In July of this year, in preparation for a shift to a one-to-one laptop teaching environment, I went to the  Lausanne Laptop Institute, hosted by the Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Lausanne Laptop Institute …is an international think tank for schools using or considering laptops or tablets as tools for learning. Created and hosted by Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tennessee, the Lausanne Laptop Institute offers over 100 breakout sessions – from hands-on events to lectures, discussions and networking. Conference sessions meet the needs of educators, technology integrationists, technology support personnel and administration….  Over half those attending are K-12 teachers who collaborate with peers and learn tips for using laptops and tablets in their own classrooms. (source)

Feeling inundated with ideas and information (like you do, after a con), I drafted my thoughts immediately.  I figured I would polish it up on the flight home and post it, but it’s been sitting in my editing queue for a month.  As a result of the conference, I had some great conversations with colleagues on the way home, but have had trouble distilling my thoughts into a coherent post.

Let me say, at the outset, that I see the shift to one-to-one as an opportunity.  I’m excited about it, and my students are too.  I am certain there will be frustrations and failed lessons along the way, but I’m eager to try it.  To this point, my school has been technology forward, yet granting individual teachers the flexibility to integrate technology as each saw fit.  We’ve had lots of toys at our disposal.  Being a fledgling one-to-one school, I had some anxiety about the transition away from traditional instruction, but I had high expectations that this conference would help me craft the direction for my one-to-one planning.

The conference is in it’s 10th year.  There’s an app, which is pretty slick.  The ability to look over the session schedules on the fly, and to craft a schedule from my phone, was a plus.  There was also a rating function for the sessions, and links to various presentation files throughout the weekend.  Overall, I was impressed with the organization.  Logistically, it is quite a feat to transport, feed, and schedule that many people.

The very first session I attended happened to be given by Ben Goodrich, from the Institute spotlight school, Montclair Kimberley Academy.  Titled, “Don’t Use It Unless You Mean It,” they presented a balanced mix of educational philosophy and practical application, as well as some questions that schools proposing a one-to-one program should collectively address.  They emphasized strongly the need to establish common goals among the faculty for student learning.  This seems obvious for educational environments, but it is too easy to get caught up in the logistics of deploying 800 computers on campus, and to forget about the pedagogical reasons why this is a better approach to pencil and paper.  We want our students to become fluent users of technology, naturally.  But we were also reminded that the goal of one-to-one learning is to have better conversations with students.  How can I work with my fellow teachers to reinforce lessons in this new learning environment?  Does the product we create with the technology contribute to the process of learning?  Are the students simply using tools or are they building skills?  I left this session very excited to hear experienced one-to-one teachers voicing the kind of big-picture questions that I had been contemplating.  I was looking forward to having some of those questions answered in other sessions.

In a majority of the sessions I attended, there was big effort to sell the idea that laptops in the classroom are THE answer.  I’ve got news for you, Presenters. If we’re here, we’ve already bought it.  Every single school at the conference was already implementing a one-to-one program, or had one imminent.  Gathering the resources, expertise, and personnel for a one-to-one program is a huge undertaking.  Once that train gets going, there’s realistically no stopping it.  As a professional, I don’t need cheerleaders to reassure me that what I’m doing is right – particularly not when the undertaking is on the scale of a school-wide change in instruction.  My own administrators have done a really good job with that already, and it isn’t as if I can opt out.  I had hoped to come away from the conference armed with realistic expectations and some achievable goals.  The presence of so many people immersed in one-to-one teaching should have been a gold mine of resources.  Instead I felt that I had just lived through a very posh infomercial.

Sessions were tracked by roles within the school (admin, teacher, tech support, etc.), with a very comprehensive offering for each area.  As I went through my sessions, however, I was struck by the spectrum of experience among the people in the room.  At one session on blogging, there were people who have used blogging extensively with their students, teachers who are only beginning to develop blogging as a curriculum (like me), and also folks who are unclear on what an “account” is on a website and why you might need to have one.

Separating attendees by experience level would go a long way towards improving the “take away” from each talk.  Schools function rather like an organism.  Medications to treat your ear infection will also affect your gut flora.  The chocolate that triggers pleasure associations in your brain will also contribute to the adipose tissue of your waistline.  So too, when implementing a school-wide change, it is imperative to consider how those projects will affect schools in all areas.  In the case of one-to-one teaching, the technology isn’t being deployed one “system” at a time.  The admins, techs, and teachers are experiencing the change together.  Rather than track sessions by job description, it makes more sense to track sessions by experience level.  A noob-track for schools that are pre-implementation.  First-year, 2-5 years, 5+ years, etc.  There seems to be a set of skills that all schools just beginning to work in a one-to-one environment will need to acquire and a common set of obstacles they will encounter.  Given the costs associated with professional development, it is also likely that not every department in a school will be represented at a conference.  Attendees in a cohort grouping would be better equipped to return to their schools and share information broadly.  Additionally, a “sand-box” area should also be available where attendees can generate accounts for services and get help adjusting settings before instructional sessions begin.  Having informal places to play and get individualized help would encourage teachers to explore and generate content while at the conference.

I can’t complain about the availability of online resources.  Most presenters provided links and sites for us, should we feel like reviewing all the links (and links, and links!).  There were a few sessions that stood out with good content.  In particular, Matt Harris, from the German European School Singapore, gave a wonderful talk about the connection between educational research and the “essential questions” surrounding one-to-one learning environments.  Jeff Whipple, a proponent of personal branding online and blogging in the classroom, gave a lovely survey of the kinds of blogging projects teachers are doing.  The Evernote panel, also hosted by the spotlight school, carried just the right blend of practical information and pedagogical rationale.

Ultimately, this balance is what I had been hoping to find throughout the Institute.  I was looking for a taxonomy of links and ideas.  People have been using one-to-one instruction for over a decade.  I wanted to connect with the experts, and to talk about more than just tools and tricks.  I see one-to-one learning as more than just exchanging a pencil for a cursor.  In trying to serve noobs and pros, alike, most of the sessions were disappointing.  The Institute describes itself as a “think tank,” but delivers more as a viewing gallery of one-to-one teaching.


Special thanks to @costelloland, for the quick beta.

As always, comments are welcome.  If you have experience with the Lausanne Laptop Institute, or if you teach in a one-to-one environment, I’d particularly like to hear from you.