Evaluating our 1:1 Chromebook Program: Initial Takeaways

I’ve written a great deal over the past few years about our school’s one-to-one Chromebook program and the degree to which it has truly transformed teaching and learning at DFHS. This is also a topic that @careim2, @meghalberg, and I presented on at the IB Conference of the Americas (#IBChi2015) this past summer in Chicago and is one that continues to garner a great deal of interest from school leaders who are either considering or in the midst of a one-to-one program. At DFHS, we started the one-to-one not only because we believed that 21st century students could never truly learn in the 21st century without ongoing access to technology, but also because we believed that 24/7 access to technology would make it easier for teachers to differentiate while allowing for the development of Wagner’s 21st century “survival” skills. These skills are not only the types of skills that students need for success beyond high school, but are also at the heart of the IB program and capture what we value and strive for in all of our graduates.

The program has truly taken off since we started in 2013 and it has been rewarding to see all of our teachers search daily for new ways to infuse technology in a way that enhances learning in a meaningful way. Most teachers are now using Google Classroom, many classrooms are completely paperless, and students interact with teachers, peers, and community members easily and consistently through the various Google Apps that they access daily. Over the past year, I have continued to evaluate the one-to-one around the intended outcomes of the program with a specific focus on differentiation and the development of 21st century “survival” skills within the context of a high stakes testing environment. The following is a general list of five initial impressions or “takeaways” that I gathered around the one-to-one. This is by no means a complete list but rather a sample of some of the “big ideas” that I thought might be worth sharing.

1)  Implementation: All of the teachers noted that while the intended outcomes for the use of one-to-one technology were clear, a specific direction for how to implement Chromebooks was not provided and clear outcomes from a production perspective (e.g. lesson plans, Chromebook “activities,” etc.) were not directed. The Superintendent noted that this approach was intended. The lack of a clear direction from the administration in terms of desired outcomes was “liberating” for teachers. As a result, the teachers felt little pressure, felt they could move at their own pace, and found ways to utilize Chromebooks in a way that best works for them. This has led to increased teacher collaboration, professional learning, networking, and ownership.  

2)  Differentiating Teaching and Learning: While it was clear that the one-to-one provided the teachers with greater opportunities to differentiate teaching and learning, it was also clear that certain aspects of differentiation occurred much more often than others. Specifically, while differentiation happens in all forms (“content, process, or product based on readiness, learning style, or interest”), the most prevalent form is differentiating content based on student readiness. This is due in large part to the preparation that is required for high stakes examinations. In this respect, it became clear that the teachers do in fact define differentiation in a specific way.

3)  High Stakes Testing: While all teachers supported the belief that the increased student engagement in terms of curriculum and learning that occurs as a result of the Chromebooks will lead to increased performance on high stakes local and Regents exams, it is also clear that high stakes tests dictate the ways in which teachers use Chromebooks. In many instances, teachers use Chromebooks to differentiate based on content and readiness (ability) to ensure that students learn what they need to “know” in order to perform well on the final Regents exam. In courses that do not end with a Regents exam, teachers have a greater sense of freedom and provide more opportunities to pursue skills such as curiosity and imagination.

4)  21st Century Skills: It was clear that Chromebooks allow for the development of all 21st century skills beyond what is possible in a “traditional” non one-to-one environment. Of the 21st century skills, the most prevalent are adaptability and initiative (and personal responsibility) followed by critical thinking/problem solving, analysis, and communication. The least prevalent 21st century skills addressed are curiosity and imagination. This is due more to the nature of a testing environment as opposed to a lack of capability that the Chromebooks provide.

5)  Further Education: There was an expressed need among all teachers for further professional development with the use of Chromebooks and how to best enhance teaching/learning in a one-to-one environment. There is also evidence of different levels of expertise with how to best use Chromebooks to promote differentiation while furthering the development of 21st century skills within each of the respective subject areas. There is also varying levels of expertise on how to best do that. There is no specific correlation to experience with technology or overall experience. Furthermore, the type of professional development varies by teacher. Essentially, all teachers possess different levels of expertise so future professional development must be differentiated. There is also agreement among all teachers that the program has many benefits for students and on teaching and learning in general.

Of course, these just general impressions and each can easily be expanded upon at great length. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like more on our school’s one-to-one story.

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