Many districts are actively implementing One to One mobile device programs. This 21st Century strategy to ensure that every student has a mobile device is based on the premise that the provision of a mobile device is a precursor to 21st Century Learning and the acquisition of 21st Century skills ... but is it?
Did placing enough novels in each elementary classroom result in improved reading? Likely not, as a more appropriate strategy would have been providing novels or leveled readers at the appropriate instructional level. (click here for more details on leveled readers).
What are the key 21st Century Skills that we want to provide to our students?
4. Critical Thinking
These are the skills outlined by The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (click here for more). Several other organizations have slight variations to this list but these "4 C's" as they are commonly referred, capture the key skills we believe our students should develop along with the traditional "3 Rs". (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic).
Does the provision of a mobile device for each student, and the potential environment of students sitting in rows of desks with their face behind a screen, lead to 21st Century Skills?
Now picture a 21st Century classroom built on the practice of differentiated instruction. What would it look like? (click here for more on differentiated instruction)
A classroom that is responsive to the individual learning preferences of each child would not likely be setup with each child sitting behind a screen. Instead, one would see a dynamic environment with many students working in groups, some students using their mobile device to assist with the inquiry problem they have been tasked to solve. Other students would be using manipulatives as they work creatively to solve a problem. The teacher may be working with a small group of students providing additional instruction based on their readiness to move on with the topic or problem at hand.
Technology may assist some groups as they use Google Docs to work collaboratively on a problem, while other students work on their presentation using a shared platform to prepare a presentation.
The group setting with a small number of devices may indeed be the best environment for teaching the key 21st Century skills of: collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.
As with any resource, print based or digital, in the hands of the skilled practitioner, students will be motivated to learn. A one to one laptop program can work in the hands of a skilled teacher.,A one to one laptop program used within the principles of differentiated instruction can prove to be a truly engaging strategy that can result in improved student achievement. One to one programs that are based on teacher directed notes with all students copying the notes and working on the same low level activity is a continuation of a 20th Century teaching model that needs to be refreshed to match the needs of today's iGeneration of students.