The Maine thing about 1-to-1 computing

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these days Maine is internationally famous for much more than just lobsters ...A personal digital device,
at the point of learning,
as defined by the student.

The Magellan Plan in Portugal, Plan Ceibal in Uruguay and other various One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiatives around the world ... before all of these well-publicized large scale national educational technology programs came the 'granddaddy' of all such 1-to-1 computing initiatives: the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) in the northeastern corner of the United States.

The Maine Learning Technology Initiative web site catalogues a number of Maine "firsts" :

  • first state to seize the potential of technology to transform teaching and learning in classrooms statewide
  • first state with a plan to equip all students and teachers in grades 7 to 12 with personal learning technology statewide
  • first state to equip every 7th and 8th grade student and 7th through 12th grade teacher statewide with personal access to learning technology
  • first state to empower every 7th through 12th grade teacher in every school statewide with professional development and support to fully tap the potential of computers and the Internet
  • first state to provide the option of home Internet access to every 7th and 8th grade student in every school statewide

For those looking to learn more about the potential of and practical lessons from 1-to-1 computing initiatives for students, Maine is the longest-running and most-studied such program.

Jeff Mao, the Learning Technology Policy Director for the Maine Department of Education, provided an insightful presentation on the Maine experience at a recent Global Symposium on ICT and Education in Seoul sponsored by the Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the Korean Education & Research Information Service (KERIS) and the World Bank (working with a variety of other partners).

What is now known as the Maine Learning Technology Initiative was born of conversations between then-Maine governor Angus King, without whose strong and unwavering support the program would not have happened, and Seymour Papert, whose constructionist educational philosophy provides the intellectual underpinnings for the  program (initial successes in Maine gave impetus for the One Laptop Per Child initiative for developing countries, with which Papert is often more famously associated).  

After a brief history lesson, Jeff went on to describe what they are learning from almost a decade of experimentation and implementation, which flows from the guiding vision for the project. The vision for 1-to-1 computing in Maine may appear at first glance to be relatively straightforward:

“A personal digital device,
at the point of learning,
as defined by the student.”

Unpacking each component, it is clear that this vision is actually quite radical in many ways:

a personal digital device | This is quite simple to understand: it is indeed the definition of 1-to-1 computing, although with a slight twist (Maine references 'digital devices' and not 'computers' or 'laptops', essentially acknowledging that this vision is not dependent on the use of specific ICT devices or form factors most commonly used today, but rather anticipates the potential inclusion of other useful devices in the years ahead).

at the point of learning | It is interesting to note that Maine identifies the 'point of learning', which presumably goes far beyond use restricted only 'in schools' (as is typical in many other places).

These two ideas, related to the fact that we are talking about personal devices used for learning, are roughly analogous to the visions one finds in other places.

as defined by the student | Here's where things get radical.  The Maine philosophy is that it should be the learner (and not the teacher or school principal) who makes the decision to use her laptop in support of whatever she is learning, whenever she thinks it most appropriate or useful.   In practice, of course, there are limits to such use, but as a guiding vision for how the technology is to be used -- and for who makes the decision regarding such use -- Maine stands in stark contrast to how most 1-to-1 programs are conceptualized in other parts of the world.  Placing the student at the center not only of learning is not all that uncommon, of course -- many education systems do this, at least rhetorically. The Maine Learning Technology Initiative differs in that it goes one step further, putting the learner at the center of the decision on what tools to use in support of such learning.  This has lots of important implications for what actually happens inside (and outside) of the classroom in Maine.

Of course, when it is translated into what actually happens 'on-the-ground', the purity of the Maine vision gets a little messy at times, and Jeff was able to descend quickly from high-level discussions of vision and educational philosophies to practical discussions of the nitty-gritty of what it actually means to administer such a program -- and to teach in it.  "In the 20th century", Jeff said, "much time in schools was spent answering questions of who, what, where, and when.  In the 21st century in Maine, we are more interested in preparing our students to answer questions related how and why."  The introduction of 1-to-1 computing, and all that this brings with it (especially the focus on teacher professional development and digital learning content at the core of the program), is Maine's attempt to provide the tools and strategies for learning and teaching to help answer such questions.

This only scratches the surface of Jeff's engaging presentation, and indeed of the lessons learned from the Maine experience.  For more information about what has been happening in Maine with 1-to-1 computing, the following resources are recommended:

The presentation on the Maine experience was just one from around the world at the recent Global Symposium on ICT and Education in Seoul (Measuring Impact: Monitoring and Evaluation of ICT in Education Initiatives).  All presentations are being made available on the event site maintained by the World Bank -- and are worth a look.

Please note: The public domain image at the top of this blog entry comes via Wikimedia Commons.


Michael Trucano

Visiting Fellow, Brookings, and Global Lead for Innovation in Education, World Bank

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