Access to technology is changing the U.S. education system for good

Prior to COVID-19, the Pleasanton Calif. Unified School District (PUSD) was already issuing a digital device to every middle and high school student. During the pandemic, the district expanded its 1-to-1 policy to all elementary-level students, as well.

“Anybody who needed a device got a device,” says Patrick Gannon, the district’s communications and community engagement coordinator. Thanks to that rapid deployment, “We were able to pivot 14,500 students from in-person to remote instruction in the course of a week.”

PUSD isn’t alone: Around the nation, virtual learning needs spurred rapid adoption of 1-to-1 policies across K-12 education. While the final numbers on device adoption aren’t in yet, “There’s clearly been a huge effort to secure more devices,” says Keith Krueger, CEO of the nonprofit Consortium for School Networking.

Going forward, educators say, this broad availability of computers will change the way teachers interact with students, and it will change how kids learn.

The need for deeper school learning resources

In schools with 1-to-1 device programs, students have access to a wider and deeper range of learning resources. “It allows the student to pull in information that they might not have been able to access before,” Gannon says. “In the past, you’d go to the library, and depending on whether you were first or last in line, you would get stuck with whatever book was left over. Now, students have the entire internet available to them.”

This base of knowledge could have a profound impact, says Steve Langford, chief information officer for Oregon’s Beaverton School District. “They’re not constrained to just looking something up in a textbook,” he says. “They can go get real-time information with all of the resources on the internet to help them answer questions or think of new questions to ask.”

At North Canton City Schools in Ohio, Director of Technology Kim Nidy says the tools available on a laptop or tablet expand the learning experience. In the past, a student might have been constrained to present a written report. “Now they can write it up as a Google document or they can create a slideshow. They can create a PowerPoint or record themselves,” she says. “It allows for a lot more creativity.”

How classrooms can harness the power of technology

A 1-to-1 device deployment introduces a learning management system (LMS) as a new means for teachers to interact with students and guide the educational experience.

These management systems are software tools for the administration and delivery of educational courses and development programs.

LMS applications such as Canvas, Schoology and Google Classroom give teachers the power to monitor what students are doing on their devices and to interact with learners outside the classroom.

“Now teachers can engage with students to answer a quick question in the evening,” Langford says. “It’s a way to move the classroom outside of their physical space and time.”

Teachers can use a LMS to post learning materials such as online links and videos. They can also track each individual student’s efforts. “Maybe the student has veered off. Now the teachers can go in and add a comment in real time,” Nidy says.

A LMS also can be a collaborative space where students share comments and work on projects together.

“Those side conversations in the past have been considered cheating,” Gannon says. “When you bring that into the LMS, then those discussions become evidence of collaboration, which is one of the key skills we want to prioritize among the students. In that way, 1-to-1 gives school systems a way to begin to change that mindset.”

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