My Thoughts on “Maybe 1 to 1 isn’t such a great idea”

Dean Shareski is a pretty sharp guy and I like to read his messages and his blog.  He makes sense in his efforts and I often use his thoughts as a litmus test for my own thinking.  Recently, he wrote a blog post “Maybe 1 to 1 isn’t such a great idea“.

There are parts of the post that make a great deal of sense, and yet, there are some assertations and assumptions in the post that I’m having trouble with.    

Probably the most salient part of the post was the thought that one of the valuable things that traditional school offer is the opportunity for students to work face to face.  To that, he’s absolutely dead on.  If we think of providing attitudes and skills for the workplace, the ability to work productively with others is absolutely crucial.  And yet, how many companies are global in nature and rely on technology to allow people to collaborate using technology?  The well rounded citizen needs to do both.

This is the quote that really hit me though.

As online education grows so does the potential for students to opt out of face to face attendance.

Yes, the potential is there but is this a reality that is going to overnight empty schools of students? I don’t see that happening anytime soon. As the DeLC (District eLearning Coordinator) for a school board, I managed the offerings that we offered students as online options though eLearning Ontario. There were many reasons why students opted to take a course online.

  • extended absence from school (illness or other reasons);
  • not enough students interested in a course at school to offer a section onsite;
  • course not offered at a school as there is no teacher ready to teach it;
  • summer school;
  • upgrading courses;
  • and sometimes just the desire to take a course online.

Guidance counsellors do their very best to help students make the best choices for success.  At the end of the day, there wasn’t a mass exodus of students.  In many cases, students would take their courses using school computers and certainly we were nowhere near a 1:1 ratio!  

If we go back to the original title and think about 1:1, I still think that it’s an admirable goal.  Through traditional means, I do think that that goal is unreachable in a publically funded school board situation.  Not only do you have to acquire the equipment, but you need to sustain it through funding and that’s just plain difficult.  But, that doesn’t close the door.  In fact, a better ratio may be achievable if only we recognize and honour the fact that students have the potential to bring their own computing devices with them and let them use them.

That brings the state of collaboration to a new and empowering level.  I’ve seen groups of two or three working on a project where one student may be working on a school computer (with the school/board/Ministry licensed software) and partners doing over the shoulder proofreading and using their own devices to help with on the fly research.  It’s a noisy scenario but a good noisy.  It was an environment that a teacher had cultivated with the students and it was just the way that things were done.

But, let’s not lose sight of the fact that education is about the curriculum.  The technology, at whatever ratio you may be at, is a tool to be used when appropriate.  If 1:1 is a scenario that it can replace a classroom satisfactorily, then the class really wasn’t satisfactory.  Just today, I read a post by Peter Skillen about “Mindfulness“.  There are words of wisdom in this post that every technology enthusiast (including myself) need to read a ponder.  “Because we CAN do it, we do it.”  Does the logical ground lie in the middle?  “Because it’s the best tool available, we do it”.

There are powerful online learning environments.  In fact, if you’re reading this post, you’re enjoying it.  We talk about the power of collaboration and building the perfect PLN as professionals.  Why wouldn’t we be wanting the same thing for our students?  I’m also a real fan of a blended solution where some elements are face to face and others are online.  I really see this as offering a balance and exposing students to the best of both worlds.  But, it’s not going to happen unless we have enough technology in place to make it happen.

Sorry, Dean, but I’m not with you on this one.

2 thoughts on “My Thoughts on “Maybe 1 to 1 isn’t such a great idea”

  1. I’m with you on this one Doug.

    I like the idea of using multiple devices to create a 1:1 environment – it also reduces the costs. Having some students on computers, some on iPad, some on iPod, etc. seems to work really well.

    Some students are not made for the “traditional” classroom. I’m reminded of the square peg being hammered into a circle hole. In my classroom, the students are gigantic squares pegs and it makes no sense to hammer away at them when they will never fit into a “traditional” model. Often, we find ourselves in a situation with a non-attender or a violent student and have very few options for truly supporting them while they are not in the classroom. The online options has become an interest of mine.

    I’m trying to get WRDSB to support a blended model for my special education congregated program by including around 6 virtual students (gardes 7-10). At this point, the complexities that you have described have limited the ability for the board to get behind me.

    However, we have begun looking at external sources of support for a “pilot” project – mainly Family and Children Services.

    Here is a link ( ) to my Google Doc proposal. It is still a work in progress as I’m currently doing a literature review of research around online learning at the intermediate level.


    PS. See you at CATC Camp….


  2. Hey Doug,

    Thanks for examining my post. Certainly I’m not advocating any one specific model outside of my caution that we truly do honor the students in the room and leverage that. While it can happen in a 1 to 1 setting I simply wanting to expose the danger of bringing in screens that become the focus of the learning instead of each other. I would love it if as teachers we help our students discover the power in online learning but I think we need to be careful in how we present that idea. To many it’s this notion of “computer assisted learning” which can go down some dangerous roads. Teachers could easily design lessons and environments that solely focus on the online experience. That’s my concern.

    My intent was to open up and extend the conversation, which you’ve done here. Thanks.


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