1 to 1 Computing… or Pods?

Written in response to a classmate’s criticism of my funding proposal abstract…

With this body of research do you think a computer for every student is the best way to go? Would it be better to fund computer pods where small groups of students can collaboratively work together?


This is a thoughtful (and research based) critique of the abstract I posted. I had high hopes for writing a better response by the end of the week, but this will have to do.

I couldn’t find either of your references in full text online, so I will have to work off of the quotes you’ve provided me (though if you could provide me with an electronic copy of the references, I would definitely appreciate it).

“Researchers and educators are now discovering that a bank of four to six computers in a classroom is one of the most pedagogically sound ways to create connections between curriculum and technology” (Whitehead, Jensen, & Boschee, 2003, p. 4)

I won’t dispute the fact that a pod of computers in the classroom is one of the most pedagogically sound ways to create connections between curriculum and technology. In fact, there is very little question in my mind that pods in a classroom have very many pedagogical advantages, provided teachers are using them in pedagogically sound ways… such as using them for centers, for group work, or even as inquiry stations for use when questions come up during class… as opposed to being used for internet surfing for students who finish early or word-processing for students who haven’t quite finished their essay at home. (Even pods can be misused… or ignored.)

Most of the research I have encountered on the topic of whether 1 to 1 or pods is better focuses on 1 to 1 in computer labs versus pods in classrooms. This seems to be one way in which the resource you have quoted has been used. I am with Papert and others (Including you, I suspect) who think that computer labs represent the sterilization of computers in schools… that, according to a popular metaphor, a very resistant organism (the traditional school) produced a sort of immune response relegating computers to labs so that they do not invade and infect classrooms with change. I will not dispute the research that says pods are more advantageous than computer labs. (Unfortunately, many teachers want every student to do the same thing at the same time, and prefer taking students to the lab… where they are most likely to simply work alone on word processing, online research, or maybe preparing a presentation.)

However, I think it is a very different thing to talk about 1 to 1 mobile computing that is with students 24/7! This extends the learning environment outside of the classroom. Students have the power to have all of their most powerful learning resources with them all of the time. I wish I had the references on hand, but the original EETT application that N-MUSD did before implementing handhelds for 1000 middle school students cited research that showed 1 to 1 (and 24/7) computer access resulted in higher homework completion rates and better writing. (Many technical and logistical issues plagued the N-MUSD project, but I believe Fullerton school district in Orange County is seeing positive results with their 1 to 1 laptop project.) I also think this scenario addresses the criticisms of your second quote.

The research indicates that an individual computer station can deter a child’s performance because they lose the benefit of working in small groups (“Computer pods,” 1998).

If used in pedagogically sound ways (and this is why I am writing a plan that starts small), a 1 to 1 student to wirelessly networked computer ratio can serve to connect students (and their teachers) in powerful ways. Students can collaborate using shared resources online (particularly the growing number of read/write web applications), can be constantly connected via Instant Messaging (which, like Walden’s discussion forums, and UCI’s synchronous online classes, would allow students to participate in many conversations without interrupting others in the class), can each play a role in creating meaningful multi-media projects (which never the less require a good deal of team work – consider the number of people it takes to write, film, and edit a good movie… or group skit), and – of course – they could participate in multiplayer online games and simulations. In fact, it is exciting that Second Life and Never Winter Nights are now available for OS X, so students can have the multi-media tools of iLife and access to open ended gaming and simulation environments on the same machine. (Hmmm… didn’t build the licenses for these into my budget yet, though. Grr.)

At any rate, know that the issues you brought up did not fall on deaf ears, but that the vision I have for this project will address these concerns directly… and in a spectacular fashion, I hope.

Again, I had hoped to locate more specific resources before writing this, and if I find more I will put them in the appropriate forum. But, I also doubt I will find many formally published studies that would address all that is currently possible with 1 to 1 networked computing . Things are changing (for the better) very rapidly. Still, I suppose it will fall to me to find these resources in the coming months. :)


PS – I have a funny feeling I won’t be able to call a small group of computers in a classroom a “pod” anymore. People will presume I am taking about an iPod.