By Frances Bradburn
Everyday Education 

What 1:1 Technology Can’t Replace


Several weeks ago, Meredith Licht (Brevard High School English teacher) and I wrote columns about the recent 1:1 learning initiative at all Transylvania County high schools. Remember that 1:1 means that every teacher and student has a computing device for his or her personal use 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the entire school year. Together we shared many thoughts and examples of the possibilities that a 1:1 teaching and learning environment can provide our school system’s children.

But no magic bullet exists for educating every single child at every single grade level. With this in mind, today’s column looks at what we can’t expect a 1:1 learning initiative to accomplish for our teachers, students, or community. It is a realistic, albeit glass-half-full, look at the issues facing our schools when they implement any technology initiative, especially a 1:1 initiative.

1) First and foremost, technology can’t replace a good teacher. As a matter of fact, the 1:1 environment requires a great deal of planning by the teacher, especially when first introduced. In the October column I mentioned that students have several options for completing assignments and even for deciding how to learn a subject or concept. This requires careful classroom management, flexibility, and a breadth of knowledge that good teachers use to guide students to accurate and applicable information. Technology fosters collaborative group work, an important skill in today’s business world, but a strategy that calls for teachers to create processes that ensure that every student does his or her fair share of the assignment. Most importantly, good teachers inspire. They lead and guide their students, pointing them toward their strengths and helping them learn to compensate for their weaknesses. The spark that good teachers foster and facilitate is irreplaceable.

2) Technology cannot replace other ways of learning. Hands-on experiments, outdoor exploration, physical exercise, art and music, simple conversation and spirited debates all can be supported by technology resources. But laptops, interactive white boards, cell phones, and tablets cannot substitute for Hiking in the woods, playing an instrument, examining insects in a stream or under a microscope, or speaking clearly and intelligently before an audience. Technology is a resource that may assist students in doing all these activities; it should not take the place of them.

3) Neither the 1:1 learning initiative nor technology in general can promise to improve a student’s standardized test scores. Yes, we have many examples of discipline and suspension rates dropping and attendance increasing when a 1:1 initiative is introduced. Those factors may help raise test scores; after all, students who are in class and interested will certainly learn more than those who are not! But the benefits of technology don’t always correlate directly with higher test scores. New ways of thinking and learning; skills in research, the organization of information, and presentation; and even divergent, critical thinking do not necessarily translate into a specific number on a testing grid. But they do ensure greater success for college, career, and life — a pretty substantial trade-off!

4) Finally, the 1:1 learning initiative will not save Transylvania County Schools money. Computers must be refreshed, the schools’ and community’s connectivity improved, and new technologies purchased as they become available and important. But it does change how existing dollars are spent. Instead of purchasing expensive, quickly outdated textbooks, teachers can download free or inexpensive Web resources and applications, with the newest information only a click away. Previously paid hefty paper and copier fees can be transferred to help fund Chromebook refresh. Equally important, Transylvania County’s vision of a 21st Century education for our children may actually become an economic development engine for the community, a signal to the state and nation that we are an exciting, intelligent place to live and, most especially, to raise a family, grow up and older, and thrive. Now that’s cost effective!

Technology, particularly a 1:1 learning initiative, is an important ongoing investment in our children’s and our community’s future, but one of many investments we will have made over our county’s history. It is a significant resource that will help good teachers encourage the development of the whole child as he or she grows into a happy, healthy, and successful adult.

(Frances Bryant Bradburn, former Director of Instructional Technology at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, is currently working with schools and school systems interested in 1:1 implementation through a partnership between the North Carolina New Schools Project and the Golden LEAF Foundation.)


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