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Practice Analysis of a New Learning ‘Ecology’

Project Overview

Project Description

Parse a student learning experience in a computer-mediated learning environment. What are the elements and patterns of this practice in terms of teacher-student interactions, student-resource interactions, student-student interactions, and the nature of student assessment? How are these different from, and perhaps also similar to, traditional classroom interactions? This work could consist of a reflection on practice you have already used, or analyze a new or unfamiliar practice the dimensions of which you would like to explore. Consider and cite the theoretical models of learning ecologies developed by you and your colleagues in Work 1.

Icon for A New Learning Ecology - 1:1 Tablets in 7th Grade

A New Learning Ecology - 1:1 Tablets in 7th Grade

North Boone Community Unit School District 200 is located in Poplar Grove, IL. The school board voted to pilot a 1:1 program in the 7th grade starting in the Fall of 2013. Through this program, each student would be in possession of an ASUS tablet during the school day and at home. There were two majoy reasons as to why the 1:1 program was proposed. The first was student assessment. With PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) testing supposedly coming down the pipeline as early as the 2014-2015 school year, the district thought it pertinent to start to upgrade their infrastructure to meet the requirements for the new testing system, as the PARCC assessments will be computer-based assessments. Many colleges and careers are increasingly demanding digital literacy, so the 1:1 program allows students to begin developing skills that can translate to future successes. The second reason lies in CUSD 200's Mission Statement: "The mission of the North Boone Schools is to provide exceptional experiences that vigorously develop the mind and character of Twenty-first Century Learners."

At first glance, it would appear that the 1:1 program would address namely the "Twenty-first Century Learners" component. However, using a 1:1 environment can be an incredibly effective way of accomplishing the mission laid out by CUSD 200. "Exceptional experiences" is a pretty vague term that can encompass a variety of activities inside or outside the classroom. Exceptional is typically used to mean uncommon or extraordinary. A 1:1 environment in itself could be deemed exceptional by many standards, however tuly memorable and meaningful learning occurs only through proper implementation by the teacher and students and leads to "vigorously develop[ing] the mind and character" of those involved. 1:1 environments, such as the one being piloted at North Boone Middle School, allow for meaningful assignments, permit 100% participation in activities, quick (sometimes instant) feedback to students, provide access to information and resources such as the teacher or outside information, and transform the interactions between teacher and student, student and student, and student and resources. In this work we will dissect the 1:1 learning ecology, analyze the transformation of interactions that occur, connect learning theories to 1:1 environments, describe an example of its implementation, and evaluate the program as a whole.

"Parse" the Practice

As with any new technology, without careful planning and thoughtful implementation, it will not enhance the task at hand. A motor vehicle has the capability of connecting its user to the world, providing more opportunities to view and experience new places that could not be reached without such a technological advancement, but if one hops behind the wheel without any instructions, training, or support, the result will be chaotic, ineffective, and possibly dangerous. The same holds true for learning technologies. In order for a 1:1 environment to be used to its full potential, forethought, refinement, and evaluation all play a key role. The teacher must think ahead and be willing to take some calculated risks in utilizing the technology.

The interactions between teacher and student, between student and student, and between student and resources is an area that constantly needs to be assessed for its effectiveness, efficiency, and engagement. Using a 1:1 learning ecology, the interactions can be made more readily available and more meaningful. In The New Learning Ecology of One-to-One Computing Environments: Preparing Teachers for Shifting Dynamics and Relationships, H.A. Spires, K. Oliver, and J. Corn describes a 1:1 environment as being "dynamic rather than static, provides a range of learning contexts for students as technological affordances are leveraged for ongoing learning actions" (p. 64, 2011). Spires et al divide this dynamic learning ecology into four conditions:

The four conditions of the new learning ecology in 1:1 settings (Spires, Oliver, & Corn, 2011)

Through examining the different types of interactions that occur in this learning ecology, we will see how these conditions play a pivotal role in the 1:1 environment.

Teacher-Student Interactions

Teaching methods are constantly being modified to help better meet the needs of the students. One condition of the 1:1 learning ecology is the Teacher as Content Expert, Facilitator, Consultant, Mentor, and Improvisationist. While it is essential for a teacher to have a thorough and deep understanding of their content area, they are no longer the keeper of knowledge, but instead a guide to constructing knowledge. In most teacher education programs, there is an emphasis on student-centered approaches instead of the traditional teacher-centered approach. In Teaching in the One-to-One Classroom, Alice Owen et al describe how teacher-student interactions in a 1:1 environment can be more student-centered:

No longer do students need to wait for us to be the purveyors of information. They now have the world at their fingertips. Putting a laptop in the hands of every student has far-reaching implications on the way we educators have to think about our classrooms. Old models of stand and deliver are no longer effective. We must learn to be facilitators to guide student choices and learning experiences. This sets the stage for differentiated instruction and engaging work, but only if we let go of old paradigms. If we do not, our one-to-one classrooms are likely to be chaotic and meaningless (p.12, 2005).

In CUSD 200, it is a requirement for teachers to have a classroom website. This is especially important in a 1:1 environment to open up communication mediums between the teacher and student. Lei and Zhao (2008) found that many students will use technology to ask questions of their teacher. (as cited in Spires, Oliver, & Corn, p.66, 2011). This is a great tool for students who are not as comfortable raising their hand in class: it permits them to ask their question in a way that is more comfortable. Teachers also can create more inquiry-based activities that demand collaboration and cooperative learning. . Allowing for more student input can be very empowering and lead to a highly motivated class of pupils. One example of beneficial student input is learning from students when it comes to troubleshooting the technology. Often times students will figure out or stumble across a better process of completing a task or a solution to a technical problem. Valuing these student contributions gives their owners a sense of pride and can increase classroom engagement and motivation (Spires, Oliver, & Corn, p.66, 2011).

Student-Student Interactions

If one were to view students outside of the classroom, it would be common to find them communicating with each other through texts, instant messaging, Facebook, Facetime, Snapchat, or any number of other social media. Students are becoming more and more proficient at using these forms of communication, so why not include them, or at least something with the same abilities, in the learning experience? Another condition of the 1:1 Learning Ecology is Self-Directed, Self-Regulated, Curious, and Creative Learners. Spires et al (2011) found that "Using online tools for communication reduced management issues and encouraged further collaboration than similar offline tasks as well as increased students' merging and revising of texts" (p. 65)

When each student has a tablet with the capability of communicating with others, this condition can be achieved. Creativity can be fostered by connecting students with other students instead of providing one way to accomplish a task. Students can teach and learn from each other, even when they are not right next to each other. Through their collaboration with each other, problem-solving skills can continue to develop, as long as the teacher encourages and supports the development. Students will start to use each other as resources while in the classroom and outside of it, if they are given the tools to do so. In a 1:1 environment, students can easily interact through discussion boards, chat rooms, emails, or sharing documents. These interactions are also not limited to the confined hours of the school day, or the physical school building. Students can continue to interact and collaborate using their tablets, provided they have access to a wireless network. It is through the use of these communication tools that the teacher is allowed to assume a role as facilitator and still have the learning be successful.

Student-Resource Interactions

Providing a way for students to access this multimodal digital library address another condition of the 1:1 learning ecology. Students will have "Immediate and Constant Access to Information" and "Intensity, Relevance, and Personalization of Learning." Storz and Hoffman (2013) researched the response of both teachers and students to a 1:1 environment. In their research, they examined the interaction between students and resources:

There was substantial agreement among the students with regard to the easy access to resources the laptops provided. It was clear from the students that the access to the Internet, as well as having their textbooks and a dictionary on their hard drives, made their work easier and more productive (p.9).

In a 1:1 environment, students can engage in resources more frequently, efficiently, and of higher quality. With access to the internet, they can find many resources that would otherwise not be available to them. Students can even find primary sources, or at least sources that are a decent viewing of a primary source. Students can spend less time on the "resource scavenger hunt" and more time utilizing their findings to help them construct their paper or project. Using digital resources also allows students to find the type of source they are comfortable with. There are a multitude of videos, audio recordings, podcasts, and interactive sites online available to the students that can cater to their varying learning styles.

Student Assessment

In a 1:1 learning environment, students have multiple opportunities to be assessed in a variety of ways. Of course, there are still written assessments both through the tablets and not, but the tablets make creative and elaborate projects possible without the burden of needing work space or materials. Project-based assessments can be designed to evaluate a student's grasp of ideas and concepts as long as the project is designed and explained well. A teacher participating in Storz and Hoffman's research explained that "Some kids' prjects look all great and beautiful, kind of like a big, beautiful Cadillac, but you lift up the hood, and there's no engine!" (p.9, 2013). A project-based assessment should be designed for a student to demonstrate his or her understanding of the content, as well as provide a creative, and possibly collaborative, opportunity for them.

A 1:1 environment also allows for quicker, if not immediate, feedback on many assessments. Using Google Forms, or a Learning Management System, many assessments can be created and automatically scored. Granted, this only holds true for selected response items, but this can have a huge impact on formative assessment. Quick little checkpoint quizzes can be scored the instant a student submits it and the students can see which items they got incorrect. This allows them to see where they need to improve. Immediate feedback is also useful to the teacher. The teacher can look at the results from the formative assessment that has been tabulated instantly and make instructional decisions based on those results. The 1:1 environment makes it a lot easier to use formative assessments the way they are intended.

The Underlying Learning Theory

There are two theories that connect with the 1:1 learning ecology: Social Constructivism and Ecological Systems Theory. Both theories focus on the interactions of the subject with its environment or occupants of the same environment. Social Constructivism has been associated with Piaget and Vygotzky and has developed a following in the field of education. According to Social Constructivism, learning takes place when students interact with other students to build new knowledge. A student makes connections to knowledge that they have already constructed and refines these connections through the socialization that takes place with others. Through the guidance of a teacher or more knowledgeable peer, the student can accomplish tasks that they could not otherwise do on their own. Through the various interactions fostered by the 1:1 environment, especially the student-student interactions like discussion boards, social constructivism is employed in a successful and logistical way.

Ecological Systems theory was developed by Bronfenbrenner and identifies different environments that an individual has interactions with. Spires, Oliver & Corn (2011) connect this theory to the classroom:

"A key assumption of Bronfenbrenner's theory--and one that applies to the contemporary educational setting infused with technologies--is that the environment can both affect and be affected by the person's dispositions and actions" (p.63).

Ecosystems Theory is also employed in a 1:1 setting in the many interactions that take place. Through the use of tablets in a 1:1 environment, the interactions are in greater quantity as well as quality. Students can express themselves in various ways in dialogues with other students, teachers, or community members. Students also have the capability to publish their work in a public forum through the use of Web 2.0 tools. In the example of the Magisto project done in the Social Studies classroom described later in this work, students were able to publish their product on an active website accessible to any user that knew the web address. Students are affected by their environment through their access and use of resources, but affect their environment by creating new resources for others to use.

Through the implementation of technology, the teacher can assume the role of guiding students' social interactions and aid in the construction of new knowledge, as well as provide a way for them to interact with various environments. The diagram below outlines how this learning ecology can help students transform into contributing global citizens. They will not just be consumers of knowledge from new sources made available, but they will contribute and become a source for other citizens.

New Learning Ecology 2.0 diagram. (Created by a Friday Institute working group comprised of Hiller Spires, John Lee, Kevin Oliver, Verna Lalbeharie, Emmy Coleman,Eric Wiebe, Jeni Corn, and Lee Sartain) as cited in Spires, Oliver, & Corn, 2011, p. 65

Dr. Ruben Puentedura developed a model for technology integration in the classroom known as the SAMR model. There are four steps to integrating technology in the SAMR model: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. One could view this model as a "Bloom's taxonomy" for technology integration.

SAMR Model from

Substitution is simply using technology to complete the same task. For example, using a word processor to write a paper instead of handwriting it. Augmentation is using the technology as a substitute that adds some improvement. An example would be the sharing capabilities of Google Docs. Modification significantly redesigns the task. An example of modification would be using a discussion board instead of the traditional raise your hand and one person respond at a time method to answer a question. Finally, Redefinition is allowing for the creation of new tasks that were not possible before. An example of Redefinition would be Quadblogging, where four schools communicate with each other through online interactions using a bl.

The Approach in Practice

In their research, Storz & Hoffman (2013) interviewed both teachers and students about their experiences with using laptops in a 1:1 environment. The found that "the majority of students responsed positively, and rather spontaneously, that school was now 'funner,' 'less boring,' 'easier,' with more 'cool resources,' and 'more work'"(p.8). In this section, some examples of student-teacher interactions, student-student interactions, and student assessment will be examined to illustrate the ideas outlined earlier in this work.

Teacher-Student Interactions

The 1:1 pilot at NBMS has included many of the characteristics discussed so far in this work. One major change that was noticed by faculty was the increase in teacher-student interactions. Because students now had constant access to their email accounts, they could ask questions or communicate to the teacher. Many students have enjoyed the ease of communicating with the teachers. One teacher saw this opportunity and held "online office hours" on the night before a test. The teacher agreed to sit in front of his computer from 7-9pm and answer any emails as fast as he could. Students also use the selected Learning Management System Schoology to download files, turn in assignments, take quizzes/tests, and to access a Homework Group. All of these interactions are made possible because each student has a tablet.

Other interactions occur not through the digital realm of the internet, but in the classroom. The teacher serves as a guide for the students in developing skills, asking questions, and refining concepts. It is true that a teacher can be a faciliator of knowledge without the use of technology, but the social interactions that this technology provide make the learning experience deeper, broader, and more engaging. Students are constantly figuring out ways to improve their processes and solve their problems. The 7th grade teachers have noticed a problem-solving mentality becoming mainstream in many students as they are learning to troubleshoot their devices, assist each other, and find resources to help them accomplish their tasks. Because the teacher can make activities more student-centered, these activities allow the teacher to assist students in a way that is most appropriate in a small group, or sometimes even individual level.

Student-Student Interactions

Our present day students live in a technology-saturated world full of social media and so they are already familar with interacting through digital resources. One example from the many student-student interactions that have taken place in the 1:1 environment is the use of a discussion board. Students are very good at navigating social media or programs that use similar features, but sometimes struggle with using it in a more formal educational setting. The writing can appear in text language or be completely devoid of punctuation or capitalization. One teacher did notice that an increase in the quality of writing occurred when a discussion board was used, instead of a written assignment being submitted to the teacher. When the students were asked about it, one student explained, "Nobody wants to look dumb in front of their friends." Through this social interaction, students were checking and revising their writing before sharing it with the rest of the class. One student also explained that using a discussion board was a lot easier because it gavee her time to think about what to say before saying it.

In the 7th grade Science class, a video clip was viewed explaining the debate about genetically modified foods. The teacher asked the question "Should we be genetically engineering foods, such as the salt tolerant tomatoes? Why or Why not?" Each student was required to post their response and comment on two other students' posts. The settings for the discussion board were set in a way that required a student to submit a post before being able to see others' posts. At the end of the 20 minute discussion activity, students had discussed their opinions, asked each other questions to clarify, connected to economics, water conservation, and health, and engaged in appropriate discussion with 100% class participation. A screenshot of part of one discussion board is shown below. 

Excerpt from Science Discussion Board

Student Assessment

One of the biggest advantages to using the tablets in a 1:1 learning ecology in conjunction with a Learning Management System, such as Schoology, is that there are assignments, tests, and quizzes, that can be automatically graded. While this is a an obvious advantage for the teacher, who often focuses on completing the grading, rather than interpreting the scores, it is also a benefit for the students. Teachers can set quizzes or tests to show students their results immediately if it is desired. This immediate feedback allows students to know what ideas or concepts to reinforce. Teachers can use this information to assess their instruction. This is especially advantageous for formative assessments.

Bellwork is a common formative assessment at NBMS. It usually presents itself in the form of a miniature quiz that covers recent material and serves to check understanding as well as reinforce ideas. Shown below is data that was analyzed by Schoology instantly after students completed one of the bellwork assignments.

Responses Sorted by Question on Schoology

By quickly glancing at these results, the teacher can see where possible misconceptions lie. The teacher can also look at individual students to assess where extra support may be needed. Because time is now not being spent on the process, the interpretation and implications are now able to be used more effectively.

Assessments can also allow for more student creativity. Students can choose how to express their understanding through the use of technology. The tablets come equipped with a camera that takes still shots as well as videos. The Social Studies teacher used these features to assess students on their understanding of climate zones. Using the site Magisto, students created music videos that were automatically edited and rendered from their pictures and video clips. The teacher then published these videos on a website for other students and users to view.

Differentiation is another key component of assessment that is made easier through a 1:1 environment. A modified assignment or test can be created in Schoology and assigned to a grading group that is populated by students that need accommodations. This modified assessment will be the only one that appears to them, while students that should take the unmodified assessment will only receive that one. Students can respond orally to questions using their video camera, which does not require a teacher to sit with them and listen or record them. There are also text to speech and speech to text programs that can be used for assignments and tests, which without the use of technology, would not be possible.

Critical Reflection

This work has focused so far on the positive impact that a 1:1 learning ecology can have on the educational experiences of teachers and students. These include increased student participation and engagement, connection to authentic resources and publishing opportunities, students developing responsibility and ownership, immediate feedback, and developing 21st Century skills as producers of knowledge, not just consumers. However, there are some limitations and difficulties in using this type of learning environment. One glaring limitation is the financial burden implementing and maintaining technology in a district, however, in many distric analyses, the cost is not as colossal as one might think because money can be saved in other areas when using technology (paper, textbooks, computer lab upgrades, etc.) Damage to devices can occur when put in the hands of 12 and 13 year olds. NBMS planned for this and put a loaner system in place for students who would otherwise be without a device until it is repaired. While this allows for students to continue to participate in class, their work at home is often reverted back to traditional paper since they cannot take the loaner home with them. Many students also do not have access to wireless internet at home and so assignments need to be limited to what can be done on the device locally. Another limitation that must be considered by the teacher is time spent troubleshooting technology issues. Some days, the tablets do not cooperate, and so the teacher must have a Plan B. Students can also forget to charge their tablets. Each of the 7th grade teachers has a charging station somewhere in their room for the stduents to plug in their device and continue to participate. As long as procedures are put into place before implementing a 1:1 environment, these issues can be dealt with in way that has little or no impact on the quality of learning.

Benefits and Limitations of a 1:1 Environment
Benfits Limitations
  • 100% Participation
  • Connection to Real World
  • Responsibility
  • Pride/Ownership of Work
  • Immediate Feedback
  • Self-Advocacy
  • 21st Century Skills
  • Access to Resources
  • Increased Interactions
  • Time Spent Troubleshooting
  • Novelty can become a distraction
  • Damage
  • Charging Issues
  • Lack of Internet Access Outside of School
  • Possible Financial Burden

Conclusions and Recommendations

Similar to many researchers findings, the experience with the 1:1 tablet pilot has been overwhelmingly a positive one so far at NBMS. The 7th grade teachers and students have enjoyed the implementation and have witnessed their learning environment expand beyond the four walls of the traditional classroom. There have been hiccups and snags, but using a problem-solving mentality and collaboration between teachers and students, the issues are overcome and the learning environment stays a positive one. In a time where financial situations are often uncertain in districts, it may not seem like the best time to promote a learning ecology with a large initial cost. How can a district justify to the community that spending money on these "toys" when budgets are tight is in the best interest of all parties? Resistance from community members may occur initially, but they too can transform. Erich G. Tusch (2012), in his writing for School Administrator, describes this transformation:

"Many parents and community members turned out to the board of education's annual budget presentation in spring 2010. Many voiced their concerns and suggestions for reducing the budget and controlling costs. Not one syllable was uttered about returning the laptops and abandoning the program. The transformation had taken place. Our community had fully embraced 1-to-1 instruction through laptops and parents valued the educational experience their children were receiving...Yes, such a major initiative comes with risks and surprises, but the benefits for students cannot be overestimated or overvalued" (p.45).

With PARCC assessments around the corner, the world becoming increasingly dependent on technology, the workplace requiring technological skills, and student minds comfortable in a technological medium it seems most appropriate to shift to a 1:1 learning ecology. After designing procedures for possible issues, putting enough professional development and support for teachers, and making sure that the infrastructure can sustain the amount of usage, the only question becomes "What are we waiting for?"


Owen, A., Farsaii, S., Knezek, G., & Christensen, R. (2006). Teaching in the One-to-One Classroom: It's Not about Laptops, It's about Empowerment!. Learning & Leading With Technology, 33(4), 12-16

Spires, H. A., Oliver, K., & Corn, J. (2012). The New Learning Ecology of One-to-One Computing Environments: Preparing Teachers for Shifting Dynamics and Relationships. Journal Of Digital Learning In Teacher Education, 28(2), 63-72.

Storz, M. G., & Hoffman, A. R. (2013). Examining Response to a One-to-One Computer Initiative: Student and Teacher Voices. RMLE Online: Research In Middle Level Education, 36(6), 

Tusch, E. G. Expect Surprises with 1-to-1 Laptops. Education Digest: Essential Readings Condensed for Quick Review, v78 n3 p41-45 Nov 2012. 5 pp.