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1-to-1 at Home: Books Inc., Berkeley - Launch Party Comments 11/15/2013

My daughter Minna came home from kindergarten and asked, “How come we have a computer in my classroom if we never turn it on?”


 So much has changed because of digital technologies, especially in the ways information is delivered.  Yet, the way we educate children has yet to undergo major systemic transformation.


 This is soon to change.  Economic, social and technological forces are pushing hard to shake the foundations of education, creating a global wave that will pair children with digital devices.  These devices will come loaded with digital curriculum that will act to connect, guide and measure our children’s progress through their entire education.


 Schools attempting to keep pace with this inevitable change are adopting 1-to-1 programs. These programs provide each student with a laptop or tablet that is used at school and, perhaps most important, at home.   


 To give you a sense of where this is heading, this summer the Los Angeles Unified School District announced a 500 million dollar program to bring Apple iPads to every student (including kindergarteners) and teacher in a district of 650,000 (the second largest in the nation) at a cost of close to $800 per device.  Officially named the Common Core Technology Project the iPads that L.A. school kids will receive are not going to sleep in a school locker at the end of each day. The iPad is coming home.


 I wrote this book after working closely with many school communities that have started 1-to-1 programs.  1-to-1 at Home recognizes what I heard from the parents whose children attend these schools: “1-to-1 programs are a game changer.”  School issued tablets take an already complicated area—setting rules and limits around technology use at home—and make it more difficult to manage.


 My work as a psychotherapist and my strong belief that we are at our best when we are able to look deeply at our feelings, even when these feelings conflict, have served me well when looking at the impact of technology on family life and the home side of 1-to-1 programs.


 I think we can all imagine how information delivery, communication opportunities and informal learning (the kind of learning we just did here with our own phones) can all be enhanced by digital technology.  And, we can imagine the flipside of how all of this technology has the potential to be disruptive, distracting and to act to diminish and dilute our ability to connect to our selves, our teachers and our fellow learners.


 A 1-to-1 program blurs the boundaries between- standardized and individualized learning, between private and public, between home and school, between tool and toy, and between work and play.   The uncertainty of blurred boundaries causes anxiety and tends to polarize the conversation about young people and digital technologies whether it be conversations between parents and their children or between parents and school districts. 


 Over the past few months this polarization has played out in dramatic ways in Los Angeles.  After a chaotic pilot period that essentially imploded, the home side of the pilot phase or the ability for the devices to leave school property has been put on hold until 2015.  Funded with bond money intended for capital improvements, the legality of students taking the tablets home continues to be in question.  The content for every student in every grade will be provided by a single company- Pearson’s.  The decision to rely so heavily on Apple and Pearson’s has been criticized as exceptionally large payouts of public money.   To make matters worse, these contracts continue far into the future as the hardware and software will need regular upgrades.  Finally, in the pilot period parent liability for the devices was poorly communicated and the devices that did go home with students were quickly used to access blocked sites.  The bridge between LA Schools and students homes has yet to be properly built.


 In the book and in my work, I frame this mix of hope and fear as digital dilemmas and talk about the Awesome (or the sense of Awe that kids and many adults feel about new technologies) and the Wholesome which those of us born before gadgets, gizmos and game players became such a big part of our lives intimately experienced.  Within this framework, the task of the 21st century parent, adult or school is to sync (borrowing a term from devices) the awesome and the wholesome, to make the awesome a bit more wholesome and the wholesome a bit more awesome. 


 When I started speaking about these issues six years ago in my private practice, in schools and at organizations this was a very different message than parents were hearing.  The social web was new, video game playing adults were less vocal, texting and Facebook were the domain of teenagers while adults were busy using the web to book airline tickets and pay bills.  The prevailing idea at that time was that we could and should scare kids away from technology and that parents should be afraid, very afraid. - Afraid of predators, cyberbulling, sexting and video game and internet addiction.   (This message still exists to a large extent today despite a strong body of research that debunks many of the fears).


 At the same time that the story of the Internet as a dangerous place has become mainstream, we have inundated family life with phones, laptops and game consoles.  We use tech as a carrot when we need to get dinner ready, as a stick to set rules and limits and rely on it to feel that our children are safe.


 I feel for parents who are stuck in this paradox.  It creates an overwhelming sense of always doing it wrong when it comes to digital technology and family life.  I also feel for this generation of children. I do not believe the narrative that kids are learning to crave the empty calories of a digital world while their ability to connect to the highly superior analog world withers away.  When I speak to kids in large groups and individually, I’m always struck by how they can recite internet safety lessons as if they are static concepts like the times tables or the alphabet and then when you ask them about their actual experience with digital technologies they describe “a living, highly fluid, social, individual digital web that is embedded in our real lives and mirrors our offline lives.”  To quote my colleague and friend Anne Collier who wrote the introduction to the book.


 1-to-1 programs are just one example of how new technologies are transforming the ways we learn and work. Acknowledging this reality and teaching kids to use these tools responsibly is the priority.


 My support for 1-to-1 schools came in the form of parent education evenings and individual consultations with parents and administrators. What I found through these interventions was a unique set of challenges in 1-to-1 schools:  Challenges that were at first expressed by only a small minority of parents, but were clearly felt by almost all parents once they began to express their concerns openly.   It turns out that this is a complicated topic for all families.  I also found that when schools clearly explained the challenges and benefits of 1-to-1 learning to parents and provided them with suggested guidelines to follow within a supportive home structure, the best interests of parents, students, and, ultimately, entire school communities were served.


 This book combines my work as a therapist who specializes in helping families to navigate in a digital world with the techniques and materials that I developed for 1-to-1 schools.  Parents will find practical information to help them organize the details of being responsible for the 1-to-1 device, learn best practices from diverse school communities, and understand ways families can approach the digital dilemmas that come up when the 1-to-1 device comes home.


 My book provides parents and educators with ways to address the needs of the home side of 1-to-1 programs.   The bottom line is that schools need to be proactive to help parents navigate this new terrain. Parents are correct in seeing 1-to-1’s as game changers.  This should be a call for thoughtful engagement and a new approach to the digital dilemmas that their families face.  School communities need to assume the attitude that laptop and tablet programs are complicated for all families.  They must understand that learning in a digital environment creates a bridge between home and school that is unprecedented and requires a new level of collaboration. Only then can the best interests of parents, students and, ultimately, the entire school community be served.  I believe that once this happens, parents will have increasing opportunities to become supportive, informative resources and better partners with schools to educate our children.

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