In his best-selling book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell described how social change can occur dramatically and rapidly as it spreads contagiously from person to person – or, as we might say more than a decade after the book’s initial publication, as it “goes viral.” As Gladwell reminds us, there’s no guarantee that the type of social change caused by such a tipping point will always be beneficial; both positive and negative behavior change can occur in this way.
As a teacher who is currently in my 14th year, by far the single biggest change I’ve witnessed in my career has been in the area of technology. When I began teaching in 1998, my classroom technology consisted of an overhead projector and a computer lab to which students were supposed be brought once a week. My elementary students primarily worked on keyboarding skills, did some very basic word processing, and played games that were meant to reinforce some basic math or literacy concepts (on CDs, of course, not on the actual internet). A technology paraprofessional worked full-time in the computer lab to assist the many students and teachers who came to the computer lab lacking even the most basic technology skills.
Fast forward to today, and the changes are obvious and dramatic: my district is currently beginning a three-year process where all of our upper elementary, middle school, and high school classrooms will become 1:1 environments. Even before that transition is complete, technology is everywhere: in addition to a computer lab, in my elementary building we’re using iPads, student response systems, carts of laptops, document cameras, teacher laptops, interactive whiteboards, and more.
As a result of this ubiquitous access to technology, much of our content has shifted online: textbooks are being replaced by e-textbooks, math assignments are being replaced or supplemented by websites like Khan Academy and ixl.com, student writing is being composed in Google Docs and then published to students’ individual blogs, Google Earth has replaced most maps and globes, and so on. Even our high-stakes state assessments will be taken online beginning in 2015.
This technology transformation, while taking various forms and moving at various paces in different school districts, is in no way isolated to my own personal experience. To the contrary, increased access to technology has actually become a national priority, both in terms of school and home access. The U.S. Department of Commerce, in November 2011, published a report entitled, “Exploring the Digital Nation,” in which they stated and then repeatedly provided data confirming the following:
“A strong correlation exists between broadband [internet access] (both deployment and adoption) and indices of economic growth, such as increases in Gross Domestic Product, employment, and property values.”
With this data helping to form public policy, let’s be honest: there’s no going back. 1:1 technology has passed its tipping point; whether it’s a district-issued laptop, a personal cell phone, or even their glasses, every child will soon be coming to our classroom with an Internet-connected device.
So what does this mean to us as educators? It means that it’s time for us to move away from debating whether or not we believe that 1:1 education should be the future of education and toward shaping the future of 1:1 education to be as beneficial as possible to our students. As Gladwell noted, fast-paced social change can lead to both positive and negative outcomes. As teachers, let’s invest our time and energy in leading the conversation surrounding best practice utilization of 1:1 technology in the classroom before that opportunity is lost. If we don’t, we can be sure that politicians and CEOs of education-centered businesses will be sure to direct the conversation toward a model profitable to their interests instead.