The quill pen has special meaning in the Sannier household. It’s a symbol to my family of an education system mired in the past. When our kids were in elementary school, they’d often be at the kitchen table scrubbing away with a pencil eraser making an unholy graphite mess, on the verge of tears. “Why can’t I use my computer to do this?” they would cry out with an angst only a geek can truly appreciate.
We started calling these “quill pen” moments, in honor of the fantasy conversation we wanted to hold with the teacher in charge. In our minds, the conversation went something like this:
Boy: Excuse me Ma'am. Will it be alright if I use a computer to write
Teacher: No son, I’m sorry, but you’ll need to handwrite this assignment.
Boy: Why is that Ma'am?
Teacher: Well son, I can’t be sure that everyone in the class has a
computer. Besides, handwriting is a critical skill, one of the
traditional cornerstones of elementary education.
Boy: But I can do a much better job and I’ll enjoy it so much more if
you allow me to use my machine. Plus I’ll be able to easily keep
the result, find it in the future, and refer to it later.
Teacher: I’m sorry son but you can’t always rely on having a computer
handy when you need to write something.
Boy: Well, thanks for keeping me safe. Will you also be requiring me to
MAKE MY OWN INK AND USE A QUILL PEN ?!!
So enough already. Isn’t it time to raise the bar? For hundreds of years, the basic educational platform has remained unchanged. For most students, in most classes, the 21st century learning platform is the same as the 19th century one – oral and written information delivery captured by pen and paper. But meeting the higher education challenges of the 21st century is going to require 21st century tools. And that’s where 1:1 comes in.
Essentially, 1:1 means every student has the ability to use a portable personal computer in the service of their education, connected to the Internet, whether they are in class or at the library; in the coffee shop or at work; at home or on the road.
Portable so its use becomes ubiquitous. Personal so each student's digital archive can become a reflection of what they know, an augmentation of their brain.
1:1 computing means delivering the services currently provided by common computing infrastructure, like that found in Computing Commons or Coor Hall, through a network of student owned laptops that connect to ASU resources and the Internet via wireless network.
If you’ve been around campus lately, you’ll know this is already happening in an ad hoc way. Lots of students, more every year, bring portable computers with them to school, and carry them to class. You see them working around the edges of Computing Commons, in the classrooms and the coffee shops. But 1:1 is not yet a platform, as the lines inside Commons and Coor will attest. We still have, build, and plan for special “computer-mediated” classrooms, where we deploy computers to every seat in the room. In the meantime though, the lion’s share of our classrooms provide students with the same equipment Oxford provided their students in 1550 – a seat in sight of the “sage on the stage”.
Is their something sacred about a laptop? Well yes and no. I say a laptop and not an Ipod (see The Duke Digital Intitiative), because the laptop is a two way device, allowing students to create content as well as access it. Will it always be a laptop? Certainly not. As technology improves, in its exponential way, the platform will too. But one of the great things about a 1:1 approach is the way it allows the University to keep its academic computing infrastructure on the cutting edge without requiring it to centrally fund it. Every year the platform can be reevaluated. Every four years you have [nearly] complete turnover.
Until professors can rely on the fact that every student has mobile access, just like the teacher in my fantasy conversation, they can’t fully integrate digital power into their pedagogy. If computing is not pervasive, if it is not a platform, then it can only supplement education. Its full potential to transform the ways in which students investigate, explore, learn and remember cannot be realized. Its a chicken/egg thing.
To date, ASU has delivered technology in the service of education primarily through the use of centralized common computing facilities. These facilities provide access to standard tools and a range of ASU developed and modified services. In this centralized mode, technology stays outside the classroom for the most part and serves only as a supplement to the traditional learning platform.
When I was an undergraduate (before the earth’s crust cooled), centralized facilities like these were the state of the art. They were gateways for students to the world of information technology. They provided students with their first intensive experiences with email, word processing, spreadsheets, the web, and software and content that supplemented their instruction. While these centralized deployments did not extend technology to the classroom in any significant way, they did – and still do – provide a way for students to make technology a part of their academic experience.
But since my undergrad days, the world has changed completely. Unlike the students of even a decade ago, today's entering freshman are no strangers to technology. Members of the "Net Generation", most of these students have grown up using a wide array of technologies in highly personal ways. For them, crossing campus to stand in line for the opportunity to work at a computer is not a leap forward – it’s a slide backward.
Advances in wireless networking and portable computing have changed the game completely. Technology is no longer inherently restricted to a supplementary role – for use only outside the classroom, in an impersonal, centralized way. It is now possible for technology to serve as the primary educational platform – for use both inside and outside the classroom, in a highly personal, mobile way.
Several years ago, in an audit prepared for the Arizona Board of Regents, ASU was praised for the progressive online experience it provided its students. But the online world has sped on, and ASU has not kept pace. A drive toward 1:1 is ASU’s opportunity to catch up and race ahead – leveraging online and mobile technologies to improve the student experience through a scalable, pervasive, technology-based platform.
Clearly there are challenges to overcome. 1:1 must be made affordable. 1:1 cannot create a financial barrier for students. In implementing 1:1, ASU will face new support challenges -- helping faculty and students leverage the new platform, helping students to manage their personal machines, and to repair or replace them when they break. Wireless coverage will have to continue to expand until it reaches every corner of the University.
There are many challenges to overcome, but the 1:1 vision is solid. To continue to serve Arizona, and be inclusive of more of its population, ASU must grow. And increasing the numbers of students in existing classes and classrooms, and increasing the numbers of teaching assistants, adjunct faculty, academic advisors, tutors and administrators – these strategies have upper limits beyond which continued proportional growth is impractical. Technology can provide a scalable answer that can increase the quality of the education we provide.
Consider a 1:1 program based on three components:
- The 1:1 Technology Platform – providing the full range of software, technical, and support services needed to establish and sustain a network of student-owned laptops that meet the published ASU standard;
- A redesigned myASU.edu – a next-generation academic portal providing consistent, comprehensive, self-service, online access to the full range of administrative and academic services necessary to fully support the student community;
- Instructional Content Services – a set of tools, standards and services designed to assist faculty and students in the creation, capture, maintenance, and deployment of technology based instructional content.
By ensuring a common personal computing platform for every student, the 1:1 approach allows myASU.edu to truly be “One University in Many Places”. By taking technology to the students 1:1, ASU can scalably manage its enrollment growth, and overcome the constraints of physical space, and limited financial and human resources. Unlike centralized technology deployments, the 1:1 approach assures a greater level of access and support at a lower marginal cost for each student. It is scalable because it allows ASU to give increasing numbers of students greater access to information and services without placing proportional demands on space, personnel, or computing equipment.
For years, advanced mathematics courses required their students – in addition to pencil and paper – to bring slide rules with them to class. The advent of electronic calculators in the early 1970’s introduced the possibility for radical change. Not everyone got on board right away. I still remember my trig teacher, Mr. Bruno Smolek. Mr. Smolek was a gifted math teacher, veteran of World War II, old school all the way. My sister bought me a calculator for Christmas and I brought it to class instead of my slide rule:
"You get rid of that thing Sannier...As far as I'm concerned you can take those calculators and throw 'em in the Sea of Japan [a little jingoist our Mr Smolek, a product of his times]. We've sent men to the moon with these slide rules Sannier...What happens when its your turn to compute the orbital trajectory and you run out of batteries?
I'm making Bruno sound a little silly here (though the above is pretty close to his actual words), but he had his points. He felt that slide rules made you understand the underlying mathematics better becasue you had to have an implicit understanding of at least the magnitude of the eventual answer. His tests, which were great evaluative instruments for a slide rule class, were a snap with a calculator. So he had his points. But Bruno's objections not withstanding, the platform was raised and I would have to argue that the engineering that we do today would be out of reach if all were were equipped with were slide rules.
Today, we have a similar choice, but with a tool far more powerful and general purpose than those first calculators. Lightweight, relatively inexpensive, portable computing devices equipped with wireless networking capability are to pen and paper as the calculator was to the slide rule. Many of ASU’s students already bring these devices to campus and to class. But until ubiquitous personal computing becomes an acknowledged part of the learning platform, their value and role is limited. The bar must be raised to achieve the full value.
The impact will be profound, across all traditional areas of University planning and implementation. An instructor need not be constrained by the availability of traditional ‘computer labs’ in order to plan for instructional delivery. 1:1 makes every space a fully mediated classroom. By design the ASU campus will extend far beyond its physical boundaries. As students, faculty and researchers use digital tools and technologies with increasing sophistication and innovation, they will be transforming the practices of collaboration and communication. New forms of scholarship, research, and creativity will be produced, resulting in significant new works accessible and meaningful only in digital form.
Establishing a 1:1 computing culture will not only directly empower the learner, but dramatically change the way that instruction is designed and delivered by the faculty. Designing instruction rests upon basic assumptions. As the old assumptions — that every student arrives to class with pencil and paper – give way to the new – that every student is a skilled user of portable computing – instructors will be freed to invent new connections to content and resources.
Great teachers and students have always been, and will always be, the central elements of higher education. But if some things are timeless, others progress. Using new technology, universities can do more than match faculty and students in classrooms and laboratories. With 1:1 technology, faculty can be made more available; students can work more closely together; and the entire community can be given access to an unprecedented array of new services and learning resources. All of this designed to enhance the achievement of ASU students – achievement measured in more new skills acquired, more students graduated, more jobs filled, and more businesses created.
As one is to one.