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1:1 Saturations and Computer Labs: Can Their Benefits Bring a New Model?

Wayan Vota

One learning tool per student is an accepted and expected ratio when we speak of pencils, books, and other familiar items in a classroom. We all assume that private use of these items confers greater benefit than their cost, and only high-cost or rare items should be shared among all students, as in a library for books or chemical sets in a chemistry class.

Yet this seemingly natural order has a whole other life when we look at information and communication technologies in educational systems. Especially when we focus on computers. Educators and technologists promote either full saturation, a 1:1 model where each student has a computer, usually a laptop, or a shared-use model where computers, often desktops, are deployed in school labs.

Between these two models there is the initial debate around the different computing platforms and their different benefits, which highlights a more subtle difference in pedagogy, and through that, the basic foundations of what “school” means to a society.

For July, the Educational Technology Debate we will examine the two models, 1:1 and computer labs, and their respective benefits. Our goal will be to understand which benefits are key, and look for a way in which we can fuse these key benefits into a model that can be deployed in the many educational environments of the developing world.

Our two respected discussants on this topic will be:

  • Walter Bender
    Walter Bender currently heads Sugar Labs, focusing on the award-winning Sugar Learning Platform (download it now). Previously he was president for software and content development at One Laptop per Child, and is on leave from MIT, where he was executive director of the MIT Media Laboratory.
  • Mark Beckford
    Mark Beckford is currently Vice President of Global Business Development at NComputing, Inc, whose virtualization software and hardware allows multiple users to work off a single computer. Previously, he led diverse global teams at Intel to extend its market leadership and promote growth in new and emerging markets.

Please join us for what we all expect to be a lively and informative conversation – your input can start right now in the comments below, and Walter and Mark will post their opening remarks beginning Monday, July 6.

18 Responses to “1:1 Saturations and Computer Labs: Can Their Benefits Bring a New Model?”

  1. Both models can be misused, when laptops are used too privatelly they stop being tools for common learning. When PC labs become a "class" the spontaneity is lost.

    The most important is that in either case, the experience must be saturated, shared and free. The shared PC lab experience, where there are many peers around you who can quickly teach you is unvaluable. But all that is nullified by models with restrict hours and usage rules. The 1:1 laptops are great on the fact that the freedom from "this is how you are supposed to use this" rules make you experiment more. But doing it alone may lead to the laptops being used for more private entertainment – like gaming.

    In the end it's a question of finding the perfect balance of an environment where the sharing and learning is communal – preferably happening at the same place at the same time for most learners – but having great freedom of where and when this communal experience may happen. This can be either be achieved by a very liberal lab usage policy or a heavy focus on using the laptops in a common environment.

  2. Alex, I enjoyed your comments. One of the things I didn't mention in my post is the importance of the structure and environment of how computers are used. This will vary by grade, culture, region, etc. That is why it is so important that teachers and administrators be trained in the best methods for utilizing computing in both the curriculum and the environment. Luckily, many governments have begin adding "pedagogical" specialists to their education ministries.

  3. Clearly a 1:1 situation has a different psychological profile for anyone, not just kids. People can form relationships with all kinds of machines – from watches to cars.

    Computers are even more powerful in this sense.

    Futurologists like Ray Kurzweil predict a melding or merging of man and machine in the 21st century, and getting right up close to technology that can expand one's thinking skills is a definite move in this direction. It's a gradual process of "immersion" which is going to light up the 21st Century.

    And a lot of parents are going to be very uncomfortable with this…

    Perhaps it is a similar to the fear of gaming. When does gaming stop becoming learning and when does it feed addictive behaviour? And what feeds the addictive behaviour?

    • Ronald,

      You're right about children forming relationships with technology in 1:1 settings – we saw this with the stickers on XO laptops http://www.olpcnews.com/implementation/plan/olpc_

      Which is great in the way it brings a strong sense of ownership and therefore value, to the technology. But it also means that schools will not be able to share them with multiple students – either during the year or year-to-year, dramatically increasing costs.

  4. Dr.P.N.Ranjan

    i do agree with the misuse, but we should orient the people for the positive application. because we cannot change the nature. every thing around us is not meant for our use only. we use it or misuse it , it depends upon us. we cannot force the divine power to create all the things only for our only.

  5. One possible way out is to allow users to have their own data (and operative system, if they want) on a personal mp3 stick. On top of reducing the costs and iprove the sense of owneship, this would position a pc as a shared resource, needed by everyone. Also, mp3 sticks are so easy to transport that they open new ways of transmitting information. See, for example, mp3-powered community radios in Africa http://ictupdate.cta.int/en/Feature-Articles/Talk

  6. I'm another supporter of 1:1, because in addition to the educational and technological benefits, the students feel responsibility and take care of the machines. The program also allows them to continue learning and exploring technology from home, a key feature in breaking the digital divide.

    People interested in this debate should also check out Microsoft's approach to cheap computers and classrooms: Microsoft MultiPoint ( http://www.microsoft.com/unlimitedpotential/Trans… ) – essentially it's one mouse pointer per child, all interacting with a projected computer screen.

  7. Nick

    I hadn't seen this Microsoft app. But I developed something similar and used it in my classroom for many years before I retired, with one keyboard per child and a common projected screen. Is the microsoft system like the Smartboard keyboards, in which the first student to respond gets control of the screen? Or can they all work simultaneously, as mine could.

    Here is a picture of my last classroom:
    And here is the rationale on my Savannah development site:

    The OLPC networking could provide a means for my system to get past the 1-screen-line-per-student limit that my system accepted as the price of simultaneous access by all students. But there needs to be programming that gives the teacher total control of that network during classroom sessions.

    • I've played around with Multipoint and the mouse pointers work simultaneously. The SDK also knows who clicked where. For example, a map is displayed with the question, "where is London?" and students are awarded points in terms of closeness.

      Programs also can divide the screen into areas for group work. In most activities, the control area can be clicked by only the teacher's mouse.

  8. Anand Sheombar

    I wellcome this debate. However, it seems appropriate to broaden the scope to the the various ICT devices that can be used for educational purposes. For instance, mobile phones could have their benefits too. And 1:1 or N:1(shared access) is not only a related to finance or ICT capacity, the educational philosophy behind learning could a play a role too.

  9. Sugata Mitra's research suggests that groups of 3-4 children per computer can be more fruitful than 1:1. In groups of such a size, children readily exchange ideas and knowledge about the topic they are investigating, as well as the computer itself.

    However, I think it would be difficult to develop some more detailed and higher level ICT skills without 1:1 – for instance learning programming languages or video editing, may be easier with a 1:1 ratio, combined with instant messaging / face to face discussion with peers to discuss the process. However to my knowledge, there is not enough research on this to be able to say with great certainty.

    Even with 1:1, it is likely that communication activities emerge – using Facebook as a leisure activity is based on individual computer use, but still is a very social activity. However from a government perspective, is 1:1 really necessary? At this stage, difficult to say for sure, but certainly those countries (e.g. Portugal) that are aiming for 1:1 are currently receiving a lot of praise for their initiative – but how sustainable is this approach? Even with lower cost Netbooks, this is a huge purchasing decision if it is to be implemented on a national level.

  10. Jeeny Fitzgerald

    We've found that with 1:1, it opens up rigorous discussions and active, just-in-time research that were simply not possible without this level of access. We use http://studentresponsenetwork.com to provide virtual clicker software for our wireless netbooks. It's used sparingly throughout a day, but it's used everyday and student participation has gone through the roof. We started halfway through the school year and are about to start our first full year with it. If you want to see 1:1 make a real difference, give it a go.


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