Digital Doors was created as a place for me to blog and share resources that I think would be helpful for teachers integrating technology in meaningful ways in their classroom. My goal would be to write a blog post a week, but with my busy schedule, that doesn't happen. I write when I can and rely on nifty tools to help me share what I am finding when I don't have time to write.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

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Building Communication and Collaboration Skills with Shared Computers

We are rolling along in the Mount Vernon School district providing more and more access to technology for our students.  This school year alone, we have placed over 800 more devices in classrooms across the district.  As we continue to push forward, with available and planned resources, we have looked at several models.  The trend seems to be toward a One to One or as I like to say One to World model.  As we have researched this model and as personal devices have become more affordable and accessible to our students, we have considered whether our students need devices assigned to them that they have access 24/7 or do we need to have all classrooms equipped with technology so that students have access at school whenever needed.  We have also have implemented models that allow students who do not have access away from school to be able to check out the devices they need to continue their learning at home.  We are researching and building ideas and beginning to build toward that capacity with the funding sources we have available.

Our current reality is that we will continue to distribute devices to classrooms, as funding from our 3 year tech levy permits. This will result in more that 1750 new student devices added to our district on top of the classroom and lab devices currently available to students.  The plan with this levy is to have shared carts for each elementary grade level and secondary content area.  With our current funding, we will not get to one to one.  But have hopes to move closer and possibly even achieve that goal when we run our next tech levy in another 2 years.

As I have worked with teachers on how to best use these shared devices, I have made a few observations.

Although it is sometimes nice to have all students individually working on devices at the same time.  With this model, students can get through tasks quicker and every one can be on the same page.  But often collaboration and communication skills are not a part of this type of use.  This model doesn't always take advantage of the powerful learning students can achieve when working together. And since, for the most part, we are working with shared carts. This means that this type of work becomes an "event" when you can get the cart instead of a ubiquitous tool in the classroom. 

Managing the devices by distributing to all of the classes sharing that cart requires a different plan for using the devices.  The devices become a center in a rotation or they become one of many tools available to  to a group of students working collaboratively.  This model allows for students to work more on communication and collaboration skills.  With this model, students begin to see the devices as tools for learning and less as an event.  It does have some drawbacks such as the distributing, storing and charging devices becomes a bigger challenge as devices are assigned to one cart which may or may not be in a convenient location for everyone in the team to access.  

I see value and challenges in both models and I think that with teachers working together on a schedule, that both of these models can be possible with flexible planning.  I encourage artists in the craft of teaching to make the most of the tools you have.  Remember that the tech is the tool, not the teacher.  Think of how you can best take advantage of the situation.  The necessity to share can lead to great opportunities for small group work, project based learning, collaboration and creativity.  Make the most of this.  Build on the strengths of your current model.

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