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Pedagogy Is King

Refocusing the conversation

1:1—one computer to one child—is too limiting a concept, because 1:1 is just about the boxes; 1:1 is just about technology. 1:1 says nothing about pedagogy—about what a student is supposed to do with that computing device he or she has. Not focusing on pedagogy may have been excusable in the early days of 1:1, since just getting to 1:1 was hard enough! However, with the emergence of a new generation of low-cost but highly functional mobile computing devices (e.g., netbooks and cell phone computers), technology per se is no longer the real challenge. It is time to refocus on pedagogy, on how the technology should be used to fulfill the core mission of a district.

No Longer Just an Add-On

What is the pedagogical strategy, then, that teachers should adopt for putting all those computers to good use? SETDA (State Educational Technology Directors Association) has a provocative suggestion: “Ensure that technology tools and resources are used continuously and seamlessly for instruction, collaboration and assessment.” (Their guidelines are included in SET DA’s document “Class of 2020: Action Plan for Education,” available at

While that statement is a tad enigmatic, “continuously and seamlessly” certainly does call for a dramatic change from current practices. As the CTO of a district that is moving to 1:1 commented, “So far we have used computers only as add-ons to the curriculum.” For example, teachers wheel in a COW (“computers on wheels”—a computer cart) for 30 minutes of writing or for Internet research. Are the computers an integral part of those lessons? If the cart wasn’t available would the lesson be substantially compromised? Good teachers have a pedagogically fine plan B ready for those instances when the computers become unavailable (network down, batteries uncharged, wrong software version loaded, etc.)

We need to be clear: We are not chastising schools for using computers as “add-ons” to their regular curriculum. Computers in the classroom have been in short supply—up to now. Using computers only as “add-ons” is a strategy for exploiting a limited-access resource.

But when each and every student has his or her own computing device, that device should become the hub of the student’s work-—just as professional knowledge workers use their computers as the hub of their work. And since the student’s 1:1 computer will be a mobile device, the student can seamlessly transition from working on an assignment at school to working on it at home, going to the Internet with a question or collaborating on a report with a peer.

Act Now

Importantly and wisely, SETDA is mute on exactly what “continuously and seamlessly” means. Each district now has the opportunity to engage in pedagogical conversations in order to unpack and define what learning “continuously and seamlessly” means in their local context.

That aforementioned CTO whose district is moving to 1:1 reflected on a recent team meeting: “For the first time in 12 years, we discussed pedagogy, not technology, at our monthly tech coordinators’ meeting.” You could hear the joy in his voice; he and his team were truly focused on furthering the educational mission of the district. Finally, technology, in his district, is going to play a central role in pedagogy—a central role in the daily lives of teachers and children.

When will members of your district have those kinds of conversations? It is from those conversations about what “continuously and seamlessly” means that understanding arises, as well as buy-in. One is more likely to walk the talk when one has personally engaged in the talk.

Cathleen Norris is a Regents Professor at the University of North Texas and co-founder and chief education architect at GoKnow in Ann Arbor, Mich. Elliot Soloway is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan and co-founder and chief technology officer at GoKnow.

Visit Cathleen and Elliot’s new Tech Disruptions blog at