are weighted +2, even with initial values of 2, a laptop or tablet PC solution is indicated. Consideration even can be given to cellular solutions. Conversely, weighting these +1 or 0 indicates a lack of vision for instructional change, and argues against anything more than a minimal solution beyond desktop labs.
- Identifiers 3, 4, 5, and 8, when given a +2 weight, indicate a pragmatic vision for a portable solution and, when coupled with Initial Values of 1 and 2, indicate that the school is ready for a limited solution whose accountability is measurable: laptops for writing tasks and handhelds in the science classroom (extensions to the TI 83 for example).
- Identifier 9, when given a low initial value and a weight of 0 or +1, is another red flag. At the very least, it suggests that a school-wide solution be adopted, and that it should be a conservative solution with good outside support (e.g. not handhelds or mixed laptop platforms).
We return, then, to what is becoming a technology adage: "learning goals first, technology second." I don't agree with that. The most powerful aspect of all the one-to-one technologies is their ability to realign, redirect, and recreate learning goals. Acceptance of any of them means acceptance of the risks and discomfort inherent in educational change. The adage needs to be reworded: "Learning goals and technology go forward hand-in-hand."
graduate of Middlebury College and Rutgers University, Elizabeth
Sky-McIlvain has been a teacher and school librarian for more
than 30 years. She has been a classroom teacher of English,
literacy, history, health, and human sexuality; a coach; and
a coordinator of PC and Mac labs. She began using computers
in 1971, programming bibliographic search strategies for the
Rutgers School of Library Service. Her first personal computer
was an Apple IIGS, which she used to develop a groundbreaking
digital grade report form and contest-winning HyperStudio multimedia
classroom projects for Portledge
School in Locust Valley, New York. She developed and coordinated
the school's laptop program, created the school Web site, and
won several awards for creative technology curriculum integration
projects. Most recently, she served as technology department
head and teacher at The
Chapin School in New York City. Currently, Sky-McIlvain
teaches an experimental course in 21st century literacy to 8th
graders in laptop classrooms at Maine's Freeport
Middle School, and provides teachers with training and support
for integrating technology into the curriculum through Least
Tern, a company she runs with her husband and fellow educator
Article by Lorrie Jackson
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