“The world is finally accepting the inevitability of the 1:1 computer model in the classroom.”

Bruce Dixon, a globally renowned learning visionary, made this pronouncement at a conference in Vienna, Austria on February 23, 2010. The conference, hosted by the Austrian Ministry of Education, was sponsored by the OECD, the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank (www.bildung.at/nml-conference2010). Dixon’s declaration was heard by 120 delegates representing 42 countries, including many developing nations. What delegates had in common was their effort to introduce one computer per child models into their public education systems to meet the needs of New Millennium Learners

Speakers identified a range of motivations for pursuing the 1:1 model. Many cited the benefits associated with students learning 21st Century skills. Others addressed how the 1:1 model promotes equity and inclusion.  Although some delegates questioned whether improvements in student achievement arising from personalized computer access had been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, most acknowledged the model enhanced student engagement and motivation to learn.

The importance of shifting instructional practice and providing related teacher training were highlighted as essential if the targeted benefits of 1:1 were to be realized. Many delegates noted that their teachers’ initial fear with technology was quickly displaced by wondering how they had ever taught without it.

Charles Fadel, co-author of 21st Century Skills (www.21stcenturyskillsbook.com) pointed out to delegates that many researchers and educators are assessing the 1:1 model on the basis of their students being more engaged and happy, believing this enthusiasm will eventually translate into enhanced learning success. Others he noted, and he placed himself in this latter group, want to see more learning and cost data before declaring the 1:1 model a priority investment for governments.

Notwithstanding his “show me the evidence” stance on the 1:1 model, Fadel clearly supports a major paradigm shift toward 21st Century learning. He also believes a new process must be developed to guide policy makers in selecting learning outcomes more relevant to the 21st Century while purging existing curricula left over from the industrial era. The challenge, of course, will be determining what is “relevant”, and who gets to decide relevancy.  Given my pre-occupation with designing a 21st Century learning agenda for New Brunswick I was intrigued with Fadel’s thoughtful insights on this rather critical point.  As we spoke on the periphery of the conference I was delighted to embrace Fadel’s generous offer to assist our efforts to revamp our curricula.

Our journey of designing our NB3-21C learning agenda in New Brunswick will now be informed by five key insights gleaned from the Vienna conference: 1) a well articulated vision of what we hope to achieve in learning is essential; 2) we will need a clear process founded on 21st Century relevancy when revising our learning outcomes; 3) many jurisdictions are on the same journey and willing to share experiences; 4) there are leading 21st Century thinkers willing to actively engage and help us; and 5) the 1:1 model offers potential in accelerating New Brunswick’s shift to 21st Century learning if properly placed within a well constructed learning strategy.  The Vienna conference delegates recognized that first and foremost it is about learning, not technology. ICT however has the potential to be a key enabler in getting you where you want to go, faster.

If you are interested in the 1:1 model, Alberta is hosting another conference on the topic in August, 2010 (www.1to1alberta.ca).  And as Bruce Dixon advised delegates at the Vienna conference, the world has reached the tipping point. It’s no longer “should” we adopt the 1:1 model in public education, it’s “how”.

John D. Kershaw
Deputy Minister
NB Department of Education
Anglophone Sector

David M. Kershaw
Master’s Student
Computer Science
Dalhousie University

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