A Practical Guide to Implementing 1:1
Even though most schools now have Internet access, computers in the classroom, and computer labs, use of technology for meaningful instruction has reached a plateau in many places. In spite of all these resources, too many schools still rely on the Industrial Age model for the delivery of instructional services instead of adopting an Information Age approach.
Amazon.com offers a glimpse into how technology can be used for customization. Whenever you order a book from Amazon, you are immediately presented with several other books on the same topic for your consideration. You can sign up for an e-mail alert when a new book on the topic you are interested is released, or when a favorite author has published something new. Amazon knows it is engaged in a mass delivery system, but it has devised a methodology to deliver individualized service to its customers in spite of this limitation. The same customization of service can be deployed in the elementary and secondary school setting through the use of 1:1 programs.
Each student can access educational content targeted to their needs through their own laptop. The general curriculum can and should exist in its present form, but individualized instruction can be pushed to each student's computer through the school's network. This means differentiation of instruction in the regular classroom setting, Tier II and Tier III Response-to-Intervention programming, credit recovery programs, and even special education programming can be delivered to students based on their individual needs through their mobile computing device.
Today's students are digitally adept. The problem with implementing 1:1 computing in our nation's schools doesn't lie with the kids-it lies with the adults. A recent study (Carrier et al., 2009) found that today's youth spend between 5 to 21 hours per day interacting with some form of technology. They do this by multitasking. It seems that just about everyone born after 1985 has developed a natural ability to listen to music, surf the Internet, text their friends, chat on Facebook, and still have enough mental horsepower left to accomplish complex cognitive tasks (such as homework)-all at the same time. An August 2009 article in the New York Times entitled "In a Digital Future, Textbooks Are History," stated, "Kids are wired differently these days. They're digitally nimble. They multitask, transpose and extrapolate. And they think of knowledge as infinite. They don't engage with textbooks that are finite, linear, and rote."
So why do we so often insist students leave their digital world outside the classroom? Further, does the debate around using personal computing devices for education always have to center solely around educational outcomes? Isn't it enough that providing each student with their own laptop is desirable simply because it is a better, more efficient way of doing things? A laptop computer is only a tool, not a new curriculum. It's how this tool is used in furthering curriculum goals that should be debated, not the use of the tool itself. If you believe, as I do, that starting a 1:1 program is the best way to tap into the unused capabilities of your students as digital learners, here are six areas to help you achieve your school's goals.
1. Go Slow To Go Fast
You cannot respond to digital learners without first getting your teachers on board. The best way to transform your faculty into digital teachers is to give each of them a laptop for a year before starting a 1:1 program-they need to realize the value of operating in a 1:1 environment themselves before envisioning it with their students.
When we issued laptops to our teachers, we asked them to treat the equipment as if it were their own personal computer, taking it home each day and over breaks. Teachers required between 8 and 36 hours of training to understand how to use the computer to help with both their paperwork and the work they do with students. Next, you should support individual teacher requests for software they want to use for instruction. Let them practice with any software title they might be interested in, and encourage them to attend workshops provided by software manufacturers. A year after we deployed our teacher laptops, not one of the 450-plus teachers in our district volunteered when asked for the return of any unwanted machines.
2. Build Your Infrastructure
1:1 computing requires a robust wireless networking infrastructure, server, switch, and router environment to function properly. You will also need at least 20 Mbps of Internet bandwidth. The best configuration for your building's local area network will include the following elements: category-6 cabling to each classroom; gigabit switches and a router installed in your wiring closet; an N-series wireless access point ceiling-mounted in each room; and a wireless LAN controller if you are operating more than 20 APs. It's best to make the investment in installing a full gigabit (1,000 Mbps) infrastructure up front in order to meet future demands. This equipment is not cheap, but you can plan on it serving your school's needs during the next 8-10 years.
3. Choose Your Platform Carefully
The big decision many schools face is Mac or PC. Using both platforms will force your IT department to master both systems, and likely increase support costs. We chose PCs for an important reason-price. We issued a fairly high-end laptop for our teachers at about $500 per unit; the students received netbooks for $300. Make sure the model chosen is best suited to being in the hands of students, and first ask for some you can student-test. Once you decide on the model, make sure you invest in some sort of case or sleeve to protect each machine.
4. Think About Sustainability
Don't low-ball your cost estimate. Building the networking infrastructure can amount to more than 25 percent of what a school district thinks it needs to move forward. In addition to the hardware costs, you also must add in the cost of the software leasing agreements or purchases on a per-unit basis, and how much it will cost to image each machine. This will add between $80-100 per unit. Further, you must build into your budget an annual replacement cost of at least 10 percent for failed and damaged equipment, plus the cost of a total refresh (inventory turnover) every three to four years. There are also added IT costs. Industry standards recommend that you need at least one full-time tech person to support every 500 new machines.
When you add up all these costs, it will amount to at least 50 percent more than the cost of purchasing the laptop computers themselves. Considering these expenses will allow you to accurately forecast your TCO. Be sure to separate out your start-up costs from your ongoing costs.
Taken together, the sum of all these expenses must be presented to your governing board and a decision will have to be made if the cost of the 1:1 project is sustainable over time.
5. Make Sure You Have the Political Will to Proceed
You may think giving a laptop to all of the students in your school, and thereby responding to the needs of your digital learners, is a political "no brainer." Think again. There will always be some vocal political opponents who will appear at board meetings and write letters to the editor about how wrong-headed your plan is. At a recent national technology leadership conference, Angus King, the former governor of Maine, reported on the political firestorm he faced when he implemented a statewide deployment of laptops for every seventh- and eight-grade student.
Court your parent organizations and school board. Have them visit a 1:1 school in your area and see what is going on in the classroom. Finally, it is always wise to pilot a 1:1 program in a couple of classrooms before implementing it school-wide. These test-case scenarios will result in good data regarding what works and doesn't work in your school, and it will build up a small army of teacher, parent, and student "champions." You will need these champions to provide testimony when the rather intense (but usually short-term) political storm strikes. One big selling point you should make with parents is your intention to eliminate the 40-pound book bag that students are burdened with each day, since you will be installing most instructional content directly to their laptops.
6. Consider Your Deployment Issues
Your primary concern about deploying a 1:1 program is to adequately prepare your teachers. This means sending them back to the classroom to receive more training on how to effectively teach in a 1:1 classroom environment. There are three key elements you must focus on: how to teach 21st-century skills to students in the classroom; how to manage students in a 1:1 computing environment; and the development of mastery-level skills in creating, sending, and receiving student assignments through a course management system.
Let me talk about this last point in some detail. We use Moodle, a free and open-source e-learning software platform. This allows teachers to build their own webpage, which can include instructional content in virtually any format (text, graphic, video, audio, etc.). The content can be linked to student assignments (whole class, small group, and individual). Sample practice tests and knowledge tests can be built into the system to check for student understanding before an actual exam is given, schedules of classroom and school events can be posted, students can ask questions electronically of their teacher both during and after class, and much more. The student can access this web-based application at any time, and the student can complete their assignments and submit them to the teacher electronically.
When giving computers to students, we followed these guidelines. In order for a student to receive a laptop, one of their parents must attend a mandatory 90-minute session, covering such topics as: responsible use of technology, equipment maintenance, and home/study monitoring techniques. The parent must also sign a "Laptop Loan Agreement Form," which states that parents are responsible for the cost of repairs and replacement of the unit their child receives. Student boot camp was next, with a great deal more detail regarding the various productivity applications installed on each machine. Students are given their logon names and passwords for both their networking and e-mail accounts. The student boot camp is typically a four-hour event, with further instruction on how to use more advanced applications (such as Moodle) in the classroom at the point of actual software utilization.
During the next few weeks after deployment, you will need to identify the additional software titles to distribute to students based on their learning needs. This means introducing the element of customization that I referred to at the beginning of this article. This software, chosen by the teachers, can be loaded through the school server.
1:1 Computing: What the Research Says
A review of seven long-term research studies examining the educational outcomes of 1:1 computing revealed six statistically significant educational benefits, provided that schools met two criteria: teachers were adequately trained, and a strong level of support for the "transformational vision of 1:1 computing" existed among key central office and building level administrators. Here are the six findings.
1. Students in a 1:1 environment consistently outperformed non-laptop students in all subject areas on standardized state assessment tests. The significant differences on academic measure were most pronounced in the area of English Language Arts assessments. (Suhr, K.A. et al, Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9 (5), 2010)
2. Laptops are not just technological tools; rather they are cognitive tools that are integrated into the teaching and learning of a school. The "paradigm shift" resulting from 1:1 computing fostered more higher-order reasoning and critical analysis skills among students and greater teacher-student collaboration around instructional tasks. (Weston, M.E. & Bain, A., Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(6), 2010)
3. Teacher practices generally changed to accommodate the opportunities of increased technology access in a 1:1 computer setting, leading to more problem-based or project-based learning activities; but the change takes time-up to two years, typically. (Shapley, K.S. et al, Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(4), 2010)
4. Teachers report students are "more engaged learners" as a result of 1:1 implementation and enjoy using multimedia applications, searching the Internet for instructional purposes, writing papers, and preparing presentations. (Babell, D., & Kay, R., Journal of Technology; Learning, and Assessment, 9(2), 2010; Project RED Key Findings, ISTE Presentation, 2010)
5. The "implementation strength" of student access and use of technology was consistently found to be a positive predictor of student reading and math scores on academic achievement tests. (Shapley, K.S. et al, Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(4), 2010)
6. Students graduating from 1:1 high schools outperformed non-laptop students in terms of 21st-century skills needed to be successful in the workplace and post-secondary educational opportunities. (Lemke, C. & Martin, C., One-to-One Computing in Maine: A State Profile, 2003; Partnership for 21st Century Skills and Citizen Schools, 2006)
James P. Tenbusch, Ph.D., is currently assisting the Round Lake Area School District 116 in Illinois as the director of data, assessment, and technology. Both ninth and 10th grade students have netbooks now; the school expects to reach 1:1 by 2012. Dr. Tenbusch has been an Illinois school superintendent for 15 years. He has consulted with school districts across Illinois on teacher technology training and wired/wireless networking. More information can be found by visiting his website, jamestenbusch.com.