Every year, technological diversity increases at the Lausanne Laptop Institute, an annual event for school officials who are using or considering notebook computers or tablets as tools for learning. The Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tenn., hosts the Institute every July so that educators, technology support personnel and administrators can collaborate and learn strategies for incorporating mobile computing devices into their classrooms.
In a world where "one size fits all" no longer applies, institutions with one-to-one programs must confront this question, among others: How do we retool our programs to keep pace with change, including the "bring your own device" (BYOD) approach that so many schools are now either implementing or considering?
Here are some basic realities to bear in mind in the face of so much change.
Technology shouldn't drive the curriculum. It does sometimes loom as an obnoxious backseat driver, however, trying to tell us which direction to go and how fast we should be going to get there.
Pedagogy — the process or path by which a teacher leads students to knowledge — can be either hindered or enhanced by technology. Whether it's working within the limitations of a particular tool to present a lesson or conveying the material some other way when a projector bulb burns out or a computer battery runs out of juice, good teachers always find a way to maintain the integrity of the curriculum.
Flexibility is key. Hardware diversity creates its own set of problems, shifting the technology focus from "What software do I need to complete my task?" to "What set of skills do I want my students to have?" Educators must adapt to this new reality and make a concerted effort to teach students how to produce quality work using a wide array of tools.
Naturally, some teachers and students will favor one type of hardware or operating system over another, but support staff must make every effort to be device and platform agnostic. The goal, after all, is to teach certain skill sets, not to teach a particular technology.
In a BYOD environment, IT support staff must be fluent in every platform in order to best support teachers and students. It's also their job to help alleviate biases and to raise awareness that the same task can be completed in many ways.
Access matters most. It's inevitable that one student will have a built-like-a-tank, no-frills notebook that will last him through the Mayan apocalypse, while another will have one that sparkles in the sunlight and glows like a UFO in the night sky. Even as one model becomes a status symbol for the "cool kids," there will be other devices in your classrooms that are hand-me-downs from older siblings or held together by duct tape and a prayer.
11 The number of years the Lausanne Laptop Program has been operational
Ultimately, it doesn't matter which device students are using to do their schoolwork. What matters is that they have access to functioning equipment, when they need it, in order to advance their learning. For some schools, this means having a loaner pool of devices on hand for students who lack their own; for others, it means requiring students to work in groups and share devices to complete learning activities in which a computer or Internet access is needed.
Support all stakeholders. It's easy for IT staff to become hyper-focused on hardware support, but students and teachers need just as much, if not more, attention. Hardware doesn't become frantic when files are lost or screens are broken, nor does it rant when printer drivers are unavailable.
The goal of many technology initiatives is to make the technology as transparent as possible, but nothing puts technology under a glaring spotlight faster than support and integration problems.
In the end, the path down which we are leading our students is more valuable than the vehicle by which we travel. A one-to-one program is as much about philosophy as it is about the technology. The two are inherently connected and inseparable; thus, support staff must be invested in the climate of the school community and fully committed to the pedagogical justification for allowing students to choose which device they will be using in the classroom.
The BYOD philosophy is alive and well in our one-to-one programs; whether or not we allow these devices on our campuses is the question. As student-owned smartphones, tablets and notebooks become more numerous and advanced, it's going to become increasingly important that we re-evaluate our policies and adapt as needed. No matter what the trend, educational excellence should always be our highest priority.