Many thanks to David Warlick for podcasting Angus King’s keynote speech from the recent North Carolina Educational Technology conference. (David posted it in three parts.) The content in this speech by Governor King at NCETC was similar to his comments for SEED in Maine on April 26, 2005, which was posted as a podcast by Bob Sprankle back in July, but he told a lot more background about the genesis of the Maine Technology Learning Initiative and how much opposition there was in Maine to this. I had read anecdotally about the influence of Seymour Papert on King about the power of 1:1, but it was great to hear him tell about this directly.

I found the stories about the STRONG opposition they faced in Maine to the laptop project surprising and troubling. King hypothesized the reasons for this opposition were rooted in people’s general resistance to change, and their feeling that what they didn’t have in school (laptops) aren’t needed for today’s kids. I suppose this story should not come as a surprise to me, given what we saw happen in Cobb County in the last year.

When I wrote the article “Digital Curriculum and The Last Mile: Providing Curricular Flexibility and Limitless Bandwidth” this week, one of my assumptions was that 1:1 laptop initiatives are the future for students at all levels. I still think this is true, but it seems obvious that such a future will be hard fought and not an “inevitability.”

Here are some other highlights from the presentation I jotted down that I found significant:

  • Leaders should NOT promise that student standardized test scores will go up in a 1:1 initiative! Writing skills will go up, because research shows students write approximately 40% more when they are keyboarding than writing by hand. But the standardized tests rarely measure the digital literacy skills students are acquiring in a laptop initiative.
  • Students in 1:1 environments should be asked to find answers, not just regurgitate answers. They can beat “traditionally” schooled students on this sort of task every time.
  • The key to education and laptop initiatives is engagement. Discipline referrals in Maine went down 75% because of the laptop project. Generally you have 10% of your kids causing 90% of your problems. These are the disrupters. When laptops are used in learning, larger numbers of your students are engaged in the learning process, and fewer are being disruptive discipline problems.
  • Breakage for laptops in Maine was around 3%, the same when students took the laptops home as when they weren’t allowed to. Breakage rates for teachers was higher.
  • The Apple deal for Maine is $300 per student per year, which is a really good price. That represents half of one percent of the total Maine education budget. You can’t get more bang for your buck than you are getting with this project.
  • King’s vision for Maine is to have the most digitally literate school graduates in the entire world.
  • Don’t think of this as a hardware project. This is about teaching and learning. A major reason we were successful in Maine was all the money that was put into teacher professional development. (Interestingly, the funding for this was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation!)
  • This can’t work with computer labs or computers on carts. You don’t have “pencil labs” or “basketball labs” that students just get to do once per week. Pencils and basketballs are used every day by those who want to excel in their use. King wants the laptop to be like another arm of the students.
  • Innovation and creativity are all we have left as a nation to maintain our standard of living and quality of life. We can’t compete with India and China on low wages.
  • Darwin answers the “how” of creation, Christianity answers the “why.”
  • Those who embrace change will flourish, those who resist change will perish.

King concluded these remarks with the same two stories about Charles Darwin and Wayne Gretsky that he used in his April speech for SEED. These are very powerful stories, in fact I quoted King’s story on Gretsky in my recent article on Digital Curriculum in Innovative Educator.

It occurred to me again that King really exemplifies the idea of great leaders being great storytellers. He is a superb speaker precisely because he is able to effectively communicate a variety of compelling anecdotes within a larger, overarching message. I am on the same page with Dan Pink in his book “A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age” with regard to the importance of helping students become capable and powerful storytellers. From what I know about Joe Redden, who was the superintendent in Cobb County when their laptop proposal was moving forward, he is a tremendous storytelling leader as well. Unfortunately in Cobb County, other community leaders (including the editor of the local paper) were dead set against the laptop project, and in the end won out. Thankfully the detractors did not win in Maine. I wonder if this type of opposition to 1:1 laptop projects will be common across the country as more projects like this are proposed? The opposition to a 1:1 project has been minimal in Floydada, Texas, but of course that is a smaller community and not nearly as visible in even the regional press. I think the difference comes down to the personalities and vision of the leaders who are involved. As I have said before, good leadership matters.

I am also struck by how important teacher education is to the future of our students, our schools, our teaching workforce, and our entire nation. The ideas in my podcast and paper about “Digital Definers of the New Teacher Education” are right in line with this. It makes me wonder, however, just where I will fit in professionally in these needs and this process of change. I am not sure at this point, I am actively applying for tenure track faculty positions starting in Fall 2006 in Curriculum and Instruction and Teacher Education. I am not sure where I am going to end up, but I know there is a tremendous need for higher education faculty and community leaders to both share and advance the vision Angus King talked about in this NCETC keynote.

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One Response to Angus King on 1:1 at NCETC

  1. Sharon Betts says:

    I am lucky to be a Technology Director in Maine who has worked with the SEED project and heard first hand Governor’s King address. 1-1 does work! Although there are problems with large implementations (support staff, additional software costs, continuous training time, etc.), these are overwhelmed by the advantages given to the students. I believe that the emphasis and reasonings given by proponents of these initiatives are off the mark. (24/7 access to information, up-to-date facts, ability for more in-depth analysis, etc). These are all true, but the main reason for 1-1 computers is that it is a necessary tool for today’s education. We no longer need to validate giving a student a pen/pencil to use in class — neither should we need to validate giving her a computer.

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