Ubiquitous Access to Technology

Technology can make possible new models of engaged and powerful learning.

Despite the strong presence of ubiquitous technology in the lives of students, a gap exists between teenagers’ use of technology and schools’ use of technology for teaching and learning.

When Mark Weiser coined the term “ubiquitous computing” in 1991, he envisioned that “the most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable.” ISTE, P21, SETDA (2007). Maximizing the Impact: The Pivotal Role of Technology in a 21st Century Education System.

Many schools have determined that the way to increase engagement, improve student achievement, and establish digital equity is to provide each student with their own notebook computer. This practice enables students to weave the technology into their learning, both in school and out of school, leveraging it for learning, thinking, creating, researching, publishing; in short; for their daily work of developing critical 21st century skills.

Also at the core of today’s ubiquitous technology is a collection of new generation web-based tools and businesses that form a “participatory web.” Madden, M. & Fox, S. (2007). Riding the waves of “Web 2.0”. Backgrounder, Pew Internet and American Life Project, 23, 1. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Web_2.0.pdf. Many of these tools are free. Many are social in nature and promote self-expression. Many allow multiple users to participate by editing, commenting, and polishing a document collaboratively rather than working alone. In some ways, both the tools and the products created with them can be considered works in progress, available for anyone to contribute to, ad infinitum. Madden, M. & Fox, S. (2007). Riding the waves of “Web 2.0”. Backgrounder, Pew Internet and American Life Project, 23, 1. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Web_2.0.pdf.

About 96 percent of students with online access report using at least one social networking technology. “Online social networking is now so deeply embedded in the lifestyles of tweens and teens that it rivals television for their attention,” according to a study done by Grunwald Associates, LLC in 2007 in cooperation with the National School Boards Association.

YouTube accounted for 1 out of every 3 U.S. online videos in January 2008. comScore Video Metrix Service. March 14, 2008. http://comScore.com/press/release.asp?press=2111

The top social networking sites in February 2008 were MySpace, with more than 955,000,000 monthly visits, and Facebook, with more than 325,000,000 monthly visits. Compete web analytics. http://blog.compete.com/2008/03/07/top-social-networks-traffic-feb-2008/

Students identified by this study as nonconformists-students who step outside of online safety and behavior rules-are particularly drawn to social networking. According to the Grunwald report, “These students are on the cutting edge of social networking, with online behaviors and skills that indicate leadership among peers.” Grunwald Associates, LLC, in cooperation with the National School Board Association. Creating & connecting: Research and guidelines on online social and educational networking.

Thirty-three percent of students were labeled as nonconformists by the study, yet they demonstrate a high level of 21st century skills, including communication, creativity, collaboration, and leadership skills, and technological proficiency. At the same time, they are more likely than other students to have lower grades, which they report as a mix of Bs and Cs. Madden, M. & Fox, S. (2007). Riding the waves of “Web 2.0”. Backgrounder, Pew Internet and American Life Project, 23, 1. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Web_2.0.pdf This latter finding reminds us that student achievement may come in many forms and that current methods of assessing student achievement are too narrow in their focus, leaving talented students thinking otherwise.

Online activities of nonconformist students compared to other students: 41 percent tell their peers about new sites and features online (compared to 25 percent of other students); 59 percent get a disproportionately large number of other students to visit their favorite sites (compared to 32 percent of other students); 23 percent of the nonconformist students organize a lot of group events using their handhelds (compared to 10 percent of other students). Madden, M. & Fox, S. (2007). Riding the waves of “Web 2.0”. Backgrounder, Pew Internet and American Life Project, 23, 1. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Web_2.0.pdf.

Another population that has much to gain from ubiquitous technology and social networks for learning is youths with disabilities. The National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) sees these technologies as great equalizers. “Youths with disabilities, already at risk for being left on the educational and social sidelines, can through social media and these emerging communications technologies, connect with the world in ways that have not been possible before.” National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) (2007). Using the power of social media to promote assistive and learning technology, 6. NCTI points to Brigadoon, an island developed in Second Life by a researcher as a support group for users with Asperger’s Syndrome, and the collaborative efforts to make multi-user games accessible to gamers who are visually impaired.

However, one positive sign is the growing interest in 1 to 1 learning programs, where students and teachers have 24 by 7 access to a notebook computer and Internet access. In 2003, Quality Education Data (QED) reported that 4 percent of U.S. school districts had started 1 to 1 programs. According to America’s Digital Schools 2006, since 2006 more than 24 percent of school districts are in the process of transitioning to 1 to 1. Greaves, T. & Hayes, J. R. (2006). America’s digital schools 2006: A five-year forecast. The Hayes Connection and The Greaves Group, 15. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from http://www.ads2006.org/main/index.php

1 to 1 Programs Work

Though empirical research is limited on the effectiveness of 1 to 1 programs on student achievement, districts and states report promising results. Students in 1 to 1 environments show greater independence and self-directed learning. They are more engaged and motivated, with significant improvements in attendance and have fewer discipline problems. Wilson, L.A. & Peterson, E.L. (2006). Measuring the value of one-to-one computing: A case study perspective. One-to-One Computing, CoSN Compendium 2006. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from https://my.cosn.org/mycosn/store/?storecat=2006%20Compendium

As a result, educator experts increasingly have the view that 1 to 1 programs can be a critical component of preparing students for the future. As U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings noted in a December 2006 speech to business leaders, “Technology can provide a platform to transform education to meet the demands of the 21st century. With education so crucial to our country’s future, we must focus … energy, effort and investment into transforming this critical sector.” Spellings, Margaret (2006). Speech delivered in Mountain View, CA on December 12, 2006.

Carla Beard, chair of the English Department at Connersville High School in Indiana, has said, “If someone were to invent an Engagement-o-meter, our kids would zoom off the top end, and their teachers would not be far behind. We are seeing kids who WANT to take notes. We are seeing kids who were once willing to take a zero and just not do an assignment but who now complete it because a computer is involved. Just today I thought someone was surreptitiously online during my lesson. I asked him to turn off his monitor. He did, but he also said, ‘I was at the dictionary site looking up a word.’ And he was. Wow!” Zucker, Andrew A., Ed.D. (Draft: April 27, 2006). 1:1 (One-to-One) Computing: A Briefing for the Indiana Educational Technology Council. http://www.indiana-etc.org/pdfs%5C1-to-1-computing.pdf

An increasing number of schools and school districts are experiencing the reality of such observations after implementing 1 to 1 programs. In Maine, for example, 33,000 seventh and eighth graders enrolled in a 1 to 1 program improved their scores in language arts, math, and science. Having used notebook computers all four years of high school, twelfth grade students scored higher than 85 percent of their peers in all five core subjects of the last Maine Educational Assessment. Silvermail, D.L., Gritter, A.K. (2007). Maine’s Middle School Laptop Program: Creating Better Writers. Maine Education Policy Research, University of Southern Maine. http://www.usm.maine.edu/cepare/Impact_on_Student_Writing_Brief.pdf

While use of notebooks for learning is on the rise, most districts remain cautious about the use of mobile technologies other than computers in the classroom, such as cell phones and iPod players, often prohibiting use during school hours. Many districts are also locking down the social networking capabilities of Web 2.0 tools, concerned about issues of safety and distraction.

“Our nation’s education system must join the ranks of competitive U.S. industries that have made technology an indispensable part of their operations and reaped the benefits of their actions.”

— ISTE, P21, SETDA Report

It is interesting to note, however, that in spite of this lockdown in schools, students report that one of the most common topics of conversation in social networking is education. Almost 60 percent of students who use social networking talk about education topics online and 50 percent talk specifically about schoolwork. Richardson, W. (2006). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms: Transforming teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

What impact can ubiquitous technology have on teaching and learning? What is pedagogically possible when these tools and social environments are made available to students? Two trends are shaping 21st century learning.

First, the volume of both new and old content is coming online at a staggering pace. The sheer quantity of stored information in the world is growing at a rate of 30 percent per year, which means it is doubling every three years. Lyman, P. & Varian, H.R. (2003). How much information 2003? (Research Study-Executive Summary). University of California Berkeley, School of Information Management and Systems. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from http://www.sims.berkeley.edu/how-much-info-2003.. Teachers’ and students’ ability to use that knowledge effectively and deliberately is of the highest importance.

Second, the creation of content is becoming increasingly collaborative. Almost all software applications on the market today have collaborative tools built in. “Right now, teachers are employing blogs and wikis in ways that are transforming the curriculum and are allowing learning to continue long after the class ends.” As quoted in Swan, K., M. Hooft, A. Kratcoski, & J. Schenker. (2007). Ubiquitous computing and changing pedagogical possibilities: Representations, conceptualizations and uses of knowledge. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 36(4), 481-515.

These trends make possible new models of learning, allowing students to do a substantial amount of learning outside of school and collaboratively in peer-to-peer or small group networks. In “The Educators Manifesto,” Robbie McClintock describes three of these models: As quoted in Swan, K., M. Hooft, A. Kratcoski, & J. Schenker. (2007). Ubiquitous computing and changing pedagogical possibilities: Representations, conceptualizations and uses of knowledge. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 36(4), 481-515.

Connecting to the world.
“Communications technologies have the potential to change schools and classrooms from isolated places with scarce access to information environments with rich connections to the world and all its ideas.”
Multiple representations of knowledge.
“Multimedia and multiple representations of knowledge make it increasingly evident that the work of thinking can take place through many forms-verbal, visual, auditory, kinetic, and blends of all and each.”
Augmenting knowledge.
Digital tools designed to “augment human intelligence-from digital calculators, word processors, databases and spreadsheets to very complex modeling, statistical, and graphical software-automate lower level intellectual skill, allowing their users to concentrate on higher level thinking.”

A fourth model involves higher order thinking:

Collaborative thinking.
Collaborative tools enable teams of students to participate in creating, editing, and revising documents collectively, thus enhancing the possibilities for group wisdom. As they create and collaborate, students find their voices as they are recognized collectively and individually.

Another view of new models of learning compares the Traditional Classroom with the Classroom of the Read/Write Web. Richardson, W. (2006). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms: Transforming Teaching.

Traditional Classroom Classroom of the Read/Write Web
Textbook Staggering breadth and depth of content. Open-source type classrooms in which everyone contributes to the curriculum.
School teachers Knowledge of primary sources such as authors, historians, and researchers.
Do your own work Produce work in collaborative ways for larger audiences.
Lecture Conversation.
Textbooks and more “closed” sources of info Create own texts from different content providers such as blogs, wikis, websites, discussion groups, and so on. Teachers and students employ the many ways to find information on the web.
Reading as passive and “trusted” process Active engagement in reading for truth and accuracy.
Paper-based content Electronic learner portfolios.
Text-based writing Write in many different genres.
Mastery of content as measured by passing a test Electronic online portfolios.
Handing in assignments Contribute ideas and work to larger body of knowledge that is the web.

Barriers and Challenges to Ubiquitous Technology for Learning

Evaluations of 1 to 1 programs point to the importance of ensuring that the systems are in place to support teachers as they use ubiquitous computing in the classroom. This starts with a clear focus on desired goals. Careful attention is required for planning, professional development, hardware and software acquisition, managing change, and program monitoring and evaluation. Bonifaz, A., & Zucker, A. (2004). Lessons learned about providing laptops for all students. Newton, MA: Northeast and the Islands Regional Technology in Education Consortium, Education Development Center, Inc.

As ubiquitous computing expands to ubiquitous technology, with greater use of handheld mobile devices and Web 2.0 tools to support 21st century learning, other important issues arise. Some of these issues relate to the privacy of personal information, safety, and control. “The more invisible the technology, the harder it becomes to know what is controlling what, what is connected to what, where information is flowing, how it is being used, what is broken.” D. Ley. Ubiquitous computing. Emerging technologies for learning, p. 77. Becta Publishers. 2007 http://events.becta.org.uk/content_files/corporate/resources/events/2007/jan/bett_2007/bett07_emerge_tech_collab1.pdf. These are significant issues for educators and, in many ways, justify their reluctance to use these new and disruptive tools.

What’s Next?

Alan Kay has predicted that “similar to the impact of printing, computers would only make a difference in people’s lives if they were to become universally available,” which he equated with affordable and portable. As quoted in Swan, K., M. Hooft, A. Kratcoski, & J. Schenker. (2007). Ubiquitous computing and changing pedagogical possibilities: Representations, conceptualizations and uses of knowledge. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 36(4), 481-515. With the growing access to multiple computers and digital devices for an individual anytime, anywhere, it appears that vision is just coming to fruition.

But policy makers should begin to build public vision and add capacity for technology-enabled ubiquitous learning now. They will benefit from the successes, setbacks and lessons learned from 1 to 1 learning environments. Most importantly, educators need to recognize that with ubiquitous technology, the world becomes the classroom.

Research Findings Related to Ubiquitous Technology

While there are no national standards yet for measuring the success of 1 to 1 programs, results from individual schools and districts indicate the programs boost students’ academic performance and test scores. This has been documented in the state of Maine, previously mentioned, and in other schools, including Pleasanton High School in Texas.

Use of collaborative tools in school districts: 92 percent require parents and/or students to sign an Internet use policy; 84 percent have rules against online chatting and 81 percent regarding instant messaging; 62 percent have rules against participating in bulletin boards or blogs; 60 percent prohibit sending and receiving email in school; 52 percent prohibit any use of social networking sites in school. Source: Grunwald & Associates, LLC, in cooperation with the National School Board Association. Creating and Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social - and Educational - Networking. July 2007. http://events.becta.org.uk/content_files/corporate/resources/events/2007/jan/bett_2007/bett07_emerge_tech_collab1.pdf

The Pleasanton High School example speaks to one of the critical goals-and successes-of 1 to 1 programs: to close the digital divide and equip all students with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century workplace. This is especially important for lower income students who may not have access to computers and the Internet at home. By helping to improve students’ academic, creative, and technical skills, 1 to 1 programs support the needs and interests of local businesses and can help fuel local economic growth and development.

While most 1 to 1 learning programs focus on improving academic achievement, equity, economic development, and teaching, outcomes often extend far beyond those areas. One compelling outcome is the role students often play in teaching teachers how to use technology.

In a number of 1 to 1 programs, students play an important role in providing the first line of technical support. In Maine, for example, student “iTeams” help troubleshoot routine problems. In other programs, students play a similar role in providing technical support-both formally and informally-as part of the program design. The results can be powerful, as noted by a teacher in the Maine Learning Technology Initiative: “We have a kid who isn’t a top student. He doesn’t get all A’s, but he knows a lot about computers. The other teacher on my team is not very good with technology, and she goes to him and he loves that. It’s been a way for him to stand out and make a difference.” Fairman, Janet (2004). Trading Roles: Teachers and students learn with technology. Orono, ME: Maine Education Policy Research Institute, University of Maine Office. http://www.usm.maine.edu/cepare/pdf/mlti/MLTI%20Phase%20One%20Evaluation%20Report%203.pdf

In addition, research shows that 1 to 1 programs have a significant impact beyond schools to families and communities, with students acting as mentors to parents, siblings, and other community members. Lemke, Cheryl & Martin, Crystal (March 2004). One-to-One Computing in Maine: A STATE PROFILE. Culver City, CA: Metiri Group. Lemke, Cheryl & Martin, Crystal (April 7, 2004). Lemke, Cheryl & Martin, Crystal (May 12, 2004). One-to-One Computing in Virginia A STATE PROFILE.

The programs similarly energize parents, with marked improvements in parent-teacher interaction and parent attendance at school events. Moreover, 1 to 1 programs increase teacher retention and enthusiasm as well as recruitment efforts.

Photo Profile Pleasanton

Pleasanton High School

Pleasanton Independent School District
Atascosa County, TX

Located about 40 miles south of San Antonio, TX, the rural Pleasanton Independent School District (PISD) spans some 440 square miles and eight communities. About 68 percent of PISD students receive free or reduced-price lunches. Many don’t have Internet access at home. But through a 1 to 1 program launched in the 2001-2002 school year, all of the 1000 Pleasanton High School students-and all of their teachers-have a wireless notebook. The school’s wireless network reaches all corners of the school grounds-even the parking lot.

Even more important than its physical reach, the 1 to 1 program is reaching students. “We just feel that computers will prepare our kids for the 21st century skills that they’re going to need,” said PISD Superintendent Alton Fields. “Some of these kids would never have access to this type of technology if they didn’t get it in the schoolhouse.”

The benefits of this access show, with the PISD staff reporting positive results. In a comparison of attendance rates, attendance was up a full 2 percent over the same period of the previous school year. In addition, student engagement has been extremely strong: Not a single discipline referral was reported for any of the 1000 high school students the day the notebooks were distributed, and enthusiasm for technology-based learning remains extremely high.

On the verge of becoming low performing just a few years ago, PISD is now regarded as exemplary. For example, on language arts standardized tests, the school’s ninth graders scored 9.5 percent higher in the school year 2002-2003 than the average for all ninth graders in high schools in the same region; the school’s tenth graders scored 16.5 percent higher; and eleventh graders scored 8.1 percent higher.

Results on standardized math tests were even better. For example, ninth graders scored 17.3, 33.3, and 38.4 percent higher on standardized math tests than other ninth graders in the region in 2002-2003, 2003-2004, and 2004-2005 respectively. Tenth and eleventh graders also scored well on these tests compared to other students in their grade levels during these school years. School district test score data collected by Apple in 2006