I received an email this week from Tom LeCloux, who was a high school principal for over thirty years and intensely involved in the 1:1 laptop immersion project at Oak-Land Junior High School in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. Tom’s message reinforces what I have observed, echoed, and heard previously from leaders like Angus King. Oak-Land’s laptop initiative is showcased by Apple Computer in the profile, “1 to 1 Learning Program Prepares Students for Success.” Here is an excerpt from Tom’s email to me:

Having been totally engrossed with the Oak-Land 1:1 program for the past five years I didn’t realize the almost universal lack of understanding amongst educators as to why 1:1 is as vital and as critical as the 3R’s for students today. I assumed that educators had an interest and wanted technology in the hands of their students. This was generally a mistaken assumption. The educators and administrators I have dealt with have not investigated the possibilities and the student and staff learning advantages of 1:1 and they do not care to find out about the good things nor the problems. The interest and motivation in providing the required leadership to get 1:1 off the ground was not a high priority with most the administrators with whom I have discussed Oak-Land’s 1:1 approach and program. 1:1 was generally viewed as a financial burden that could not be afforded. I take the position that money can be found in current budgets if 1:1 is a high priority and administrators are willing to look at new ways to allocate funds to make 1:1 happen. Again, the leadership quandary was evident.

I am not disillusioned, more than anything disappointed in the lack of interest on the part of educational leaders to pursue 1:1 programs. With 1:1 a reality, I have personally witnessed student learning and classroom instruction improve significantly. Oak-Lands program was evaluated by NCREL, now Learning Point, and the evaluator issued a very definitive report that a positive learning environment was evident at Oak-Land as a result of 1:1. The commentary that Angus King and you make in the podcasts is reassuring that 1:1 on a 24/7basis, not laptops on carts, is the only way to go.

Good leadership matters, in all contexts. This is clearly true in educational settings where 1:1 laptop initiatives are concerned. I am continuing to work on my own literature review of 1:1 research and determine what focus I will take in my dissertation about 1:1 laptop immersion projects. It seems the leadership element is a key factor (perhaps THE cornerstone factor) that has not received much formal research attention to date.

Tom is exactly right, local funds CAN be found to launch and support 1:1 laptop initiatives if educational leaders cast the vision and make it a district priority. Floydada ISD is a great case in point. I will be writing a district profile about Floydada ISD and its use of local funds to extend 1:1 laptop immersion to all students in grades 9-12 (so all students in grades 6-12 now have laptops) for Interactive Educator’s upcoming winter issue.

As educators, parents, and community members concerned about the educational and vocational future of our students, we need to find ways to inform others about the NEED for, benefits and challenges of 1:1 laptop immersion projects. We need to encourage school leaders to read profiles of schools like Oak-Land JHS to learn how success in 1:1 initiatives IS NO ACCIDENT. Leadership plays a pivotal role, and the conception that leaders have and share about teaching and learning in the 21st century is key.

It is sobering and challenging to hear how many people do NOT currently share a common vision about what teaching and learning should look and feel like in the 21st Century. I am continuing to read an excellent book I would highly commend to you, titled “John Dewey and the Art of Teaching : Toward Reflective and Imaginative Practice.” In the book, authors Simpson, Jackson and Aycock highlight how important EDUCATIONAL AIMS (goals) are to classroom practices. On pages 22-23, they write:

Dewey thus implies that the methods and outcomes of teaching cannot be separated from the teacher’s aims. As the teacher’s method is controlled by her aims, she produces outcomes that are artistically and aesthetically satisfying. But the content that is intrinsically a part of one’s method— such as respect for students, appreciation of democratic values, and enthusiasm for one’s art– is also taught indirectly (LW 10:218).

Neither the authors nor John Dewey are explicitly referring to digital literacy or 1:1 laptop immersion here– but they are pointing out that our EDUCATIONAL AIMS: The goals or ends we hope to achieve through the educational experience, are key in defining what we do in schools. This is why conceptions of digital literacy are essential for 21st century education. We must be focused on goals that reach far beyond acceptable or even exemplary performance on state mandated standardized assessments. We must constantly strive to prepare students for their future, with the complex skill set that it will require. And we must have visionary leaders to support us in this noble and challenging endeavor.

The slogan of Oak-Land Junior High School is “Preparing Kids for a Digital World.” We all need to commit to this objective, and recognize that many of the traditional educational practices in which we were all steeped in our own academic preparation will not suffice for the 21st century digital native.

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