When Will Teachers Get to Learn?

A quick road map for training and support in the transition toward 1:1.

By Nicole Schon

Teachers study together

Picture two classrooms at a school that has just recently handed out tablets to every student. In one classroom, everyone walks into class and pulls out the tablet, knowing they will be actively using it as a tool for their learning. In the other classroom, students walk in and keep the tablet tucked away in a backpack as it is seen as a distraction from learning. The difference? The teacher.

The research is resoundingly clear: teachers are one of, if not the most, critical component when it comes to 1:1 implementation. For example, an empirical study led by Bebell and Kay (2010) stated that “teachers nearly always control how and when students access and use technology during the school day” (p. 47). Other findings, highlighted in a special edition of The Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment (Bebell & O’Dwyer, 2010), point to “teacher buy-in” as one of the most critical factors for implementation success.

So the question becomes, how to create buy-in? How to support teachers in redefining mobile devices as learning tools? The answer, or at least a large piece of it, should come as no surprise: teach them. Or better yet, have them teach, coach, and learn from each other.

Below are suggestions for teaching the skills and rationale of using technology in what I term “learning phases.” Since all learning is situated within the context of the community within which it occurs, I also offer a few suggestions for making the community optimal for learning. I call this a “learning-friendly culture.” Use this as an initial rough road map sketch for getting to the destination of meaningful learning in a 1:1 setting.  

Establish Learning Phases

There are, at minimum, three phases of training all teachers will benefit from: initial training, ongoing training, and ongoing practice.

1. Initial Training

This is where you get to dig in to the nuts and bolts of how things work, along with some of the broader elements of theory and research behind integrating technology. Depending on what type of device you are implementing, you may spend more or less time on this. For those using laptops, many teachers may already feel comfortable with the technology. If it's a tablet, anticipate a much steeper learning curve. Some questions that can be asked include:

  1. What are the basics of how the device works?
  2. How do the applications students will use work?
  3. How can the technology be put to use so that it takes learning beyond what was possible before the technology was available?
  4. How and where (and why) does technology fit in the instructional day?
  5. What does the research say about what does and does not work in 1:1 settings?

2. Ongoing Training

Once students have begun using the devices in class, another steep learning curve will inevitably occur for teachers. Make opportunities to openly discuss failures, successes, and questions. Arrange classroom observations to share best practices, and group meetings to problem solve. PLC groups, collaborative forums on platforms like Edmodo, or the simple act of setting aside time at a staff meeting, are all simple solutions for creating space for ongoing learning to occur. Questions that could be addressed at staff meetings or in PLCs include:

  1. What are the intermediate and advanced functions, settings, and features of the device?
  2. What roadblocks are occurring? What solutions exist or could be created?
  3. What unintended benefits does using the technology create?
  4. Think about the questions posed in the initial training. How has the experience of implementing 1:1 shifted the response to these questions?

3. Ongoing Practice

As with integrating any new strategy in the classroom, it can only be refined and turned into best practice through use—trying it out, seeing what works and what fails, and making adjustments based on these experiences. Providing up-front training and ample ongoing support helps lower the risk, and the fear, inherent in attempting something completely new.

Establish a Learning-Friendly Culture

In both your initial and ongoing trainings, keeping a few fundamental elements in place will support teachers in learning. Again, this list should look eerily familiar—it is what we aspire to as teachers in our classrooms.

Make Room for Differentiated Learning

Allow teachers to self-identify into groups of basic, intermediate, and advanced in terms of their familiarity and comfort using the device so that they may work at a pace that is comfortable to them. Just like in a classroom, providing the right level of support and reassurance allows effective filters to lower and learning to occur.

Establish a Collaborative, Supportive Atmosphere

The power of culture can not be overemphasized. In order for all teachers to come on board with 1:1, it has to be okay to go slow, ask questions, and get help from each other.

Less is More

Instead of mass trainings with all teachers in the room, consider having smaller groups of 10-15 people at each training. This will allow each person to receive more individual support from the trainer. This roadmap is not comprehensive, but it’s a good tool to get you moving in the right direction. Use research studies (like those cited in this article) to help flesh out your plan based on the specific needs of the community and resources available at your particular site.

When staring down the barrel of implementation, there’s often a lot of pressure to rush tools into student hands, and so teacher training is sparse or non-existent. And since teachers aren’t comfortable with how to use the devices, they wind up sitting unused, meaning all that rushing did not accomplish the intended goal. Instead, go slow to go fast. Take the time to foster collegiate environments with ample amounts of training and support for teachers. In return, teachers will develop essential practices and understandings that will enable them to turn mobile devices into tools for powerful learning.

Resources Cited

  • Bebell, D. & O’Dwyer, L.M. (2010). Educational Outcomes and Research from 1:1 Computing Settings. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(1).
  • Bebell, D. & Kay, R. (2010). One to One Computing: A Summary of the Quantitative Results from the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(2).
  • Shapley, K.S., Sheehan, D., Maloney, C., & Caranikas-Walker, F. (2010). Evaluating the Implementation Fidelity of Technology Immersion and its Relationship with Student Achievement. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(4).