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1:1 Rhetoric

21st century learning. One-to-one. Laptop learning. Mobile learning. Integrated, infused, embedded. Personalized learning. Blended Learning. Disruption. Innovation. Transformation.

I hear these words over and over again. No sooner is there a new term that seems to perfectly capture what I want to say, see, achieve, then it becomes so overused it loses all meaning. And yet I find myself using these words. They seem to convey something we’re all willing to embrace, but even as I use them, I cringe because I know what I’m thinking isn’t necessarily what all the people around me, shaking their heads with understanding, are thinking.

This is not the first time in education that overworked terms have lead to superficial agreement, yet lack of enough shared understanding to provide any direction. Take the term constructivism – I’ve heard that described as everything from students building their knowledge based on what they already know to schools running amok as students do whatever they want in the day with no pre-determined curriculum. No wonder non-educators are confused – so are we!!

Even one-to-one, laptop learning and mobile learning is less straightforward than I’d like. One-to-one can be one laptop for one student or one device per student (cell phones and PDAs such as an iTouch included) or one computer (desktop, laptop or terminal) per desk so each student has a computer to use when sitting at that desk. Mobile learning seems to turn that around a bit, starting with one cellphone per student – or one PDA – or even one netbook or laptop.

We at AALF try to be very clear about how we think of one-to-one – we mean one laptop or netbook with full capabilities per student. And although laptop programs in name seem to be focused on the device, I think we all agree the focus of all these discussions should be on learning. A smaller “mobile” device is good for some tasks, but I always try to be forward thinking enough to anticipate other needs the student most certainly will have. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of letting the device capabilities (subtly) define our goals. Rather we should let our goals define what device we need to make sure all our students have the thinking tools they need.

Of all the terms in the first paragraph, I think my biggest problem is with 21st century learning. We all use it yet every time I say it I know that everyone is in the same city, but not necessarily in the same ballpark. Maybe that’s the point – we have come up with words with a certain amount of built-in flexibility because we just don’t know for sure what we’ll need but we do know we need to be flexible. So, when writing this editorial, I can say 21st century skills and maybe that defines the topic well enough. But when using these terms in our school or district, we need to be clearer about what we mean and what our specific goals are in order to make it possible for us to all work towards the same end.

Leave the vague definitions for editorials and blogs.

What do you think 21st century learning means? Do you share this definition with others in your school and district? Is there a better term to use? Please send your thoughts and comments to me at seinhorn@aalf.org.
November 16th, 2010 @ 1:27PM