Technology in Education Integration: People not Laptops

   
   
   
   
   

I am the Director General (aka Superintendent) of a rural-urban public school board, located approximately 80 miles east of Montreal. In our public school district in Quebec, Canada, we are one of the very few educational districts in North America that has pioneered a free 1:1 laptop deployment for all students/teachers from Grades 3-11. Our territory covers an area the approximate size of Maryland. Our student population is slightly over 6500 students, of which 5600 Apple wireless laptops were provided, starting in 2003.

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We have experienced everything, I believe, related to the "highs" and "lows" of integrating technology into the classroom. Our School Board, the Eastern Townships School Board, uses the provincial curriculum, socio-constructivism in approach, as the basis for integration. In almost all factors of successful deployment, we have found that one can always effectively deal with the technical issues and challenges.

The area that needs constant and consistent support is in the area of Professional Development, for both teachers and students. It is a major mistake to assume that children will simply integrate technology into their learning patterns. The natural curiosity of a child allows for exploration without fear but it does not convey specific and intrinsic learning. They still need to be taught how the laptop can make a difference.

Moving towards the educators, fear of loss of control over the learning environment represents a major issue to contend with. Also, as we discovered in our support of teachers in Uruguay, the role and "status" of a teacher is very important and there is a level of discomfort in having students outpace the teachers in learning how to use technology.

Our students do show our teachers how to problem solve in using technology and for some teachers, this brings them into a zone of discomfort. Some teachers respond well, others not as well. I can go on for pages on this matter but I hope this illustrates my reference to the "Human Factor."

One last point, in our School Board, we are very saddened by the fact that we have offered to the folks at the OLPC our experiences and understanding but to no avail. It seems that the desire to hear from "others" is not well appreciated. Nicholas Negroponte has been very gracious and sent me the contacts to OLPC deployment persons in Africa and South America, with no responses back.

But then again, in education, the sharing of Best Practices is talked about often but rarely done. Below is a brief practical guide to ensuring a successful deployment.

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Basic Truths For a Successful Technology Integration Plan:

Education really doesn't like change, whether it is "top-down" or by "local consensus". As in any organization on this planet, you will always have 10-15% of individuals who won't like any-thing to do with change, plain and simple. So, you need to focus on the those who are willing and wanting. The Early Adapters are not, repeat, not the people that need the most of the support. You must focus on the Mid Adapters to ensure success. As for the Late Adapters, be patient!

If the technology (laptops-infrastructure) is not reliable (95% regular, sustainable
and supported), then the teachers will simply put the machines to the side. We have learnt this from experience and regardless of how much you tell the teachers that teaching with laptops is fantastic, wonderful, inspiring, it will simply not replace the fact that if the laptops or the internet connections are not reliable and working well, your deployment is in serious trouble.

The curriculum must support the integration of technology and be based on an approach that becomes transformational, in both learning and teaching contexts. Standards-based curriculum simply doesn't work well with laptops. This means that teacher professional development must focus on the integration of new pedagogy, as well as in integrating technology into the classroom. Don't make the incorrect assumption that younger teachers are more open to using technology in the classroom. In fact, in our School Board, we witnessed our more "seasoned" teachers using the technology since they were already assured about their pedagogical practices.

However an important point to also note: An Inquiry-based, constructivist teaching approach is effective but not efficient. It is very demanding on teachers to individualize instruction, especially in regions where class sizes surpass 30 on a regular basis. From a human point of view, the teacher has many challenges to supervise and effectively instruct students. This new reality, i.e. the numerical aspect of the classroom does not allow for specific student support.

There are Four Phases of Deployment and Characteristics:

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  1. "Euphoria" Phase: Lasts about 8-12 months from first deployment
    • Initial Professional Development (PD) given on technical issues for teachers, PD for students is limited.
    • Few complaints from participants. Everybody loves the project!
    • Philosophical "Buy-In" by educators. Pragmatic "Buy-In" missing in some quarters.
    • Technical issues arise as usage increases.
    • Evaluation drives Instruction. This is a cardinal rule for educators.
  2. "Dip" Phase: Lasts about 13-24 months from first deployment
    • Integration slows down
    • Technical issues mount
    • Evolution of relationship between Teacher and Student: More challenges
    • Control and Hierarchy/"Status" of Teacher may shift
    • "Euphoric" component of deployment is gone and replaced with "So, what now???"
    • New technological hardware/applications begin to surface
    • Professional development needs of teachers become increasingly complex, since you are now dealing with High to Low end users. Cannot use an "economy of scale" PD delivery system. Do you have enough trainers for all the sites?
  3. "Re-Focus" Phase: Lasts about 20-36 months after the first deployment
    • Professional development radiates across systems, in many, many forms. Coordination becomes very significant.
    • Demands that technical infrastructure responds since users now produce increasingly complex work.
    • Community/Collegial applications appear in schools
    • Begin to note identified increases in student achievement. This is when the first signs of the previous two years begins to bear fruit.
    • Incorporate plans on integration considering new partners into entire deployment
  4. "Building Capacity" Phase: Last 36 + months after first deployment
    • Address PD to build capacity and sustainability
    • Technical infrastructure must accept new paradigms
    • Develop pedagogical approaches further integrating
    • Review effectiveness/roles of central and decentralized formats of implementation

Ron Canuel is the Director General of Eastern Townships School Board, Quebec, Canada

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29 Comments

Bravo to Ron Canuel and folks from Eastern Township.

Please note that this School Board is from QUEBEC not from Ontario... even if this post is in English ;-)

Woops - thanks for catching that geo-error.

Probably one of the most 'comprehensive' yet succinct, articles on 1:1 laptop deployment I've read. Merci M. Canuel et bonne route!

>>>>
Concordia University researchers measured student achievement in reading, language and math at the end of Grade 2 and then a year later in May 2006, when they had used the laptops for a year.

“The only really positive conclusion that can be strongly asserted is that the laptop program did no harm in the first year of its implementation with this Grade 2-3 cohort,” said the study, which appears this month in the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology.

“It did not disrupt things,” said Bob Bernard, the study’s principal author. “It did not change children’s general performance.”

Philip Abrami, the director and research chair at Concordia Centre for the Study of Learning & Performance, said: “We couldn’t see any impact — yet” on student achievement.

Canuel called “yet” the operative word. He said the research sets an important baseline for the school board. It now has cohort data and ideally wants the group of students tracked and compared to their peers
>>>>

http://www.canada.com/calgaryherald/story.html?id=72c73df5-d7c3-4d30-87be-046f622f5126&k=78587

>>>
The Eastern Townships School Board is scaling back its one-to-one laptop program for the next school year, focusing on students in grades 4 to 9.
The decision was made at the ETSB’s year-end council of commissioners meeting, after weeks of board-wide discussion and the analysis of recent survey results on the Enhanced Learning Strategy (ELS).

“We’re now moving into the second phase of the ELS program,” said the board’s general director Ron Canuel. “And we just don’t have the luxury of deploying laptops to every student.”
>>>

http://www.sherbrookerecord.com/content/view/42598/1/

>>>


"We don't have sufficient evidence to justify widespread implementation," he said.

He contends a key question for decision-makers in education is the cost-benefit analysis. "What are the alternative things you might do to raise student achievement, of which this is simply one option? And what are the returns on that investment?"

Funded by the ETSB, the study looked at students' performance on Canadian Achievement Tests compared to national norms.
>>>>

http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/story.html?id=598db5b2-8a06-49d3-81f8-e6acddd2c953&k=5668


That's the key question for poor nations considering adoption of this idea.

HI Irv,
Thanks for taking the time to read the various articles and press clippings. Our laptop initiative has definitely evolved but I would not want you to think or suggest that the School Board is stepping back on this deployment. Quite the contrary, we are ever more committed. We have succeeded, in spite of no, repeat, no government assistance. Our teachers and students have succeeded in making a difference for themselves in the classroom.
When I read the survey results of April, both educators, students and parents alike stated that laptops made learning fun and interesting.
In my experience as an educator, that makes for winning conditions for everybody.
Can this work for our colleagues in Uruguay, Peru, Paraguay and Africa? It has in our School Board and will no doubt have the same effect elsewhere.

Ron Canuel writes:

"I would not want you to think or suggest that the School Board is stepping back on this deployment."


I don't know what to say, because there is evidence that there is a scaling-down in progress:


http://www.sherbrookerecord.com/content/view/42598/1/


>>>“We’re now moving into the second phase of the ELS program,” said the board’s general director Ron Canuel. “And we just don’t have the luxury of deploying laptops to every student.”>>>>

>>>>"The new deployment, effective for September, will remain the same for students in Grades 4 to 9, while students in Grades 3, 10 and 11 will see a 1.5-students-to-one laptop ratio (or 939 computers for 1,457 youngsters).">>>>>

Hello Irv,
News stories and research are static documents, that reflect the past. As I have publicly stated, the provision of laptops for students and teachers is now, and for the future, a reality in our classrooms and schools.
As I read in a presentation some time ago, "Shifts happen!"
Thanks for the feedback

Ron Canuel writes:

>>> "As I have publicly stated, the provision of laptops for students and teachers is now, and for the future, a reality in our classrooms and schools.
As I read in a presentation some time ago, "Shifts happen!"
>>>>

I'm sorry to hear that "shift is happening" in your project. I hope the scaling back is for the benefit of everyone.

Good luck!

Mr Canuel writes:

>>>One last point, in our School Board, we are very saddened by the fact that we have offered to the folks at the OLPC our experiences and understanding but to no avail. It seems that the desire to hear from "others" is not well appreciated. Nicholas Negroponte has been very gracious and sent me the contacts to OLPC deployment persons in Africa and South America, with no responses back. >>>

http://www.etsb.qc.ca/en/Pressroom/documents/ETSBPressReleaseURUGUAYEN.pdf

Come on Irv.... you can do better than that ...
YOU have repeatedly dismissed this kind of "data" suggesting OLPC success, and for a good reason. They are not data, they are suggestions or indications at best.
The author itself states that it needs 3+ years for the program to mature and fruition.
The cutbacks can very well be fiscal policies in this economic environment.
The study was just after the first year in a certain grade as reference point. The study was not "studied" or replicated and you should know that any field is full of conflicting studies.
Above all, the devil is in the details. If we step back from computers for a moment, all (?) schools are using teachers, books, curricula and homework does this means that they are the same?
In short, I do not dismiss anything of the above, or the article. Just take it for what it really is. Some initial indication.
You should ask for the (very important) details and more extensive studies to see what (if anything) is right and what is wrong. If somethings are wrong examine if these are fundamental to the process (and ban computers all together) or implementation issues (and fix them). That's the way things work if we want to be serious and not groupies.
Computers one way or another are already in the schools of all the developed countries like it or not. Directly or indirectly. They are only going to proliferate. Learning how to best use them in any give setting is what we need for our kids and society to make the most of it. Breaking the machines in the factories was tried around the turn of the 20th century.... did not do much.

C'mon, Mavrothal,

why are you so afraid of people getting a lot of information about things that matter to them?

The articles I reference shed a lot more light on the picture thst Mr. Canuel paints.

You are acting like a real groupie by btrying to suppress information in order to pretend that everything is perfect. Is that really in kids' favor? What does it do for education?

The best thing for everyone is for information to flow freely, so that prospective adopters of these ideas can make intelligent decisions.

Well... I thought groupie or not you can at least read ...
I said "presenting it as data" is wrong, not "presenting it". But I'm afraid that you can listen as much as Negroponte :-) Maybe that's why you love him that much :-)))

I'm still up in the air about 1:1 laptops for students during the younger years of their educational career. However, I did like that students grades K-2 weren't included in the 1:1 program, but it leaves me to wonder if these students receive any experience on the computer? Also, wondering if ALL work by students in the 3-11 grades is done on the laptops?

I've read quite a few articles regarding the 1:1 laptops, and still think that I only want the OPTION of having computers available, as opposed to incorporating them into every lesson.

The "Four Phases of Deployment" is an interesting factor. Each student, teacher, parent, and anyone involved with a school will have their own responses to how technology is accepted in a classroom.

Great program!

HI Yvonne,
We focus on quality integration and not "volume" integration, so to answer your question, the teachers do not use the laptops all the time. That would be a bad idea. We infinitely prefer quality integration, over using the laptops for powerpoint presentations and generating word documents.
As for offering at the younger ages, this is left to the discretion of the teachers. We are definitely seeing the teachers using technology more often, but never to the exclusion of solid pedagogical practices that were already in existence.
Hope this helps

Great article. Particularly in the underlining of professional development, addressing fears of the teacher becoming obsolete in face of students digital proficiency and the always overlooked sustainability and reliabilty of the technology (wich, in my case, i know that it can be a major problem in IT intergration in schools).

on the matter of "One last point".

It seems we have been playing some form of email tag here. I have two emails sent to priests @ etsb.qc.ca, the contact person listed for Easter Townships, June 9, another August 8. No answer yet.

Mr.Canuel, do you care to pass on your experience beyond this article? (very good, by the way). Then we need to streamline this communication thing. Please do write back, or make a way to contact you and your people available.

Hello Yama,
You can contact me with my email address at
[email protected]
We, the ETSB, are very open to sharing with colleagues, wherever you may be.
Sincerely,
Ron Canuel

I have read with interest the commentary.
Regarding some of the posts, may I respectfully state that the key finding from the second research from Concordia was that disruptive innovation did not have a negative impact on learning. This was a good step in responding to individuals who were stating that laptops are "bad" for learning. Also, the Concordia study was limited in scope, in that no classroom observations were done and all was based on sample survey results. The full appreciative impact of laptops cannot be measured by standardized tests, since they measure traditional skills and are not focused on other, equally essential characteristics of learning, that is, motivation, creativity and evolving social dynamics.
On the other hand, our School Board in Quebec, is now the fastest improving district in increases in student achievement and a decline in our dropout rates. We are awaiting the final figures from the government in December and anticipate a further reduction. Is this because of the laptops only? Of course not, but the laptops represent an important condition in our classroom activities.
On the issue of scaling back the deployment, we have since moved back to a full deployment in one of our high schools, including Grade 11.
We did scale back but our deployment has moved more into the earlier elementary grades, where many teachers have requested and are now utilizing the laptops for a number of language initiatives.
As an educator for over 34 years, I remain so puzzled as to why we focus so much on what should not happen in our classrooms. Let's face it folks, the educational system that we work within was designed by Horace Mann and colleagues in the mid 19th century. It remains one of the few societal institutions that has not really changed. From this point, why are we so surprised that children are increasingly dropping out? Why are we so surprised that educators are having increasingly more challenges in motivating and enriching the lives of students? Teachers deserve our full support and providing them with one of the most powerful "tools" ever invented is a no-brainer to me.
Classrooms are intended to be "critical" learning environments where the teacher and the student can thrive, together, in stirring the imagination, in expanding awareness, in creating higher levels of consciousness. This happens in our classrooms and in my opinion, laptops represent one of the newest tools that further enhances this relationship. As I have stated in past presentations, our role, as educators, is to prepare the students for their future, not ours.
I guess that I have heard, over the past 7 years, almost every argument as to why we should not provide students and teachers with laptops. I have been professionally and personally attacked for our laptop initiative.
My answer to all of this: Our educators and children deserve the best tools available for learning and teaching possible. I developed an acronym to best describe the key elements for ensuring a successful deployment: BIPP. It stands for Beliefs-Ideology-Philosophy-Pedagogy. You have to deal with each element as they are presented. Regrettably in the entire debate on how to make education better, Pedagogy comes last. Successfully integrating technology in the classroom, whether it is the OLPC or our Enhanced Learning Strategy, needs to address this sequence.

The OLPC's vision is significant and deserves our full support. Our offer to support you remains unchanged!
I read where some of have tried to contact us via another route, and invite you to contact me directly.

@Ron Canuel:
"Regarding some of the posts, may I respectfully state that the key finding from the second research from Concordia was that disruptive innovation did not have a negative impact on learning."

Some aspects of your post do puzzle me. The OLPC initiative was started to help education system with a systematic shortage of teachers (both in number and qualifications). The idea being that in those situations (as you write):

".... It is very demanding on teachers to individualize instruction, especially in regions where class sizes surpass 30 on a regular basis. ... This new reality, i.e. the numerical aspect of the classroom does not allow for specific student support."

The laptops would alleviate the problem by allowing "fast" students to continue working alone or small groups while the teacher personally helps "slower" students (fast and slow are shorthand for the current mastering of the relevant subject matter).

This model can easily be applied to a place like Uruguay or Mongolia. However, I would not have expected Canada to have a systematic problem with teacher numbers and qualification.

So, what problems were the laptops expected to solve in Canada? Especially as I would expect most children to have access to computers&internet anyway (besides a host of other media, eg, libraries, TV&Radio, newspapers).

Then you write:
"Also, as we discovered in our support of teachers in Uruguay, the role and "status" of a teacher is very important and there is a level of discomfort in having students outpace the teachers in learning how to use technology."

This is all too human.

However, as the problem the OLPC is designed to solve is a shortage of qualified teachers, requiring to "qualify" the teachers before implementing the improvements would obviate the improvements altogether.

If training all the teachers would have been an option, it would have been chosen before, making the OLPC redundant.

So do you see a solution for this catch 22?

Short technology training courses might help. But if wholesale (re-)training in a new curriculum is required, how would that be possible if their is already a severe shortage of teachers?
(who would do the training? Who would replace teachers-away-in-training?)

Winter

Hello,
These are very good questions and I will try to respond in the briefest manner possible.
Firstly, in our School Board, our decision to deploy laptops to all students and teachers was based on our decision to support teachers and students in a new learning/teaching environment. In the province of Quebec, the entire curriculum is socio-constructivist, with the expectation that technology plays a major role in this entire re-design.

This new curriculum has been in place for over 8 years and our elementary schools are now "structured" into three 2-year learning cycles. High schools have seen a similar re-design. Our decision was then further focused on heightening Engagement and further Enhancing both learning and teaching in the classroom, the family and the community.

Secondly, laptops don't alleviate issues, they actually create many new issues. As previously mentioned, the re-design of an educational system or a classroom, for that matter, involves very specific actions that need to be supported at all times. Our colleagues in Uruguay are now facing precisely what we had mentioned to them would happen, that is, the second step of deployment and the big question "What now?"

I will give you one very specific example of where many reforms of the classroom have failed: There is an axiom in education that states: Evaluation drives Instruction. If in any educational reform (including the OLPC's objectives), the entire evaluative rubric is not prepared in advance and shared with teachers, one risks seeing the utilization of laptops for superficial purposes, such as powerpoint, internet research and the preparation of Word documents. These preceding elements are important, no doubt, but they only scratch the surface of what a laptop can do in the classroom. Teachers need to know "how" to evaluate students using technology and what outcomes are expected. This means that teachers move into a context of "conducting learning", like an orchestra rather than "controlling learning, as in the traditional classroom. The Economy of Scale approach to education is removed and this puts the onus on the teacher to address more specific needs, even if they relegate students in the classroom into fast, medium or slower learners.
On the element of "Qualified" teachers, this too requires some thought and generates a few questions. One that comes to mind is "Does qualified imply competent?"
In Canada, this element is becoming increasingly discussed, since there are teacher shortages in the fields of Math, Science, and also a shortage of male teachers at the elementary level. Therefore to answer one of your questions, yes, our deployment was also intended to attract teachers to our School Board, with the anticipated desire of retaining them in our classrooms, primarily because of the presence of technology in the classroom.
Hope this helps and sorry for the long answer.

@Ron Canuel:
"Hope this helps and sorry for the long answer."

Thanks a lot. This was very illuminating.

@Ron Canuel:
"On the element of "Qualified" teachers, this too requires some thought and generates a few questions. One that comes to mind is "Does qualified imply competent?""

I am afraid that is not a matter of choice.

I think that in almost all countries, there is not enough choice to go beyond "qualified" into "competent". Even well-off countries have difficulties getting all openings filled with qualified teachers. Looking for really competent teachers beyond the resume seems seldom possible.

Winter

"I read where some of have tried to contact us via another route, and invite you to contact me directly."

I wish I could!

Forgive me, Mr. Canuel, I merely had followed the directions given in your publications as to contact, and your website, with no result. I have now gone back to http://www.etsb.qc.ca/, looked for some contacts list and only found the same email address I had use before unsuccessfully (the "priests" one). I have googled your name ... Found a couple sites I would need to subscribe to.

Pardon my French, but I cannot find a way to contact you directly that would be available to the common public. Of course I could cheat and use my "insider" information, but that wouldn't be cricket, would it?

The worst is that by now we have started this du mauvais pied. Could you help?

Hello,
Please contact me with my email address [email protected]
It would be a pleasure to exchange and share.
All the best,
Ron Canuel

I always think that technology can help us to learn new things but it can never teach us. We need qualified teachers who can teach us and make us understand the facts.

You are right, the key is that technology is a tool. What technology has done is expose how important it is that sound pedagogical practices be in place in the classroom. Too often we have seen the Socratic method being enhanced with technology. The actual impact on learning is very minimal. The integration of technology must be rooted into pedagogical practices that identify each student as an individual "learning context".
Getting better qualified teachers means higher entry standards to Education faculties in universities, better pay and working conditions as well. How can one build a society if we want to always avoid making education "cost" too much. In the Western world, we lost our vision of how education should be an investment. Now, it is relegated to the other side of the accounting ledger and is an expense. Imagine this, children are an expense.

Ron Camuel: "It is a major mistake to assume that children will simply integrate technology into their learning patterns. The natural curiosity of a child allows for exploration without fear but it does not convey specific and intrinsic learning. They still need to be taught how the laptop can make a difference."

I assume that you mean by "specific and intrinsic learning", the learning that should happen according to the curriculum expected outcomes. Now, isn't this an educational software problem? To what extent self-learning software can be devised that is engaging, collaborative, and that facilitates the required learning? What is your experience with educational software?

I do not mean to replace teachers - that is an impossible utopia- but to further help them in realistic third world situations. As Winter said in a previous comment, "The OLPC initiative was started to help education systems with a systematic shortage of teachers (both in number and qualifications) (...) the laptops would alleviate the problem by allowing 'fast' students to continue working alone or small groups while the teacher personally helps 'slower' students".

Hello Jose,
You are correct in stating that learning and teaching should, and must, follow a specific curriculum that allows for such activities to occur.
In the previous decade, we saw the appearance of technology into the classroom be heavily based on software applications. This partly explained why many "Integration of Technology into the Classsroom" scenarios failed, was that it became heavily dependent on software. For teachers, simple "time" economics came forth, that is, take hours to learn software applications for 10 minutes of usage.
In our district, we wanted to remember this past issues and we did not promote heavy software applications.
We strongly urged our teachers to web-based applications and to the millions of lesson plans that exist. By doing so, we have seen very creative usages and applications in the classroom, and in some cases, something that software cannot replicate.
We did not make ourselves popular with software vendors and for the OLPC, strongly suggest following the web-based applications and lesson plans. All it takes is for the teacher to have access to the internet and then the creativity starts to flow. The learning then becomes much deeper, since it is the teacher who is "designing" the usage, on his/her terms and under their supervision. The students greatly benefit from this approach.
It is also much much cheaper!
Hope this helps,
Ron

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