Teaching Opinion

Response: ‘Simply Putting Tech In Front Of Students Won’t Engage Them’

By Larry Ferlazzo — April 14, 2014 8 min read
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(This is the last post in a two-part series on this topic. You can see Part One here.)

This week’s question is:

What are the Dos and Don’ts of having a successful one-to-one computing (where every student at a school gets a device) program?

In Part One of this series, Alice Barr, Mark Pullen and Troy Hicks shared their responses. Today’s contributors include Richard Byrne, Nancy Frey, Doug Fisher and Ben Stern, along with comments from readers.

You might also be interested in a ten-minute podcast conversation I had with Alice and Troy on this same topic.

Response From Richard Byrne

Richard Byrne is a former high school social studies. He is now a full-time writer and digital learning consultant. He’s best known in the educational technology community for his award-winning blog FreeTech4Teachers.com:

My first experience using laptops on a 1:1 basis was in the 2006. Since then I’ve learned a lot about using laptops and later mobile devices on a 1:1 basis. Here are six things to keep in mind when using laptops, iPads, or other devices on a 1:1 basis.


1. Place all of the blame for distracted students on the laptop or iPad. Simply putting the technology in front of students isn’t going to engage them in your lesson. While there is some level of novelty to using an iPad in an adult’s mind, there is almost no novelty to it for a twelve year old. If your students aren’t engaged in your lesson, evaluate your lesson. If your lesson wasn’t engaging without a computer or iPad, don’t assume that adding a computer or iPad into the mix will make your lesson engaging.

2. Count on things running perfectly every time you use laptops or iPads in your classroom. Have a Plan B and Plan C.

3. Assume that just because your students have grown up in the age of the iPad that they know how to use it for educational purposes. Your role is to facilitate using iPads or using laptops for educational purposes.


1. Try lots of apps and sites so that you can give students options when Plan A doesn’t go as planned.

2. Have students use their laptops or iPads to create videos, podcasts, and animations to demonstrate their knowledge of a topic. Have them create things that they couldn’t have made without their laptops or iPads. There is a place for practice and review games. But if playing games is all your students are doing with their laptops or iPads, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to really engage your students.

3. Ask your students to help you learn about new apps and sites. Let them look for new apps and new sites that are related to your content area. Ask them to show you how to complete a tricky edit in video editor. Or ask them to show you how to write a line of HTML. It is a memorable moment for a young person to be able to teach the teacher. I still remember how good I felt when I was able to teach my sixth grade teacher how to build a simple animation in LOGO.

Response From Nancy Frey and Doug Fisher

Nancy Frey and Doug Fisher are teacher leaders at Health Sciences High in San Diego, CA, and the authors of Teaching with tablets: How do I integrate tablets with effective instruction? (ASCD, 2013):

If you are lucky enough to have an Internet connected device for every student, don’t make the mistake (that we’ve seen in districts all over the U.S.) and assume that they will only be used for individual work. Far too often, tablets and laptops become worksheets with batteries.

Instead, provide teachers and students with examples of the ways in which they can use the device in a variety of instructional contexts. We think that the devices are great for implementing the gradual release of responsibility instructional framework. For example:

During modeling, teacher Jeff Lim uses the app Notability to project notes, as they are being written, and invites students to use the app Catch to capture images and record their own thinking, as the teacher shares his.

During guided instruction, in which questions, prompts and cues are used to build students’ understanding, Marla Ramirez uses the ShowMe app to create presentation slideshows with embedded pictures, videos, polls, Q&As, and quizzes. Students can pace the slide presentation and activities on their student devices, slowing down when they need more support or speeding up when they don’t. Another presentation app, Nearpod, offers analytics on student activity within the app that teachers can review in real time, or use to generate session reports at a later time.

During collaborative learning, teacher Tasha Williams uses PrimaryPad, a web-based, real-time collaborative tool that allows several users at time to work on the same document. During their collaborative learning time, students in Ms. Williams’s class can work together making sure that their products reflect the thinking of the entire group. Ms. Williams can monitor the contributions of each member of the group because contributions are color coded by user.

We have highlighted a few examples of the vast capabilities of tablets and laptops to facilitate students’ learning. The major learning we have had from our experimentation with 1:1 computing has been to ensure that these devices are not a novelty and that they are integrated into high quality instruction rather than relegated to independent practice.

Response From Ben Stern

Ben Stern is the Academic Liaison for Ponder and the author of EduMusings. He was previously a history teacher and educational technology coordinator for schools in Houston and NYC:

One-to-one programs always reflect the planning and preparation that went into them. Too often, schools focus on superficial issues like hardware choices and different payment solutions for the devices. They ignore more difficult and important issues that are central to the success of the initiative. In my experience, schools should consider four main issues:

1) Teacher buy-in - if teachers don’t see value in technology in the classroom, these expensive devices will never get used. It’s not worth having a one-to-one program unless teachers think it’s a good idea. Effectively structured PD that combines practical “do tomorrow” examples of educational technology coupled with a sustained discussion on how certain uses of technology can improve teaching and learning typically leads to buy-in. Oh, and get the teachers a nice device. It’ll buy a lot of goodwill to start out.

2) Curriculum development - teachers who are sold on the idea of one-to-one will use the devices, but they will only use them effectively if their curriculum is designed to take advantage of the power to create, connect, and collaborate that technology affords students. Part of the PD pre-rollout should focus on PD. Get teachers a day off and buy them lunch while they plan it. They need time.

3) Student readiness - no matter how much we celebrate our digital natives, we cannot take for granted that they know how to use the devices for academic purposes. Digital natives are great at finding social uses for new technologies. They don’t instinctually think of the technology as a professional tool, however. Schools need to reorient students’ perception of technology by setting clear expectations and restricting usage initially, while a culture of effective use builds. Then, students can be let loose to fully exploit technology’s power.

4) Network infrastructure - if the devices can’t access the internet, they’re basically useless. A robust wireless network is absolutely essential to a successful program. Make sure IT puts in more than enough access points and configures them properly. This will make or break your program.

If schools take these four recommendations seriously, they are likely to lay a solid foundation upon which their one-to-one program can grow. New and amazing uses of technology will emerge through continual PD and sharing among teachers and students. But without proper buy-in, curriculum development, training, and IT support, it will just be an expensive mistake.

Responses From Readers

Some readers sent-in comments via Twitter. I’ve used Storify to collect them:

Thanks to Richard, Nancy, Doug and Ben, and to readers, for their contributions!

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