New Paradigms Needed

From a teaching and learning perspective 1:1 computing makes complete sense and the positive results of this approach have been well researched and documented.

More widespread access to computers makes it possible for students and teachers in schools to transition from occasional, supplemental use of computers for instruction to more frequent, integral use of technology across a multitude of settings (Roschelle & Pea, 2002). Ubiquitous, 24/7 access to computers makes it possible for students to access a wider array of resources to support their learning, to communicate with peers and their teachers, to become fluent in their use of the technological tools of the 21st century workplace. When students are also able to take computers home, the enhanced access further facilitates students keeping their work organized and makes the computer amore “personal” device (Vahey & Crawford, 2002).

On a conceptual level our present approach to deploying technology, small pods of 3-4 computers and/or one computer classrooms put a tremendous classroom management burden on teachers and dis-empower students in a ‘many watching one’ or ‘shared pencil environment’. Computer labs empower students by allowing them to have their own devices; but access to labs is limited and generally not part of the core classroom experience.

Example of a “shared pencil” deployment.

Example of a “many watching one” deployment.

The 21st Century Skills of initiative, self-direction, flexibility, and user responsibility; skills that are fundamental to our children’s future success, are undermined by the technology deployment models described above.

We need a new technology deployment paradigm that empowers students and teachers and serves as a catalyst for transforming classrooms into environments that model the key 21st Century Skills that are so desirable in the work-place.

So why isn’t 1:1 more prevalent?

The fact of the matter is that if money were no obstacle most of us would take steps to expand our computer inventory so that access to learning technologies was ubiquitous. It is the economics of 1:1 computing that seems daunting.

We need a new paradigm to replace the client/server approach that has done well to get us where we are; but is not sufficient to bring us where we need to go.

That new paradigm is “cloud computing and virtualization”.

We need to recognize that the “shared pencil”, “many watching one” way we are deploying technology in our classrooms is not sufficient for students who need to be more “self directed”, “responsible”, “adaptable” and show more “initiative and leaderhship” .

That new paradigm is “ubiquitous access”.

The two paradigm shifts go hand in hand.

Put the tools in our students hands.


9 thoughts on “New Paradigms Needed

  1. Thanks for this post, Pete. I need to reread it to fully digest it but the piece that struck a chord for me is the example of a “many watching one” deployment. As more and more folks jump on the smartboard bandwagon, I find myself wondering how those devices encourage children to take ownership of their own learning, work collaboratively with other students and fully engage ALL learners in the learning process. In my opinion, smartboards are a glitzy way to keep teachers at the front of the room.

  2. Hi Pete
    After reading Nick Carr’s “The Big Switch” a couple months ago, I’ve been pondering the impact on education of ubiquitous computing, thin clients and the virtualization of servers. This post of yours brought all that back to mind. Here’s two ideas I’ve been incubating:

    I’ve imagined teachers standing in front of a class on the first day saying “I know you’re not here to get information, you can access that 24/7 on your own. You’re not here to get help from other students since you can ‘txt ur frnds’ anytime on your cells. You’re not here to get creative because you can upload your writing, pix, videos, manga and whatever else to any number of your places online. You must be here for something else.”

    I suspect that the virtualization of servers is only phase one. Beyond that, I’ve envisioned the visualization of student comprehension that can be put online for others to see. Being able to see what someone else understands a little will enable other peers and mentors to jump in and add to that comprehension. This virtualization of individual mental models will facilitate a new kind of networking, tutoring, searching the web for resources and getting help online.

    The potentials of cloud computing and wireless access everywhere have been fun to ponder.

  3. Carry,
    Regardless of the technology, as long as most of the kids are sitting passively, (including actively taking notes); they are not practicing self-direction, responsibility, leadership, adaptability, colloboration…etc. This is disempowering. Disempowered students make life in the classroom difficult for teachers. Hence the 30+% dropout rate for students and the 40% dropout rate for their teachers.

    We need to start deploying technology in ways that lead to self-direction, and all the other skills I listed earlier.

    1. Completely agree. I want to empower each student to find their passion. I believe it was Prensky who said, the true power of technology lies in it’s ability to foster “doing new things in new ways”. I worry that some of the technologies simply encourage teachers to continue “doing old things in new ways”. The question, “Who owns the learning?” plays like a broken record in my head. I’m not interested in hopping on the latest and greatest techno-craze; I’d much rather focus on changing our ideas about learning.

  4. Tom,
    No silver bullets for cloud or virtualization; but a direction that can lead to one to one access to the learning tool. Each student able to explore, communicate, collaborate, analyze, publish and pursue their interests, passions, and curiosities.

    I like the concept of ‘virtualizing student comprehension’. Isn’t that a little like doing something with the information? A demonstration of what we have learned or what we know. Like a performance or creation, or project. It takes learning from the abstract and makes it something concrete.

    Then the mentor/coach can help refine the knowledge the way they would the performance of a dancer, a writer, or a basketball coach.

    That’s not exactly what you meant…


  5. Hello Peter:

    Might not be a bad idea to request time in each of the districts that you supported while co-leading LHRIC to discuss your hopes and dreams for future technology integration and purchases. In fairness, it was you and your team that, many years ago, helped districts in developing long term plans that did indeed support the “many watching one” and “shared pencil” model. You are a more believable prophet than many of the visionaries that you have brought to your Leadership Conferences, although I believe they have helped you form your new vision for the future (Cloud Computing and Virtualization). You have spent the time in reflection and writing, now take it on the road. There is a convocation at the beginning of every school year and there are district-wide professional development days in every district. Colleagues need to hear you and meet you. I am a veteran of enough technology conferences to know that you are believable and one of the best speakers on these topics, perhaps because you are humble and without arrogance when you speak to educators. You could not accuse some of the national speakers who make the rounds of this. You are a teacher first, which, in my mind, makes all the difference when discussing your vision.

    Loved the post on your first group of students. I think the word you used was “soulmates”.

    Happy Easter to you and your family.

    Lou Cuglietto

  6. Hi Peter,

    MIT is running a nationwide vocab contest, and I think it may be of interest to your readers.

    It is being hosted at We are trying to get high schoolers to teach other SAT/ACT vocabulary, and they’ll be using a feature we’ve built called Brainypics flashcards, which lets users pair a word to images and sentences of their making. Our end goal is to create a free resource online that can help high schoolers prep for the big test, and we could use all the help we can get publicizing & getting teachers/kids involved.

    We’ll be awarding prize money to the student and his/her school who has the “best” Brainypic as voted on by the public as well as iTunes to Finalists and top contributors. We will double the prizes if we can get students to make 4 unique Brainypics for each word on our word list. Due date for submissions is May 22. More details at

    Please let me know if you could write a short blurb about us.


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