Has the 1:1 Classroom Era Arrived?

As I’m getting caught up on my reading (again), I ran across an email I got about 4 months ago from Dr. Tak-Wai Chan, through the g1to1 discussion listserv. Dr. Chan graciously let me reproduce his email here, which is really a nice overview of the last ten years in the area of mobile and 1:1 learning from Dr. Chan’s point of view, especially with regards to what it means for learning and research in this area. What’s interesting to me is the discussion with regards to the technology itself. Whereas Dr. Chan uses 1:1 and mobile interchangeably, in the U.S. at least it seems that a schism of sorts has been created between mobile and 1:1, as the latter term has come to mean “laptop program” in many schools and districts around the country.

Anyway, here is Dr. Chan’s April 2008 letter to the g1to1 community (in italics, with my comments in regular text):

This is my story of 1:1 learning expedition that I’d like to share with you. Here I’d also like to advertise ICCE2008 this October in Taiwan since we plan to have these 1:1 learning issues be discussed at ICCE2008.
 
In 1998, I had a thought on using mobile technology in classrooms. Since price is a critical factor, we developed a very cheap response clicker system. I was not the first one to develop such clicker. But such clicker systems have become quite popular in some schools and even universities.
 
In 2000, I led a very large project. Our team promoted the concept of an ‘electronic schoolbag’ because one of the sub-projects was mobile learning and future classrooms in Taiwan. Of course, we didn’t develop any hardware and argued that any portable device with wireless accessibility would do. At the same time, Pong-Fu Chu, a legendary Taiwanese from the computer industry announced that he was going to produce very cheap computers for students in the poor areas in mainland China. But his attempt, like the earlier Simputer
of India, was not a success. Singapore made a similar attempt in 1999, but their device called EduPAD was expensive.
[This was around the same time we started doing the PEP Project in the U.S., with Palm devices (at Kent State we worked with Palm IIIc's. Also, it's interesting to note here that almost a decade ago, mobile learning in Taiwan already considered wireless access a must, something that didn't happen in the U.S. until about 2004/2005, I'd say, and even today there is still much apprehension about giving students wireless access to the Internet and each other without having some stringent filtering in place.)
 
In 2004, Jeremy Roschelle and I organized WMTE2004, an IEEE mobile learning workshop, in Taiwan. One of the topics in our informal discussions was the ultimate device used by kids in the future. Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris said that it should be PDA. But I was not completely convinced because, in Taiwan, administrators and possibly parents too, all think that a PDA screen is too small in general, not to mention using PDA for reading articles. But I have to admit that PDA screen sizes are actually not small compared to
many of the screens on GameBoy and similar game gadgets. After the WMTE workshop, I had a dinner with Ulrich Hoppe. I told him that I had asked my wife whether she would purchase a handy notebook such as an IBM ThinkPad X25 for our kids if a ThinkPad was cheap enough. She said no because it was too big and too heavy for the kids' school backpacks. I asked, "How about the TI's graphic calculators?" She said, "Definitely." (My two kids are now in high school and have TI calculators). So, I told Ulrich my guess of the
ultimate device for kids -- it should be half of the size a notebook computer (Ulrich said that I had a 'hidden' advisor on such devices).
[Again, interesting observations, especially with regards to screen size. Screen size has never really been an issue with students in our work, although it has been to some extent with adults. I think today it's not as much of an issue because many of the screens we deal with on a daily basis are small, especially when working with mobile tools. Another observation is that it's dangerous to put all of your eggs in one basket when it comes to the technology, especially mobile devices. Wireless mobile tools have and are developing at such a fast rate that obsolecence is the norm rather than the exception. Of course, the flip side of the coin is that if you don't invest your time, energy, and resources into something, you'll never move forward. In my view, mobile learning is mobile learning, no matter what type device you use. That's why I like the idea proposed by Sharples et al. of learning while mobile, the idea that it's the learner who is mobile, which is much closer to the idea of ubiquitous computing as described by e.g. Bell and Dourish (2006), and Rogers (2006).
 
In 2005, MIT announced their OLPC project. Later OLPC announced that Quanta, the largest notebook computer manufacturer from Taiwan, was going to (or dared to) manufacture their OLPC. Some people have claimed that these OLPCs were not powerful enough to be used by kids in developed countries. In 2006,
Intel announced their Classmate project. Last year in 2007, Asus, a Taiwanese company with a computer brand, announced Eee PC, a low-priced laptop.
[Plenty has been written about whether or not the OLPC project has succeeded. Regardless of the answer to that question, what the OLPC project did do was wake up industry to the fact that there is indeed a market for what I would call these mid-size devices, somewhere in between a palm-size devices and a laptop. Hence the development of devices such as the Eee PC, which seems to be gaining some traction in the U.S. market.]
 
Now, the size of these laptops-OLPC, Classmate, Eee PC-is not a problem, only a little larger than half the size of a standard notebook computer. Also, the weight is not a problem for kids, at around 1 KG. The price is not a problem, ranging from US$150 to US$500. The power is also not a problem too, since the software that would be used in schools should not be very demanding. Given time, they must be getting more and more powerful. But I was skeptical about the success of all these efforts, like my attitude towards Chu’s effort.
 
You all know OLPC targets users in under-developed countries, and they have a peculiar running model. Classmate perhaps is still a pilot project, without mass production. Eee PCs are also not promising. Actually, Asus delivered an earlier version of low-priced computers called Ultra-Mobile PC before Eee PC. My team bought one. When I saw it, I decided to wait to see how the magic gadget died because it was heavy, not powerful enough, and ugly. When Eee PC came out, again my team bought one, and I didn’t pay much
attention to it and was waiting to see when it will die. This is because their market cannot rely on schools kids, as schools are not for all practical purposes ready for such low-priced computers to come in yet. Without school kids, I don’t know who will be their target customers.
 
A few weeks ago, Beijing had WMUTE2008. Before I went, Ulrich sent an email to me and suggested that we have OLPC and Classmate representatives give keynotes in ICCE2008. Also before WMUTE2008, my colleague, Gwo-Dong Chen, who is acquainted with the local computer industry, and I came up an idea of
organizing a G1:1 meeting. I said that given the attempts by Quanta and Asus, and given that there are so many computer industry companies in Taiwan, which can produce any computers you want (but may not know what to produce), local industry people may interest in joining a meeting right before or after ICCE2008 with international 1:1 researchers who could become their international consultants on classroom technology.
 
Then I went to Beijing. In a local G1:1 workshop right before WMUTE2008, I attended a presentation of a pilot project of Classmate in Beijing. I met Marcelo Milrad in WMUTE. He introduced me to Rogerio de Paula, who was Gerhard Fisher’s PhD student now working as a researcher in the Classmate PC project at Intel.
 
To me, the signal that the 1:1 learning era (I’m referring to schools since college students are already 1:1; but 1:1 affects schools much more than colleges, I think.) has arrived was on the way back to Taiwan after
WMUTE2008. When I was on the plane to Hong Kong from Beijing, sitting next to me was a part time PhD student of my colleague. She took out her Eee PC and typed something. I said, “Did your advisor buy you the Eee PC?” She said, “No, I bought it for myself.” She explained that she got an Eee PC asher second computer because it is so cheap and light, convenient to bring along on trips for receiving emails, for searching online information, for doing word processing, for preparing PPT presentations. I was stunned. Now, I see some uses of Eee PC-the second computer.
[This was really somewhat of an eye-opener for me, because even though I've been using a Palm OS-based device for a long time, it has always been somewhat of a hassle to transfer data from laptop/PC to handheld. Of course nowadays this should be much easier to do. Part of the issue here is also one of perception. In the U.S. the model has been desktop and laptop, not PC and mobile internet device.]
 
When I come back, I learnt three more things about Eee PC. First, to Asus, Eee PC is a market success. They are going to release the second version of Eee PC. Other computer companies like Acer, Dell, and HP are going to release their low-priced notebooks (Acer had laughed at Asus’s Eee PCbefore; just like Intel at MIT’s OLPC). Second, my colleagues in my institute told me that another target user group for Eee PC is old people.
They do not demand many applications, only a few-such as Web surfing, email, and word processing. Although they are still not powerful enough for 3D games, more and more games for kids will be moved to them when their power increases. Third, Microsoft planned to release their new version of Vista sooner, but due to the success of the low-priced (and low-power) notebooks, they delayed their release to address support for such computers (otherwise Linux will take advantage of this).
[Again, interesting observations. Of course, running Vista on something like an Eee PC is like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer to say the least, and if I'm going to buy an Eee PC or similar device it would definitely NOT run on anything that's a full-blown version of Windows.]
 
A few days ago, I met my colleague Gwo-Dong again. He told me that members of the local industry do not seem to be interested in the idea we had. They have their agents in different countries; they will rely on them rather on academia. The same is true for PC industry people who would not directly to contact their school customers for setting up PC labs in the past, but their agents. However, if international 1:1 researchers are able to increase their avenues, these industry people will then be interested to interact with us. What does this mean? For example, if Ulrich or Marcelo can persuade their governments in Germany or Sweden to purchase tens of thousands computers with whatever brand names for the computers, say UlrichPad J or MarceloPad J, then these companies will be very interested to talk to Ulrich or Marcelo.
[This has always been the case for education, and I think it's why, for example, Palm substantially downsized its investment in K-12 education. I don't think we'll see the day, at least not in my lifetime, that we see a U.S. government initiative along the lines described here or following the model that OLPC envisioned.]
 
We should applaud OLPC’s effort. They’ve not only succeeded in raising the global awareness of digital divide problem and the concern of the globalization of education. Without their bold adventure, there will be no bold attempts, at least not so fast, by Quanta, Intel, and Asus, and hence the followers – Acer, HP, and Dell. (Note: Most computers nowadays are manufactured by Taiwanese companies. Actually, the companies are located in Taiwan, and the computers are possibly designed in Taiwan too, but the production lines are in China.) Without low-priced computers, most people are still bound to our bulky and expensive Windows notebook computers. I’ve used notebook computers for many years, but the price has been always in the
same level. Despite significant improvements in computer power and performance of my computer, I only use very few applications: Word, PPT, email, and a Web browser.
[This rings very true to me, and I think is an omen of what is to come for laptop programs in the U.S.; they're simply to expensive in time and money to maintain.]
 
What does it mean to say the 1:1 learning era? To me, the era of a new learning paradigm that is related to a particular technology begins when the ‘maturity’ of that technology has reached a certain stage. What I mean here by maturity to a certain stage is: wide accessibility to that technology and a large user population that does not include only users for educational purposes. We are now in the network learning era. When did it begin? I’d say it was in the mid-nineties because at that time it was clear that the users of Internet were more than just academics (of course, almost everyone can access Internet now). Learning, though important, is just one of the many applications of the Internet. Our schools are now in the PC Lab era. When did it begin? It was in the late eighties or early nineties when PCs became widely accessible for more than
educational purposes. The same is true for low-priced computers. Computers dedicated to education do not easily survive in the marketplace simply because schools are not ready. But the survival of low-priced general purpose computers in the market (the global market projection for low-priced computers is 10 million computers; thus at least some companies can survive) implies affordability and widespread usage by students and educators, potentially extending the low-priced computer market.
[I agree with Dr. Chan's description of a new learning paradigm. We are definitely in a network learning era, driven by the many tools provided by way of the Internet. However, while I agree to some extent that many schools are still in a PC Lab era, the key is that we need to look beyond the school walls and school day. When it comes to learning, we're definitely heading into a 1:1/learning while mobile era, or whatever term you want to put on it. What we need to realize is that a model of educational technology in which the tools are provided by a central institution like a school district, is not going to hold over the long term. A model that seems much more viable to me is one in which the learner provides the hardware to access learning tools and content, whether it be a mobile phone, pda, netbook, mobile internet device, gaming console, laptop, pc, etc. In this model, it will be up to the school to provide (access to) the network. This is a very different type of implementation model that will require some major changes on the part of educational institutions, in terms of technology, curriculum, and pedagogy.
 
Why is 1:1 learning important to our research? You can say that all I said above was about computer or technology trends, merely practical things happening in the real world. What is the significance of these trends relating to our research? Certainly, 1:1 technology is only a platform and an environment. However, if we remember our past research, our technology enhanced pedagogy research, fortunately or unfortunately, was very much influenced by technology advancement. When we were using workstations and PCs in the 70's and 80's, many of them were standalone then, AI researchers were investigating one-to-one tutoring, with a computer tutoring a student. When there was an Internet upsurge in the 90's, CSCL research, especially network learning community research, flourished. In this decade, mobile phones are widely used, and we now talk about mobile learning; since PCs are now more powerful than before, we talk about video-game based learning; since network performance is now better than before, we talk about MMOGs for learning (note that game-based learning must incorporate individual learning, including intelligent tutoring as well as group learning, including collaborative learning). Different from other learning paradigms, 1:1 learning can directly affect the teaching practice of the classrooms, and hence schools. The 1:1 technology only provides a platform, but on it we can conduct intelligent tutoring, collaborative learning, and game-based learning, both inside and outside classrooms. In other words, 1:1 technology will change the classroom, the setting where formal education most often takes place.
[And as I stated above, it will change learning beyond the classroom as well, and I think a concept like learning while mobile will work well here, because it is less reliable on certain technologies and more on learner characteristics. In fact, the only way we will be successful with using technology for teaching and learning is gaining a deeper understanding of how to change teaching and learning to leverage the affordances that digital technologies have to offer]
 
From research perspective, there maybe some oversimplified formulae:
        Workstation Era = Intelligent Tutoring Era;
        Network Era = CSCL Era
        Powerful (PC + Network) Era = Game-Based Learning Era
        Low-Priced Notebook Era = 1:1 Learning Era (for schools)
 
Similarly, from practice perspective, there are:
        PC Era = PC Lab Era
        Network Era = Network Learning Era
        Low-Priced Notebook Era = 1:1 Classroom Era
 
Perhaps not very long from now, every school will ask parents to purchase student computers for their kids, just as high schools in North America did for graphic calculators. Is 1:1 learning quickly crossing over the
innovation adoption ‘chasm’? When will this happen? What will the role of researchers be, especially when there are collective endeavor to get low-priced computers into classrooms soon? Are we ready for 1:1 research? I hope, this time, not ‘oversold’ and ‘underused’, but driven by compelling 1:1 demonstration classrooms.
 [Good questions to ask, and yes, I'm ready for it. The question is, are the schools?]
Technology advancement will continue to affect how 1:1 classrooms evolve. Perhaps we can look a bit ahead. Now, with these low-priced notebooks, we can incorporate intelligent tutoring and CSCL into 1:1 classrooms. But given time, we’ll have much more powerful but still low-priced computers at the
hands of our students. By then we can incorporate video-game based learning into 1:1 classroom. Perhaps one day when every student can afford an electronic paper instead of a notebook, interactions in the classroom are more enhanced and technology is less visible. Nonetheless, at this moment, at least to me, 1:1 learning era has arrived for research and soon for practice.
 
Tak-Wai Chan
4-26-2008

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