If Every Student Had a Computer

So Sheryl and I have spent the last week here in Melbourne kicking off a four-month PLP project with 120 or so teachers from Victoria who are part of a pilot project where all of their students will have netbooks in hand in the next few months. There seems to be a growing commitment here to put technology in the hands of kids (instead of spending huge sums on stuff that students can’t use outside of the classroom) and to thinking about how practice and pedagogy changes when that happens. There are a number of other initiatives that are attempting to reframe the way Victorian teachers think about teaching, namely something called E5 (pdf) that I’ll be giving some more attention to on the plane ride home but that at first blush has some interesting language that focuses more on learning than teaching. And that’s really what our work here has been about, trying to create opportunities for teachers to be learners first in both face to face and online communities, and in doing so, helping them see ways to implement technology in ways that go beyond just publishing.

We’ve been doing a lot of thinking and questioning around the idea of what it would be like if every 5th grade student and above had ubiquitous access in hand, and there’s no question that’s a huge shift. (When I made the slide at right for a part of our kickoff presentation, I was surprised at the reaction it got on Flickr.) If this is really where we hope to get, and I think it should be, the required shifts in educator practice and school culture are significant, as are the implications for professional development. It’s not just about if every student had a computer; it’s about if every teacher had a computer as well. (As opposed to if every teacher had a whiteboard.) Imagine if our students were being taught in systems where technology was just a natural part of the way we created and constructed and connected and learned, that it was how we do our business. Sure, things would be different. There would be distractions. (We’re having an online conversation about “attention literacy” already.) And there would be teachable moments. But don’t we have enough faith that we would learn our way out of those challenges (and others I haven’t mentioned) to come out the other side with a more relevant, effective experience for our kids? One that is more in tune with the way the world seems to be headed?

What I’ve liked about this trip is this sense that I’m getting, here at least, that some people are beginning to think about 1-1 in ways that scale, and that it’s not just about technology for technology’s sake but that there is some real, powerful potential in a world where every student AND every teacher has a computer and access to the sum of human knowledge we’re building online. Those leading this work may not feel all that comfortable with that vision in their own practice yet, but they seem more able to put that aside and and see things from a more long-range perspective. We’ll see how it plays out, but in that regard, at least, it’s been a pretty refreshing visit.