Many of us watched as the 23rd space shuttle Discovery launched a two-week mission to the International Space Station in October. Elizabeth Mannix, Eric Agostinelli, Molly Schreiber, and Adele Smith watched as well, except that their perspective was from the ground at the Kennedy Space Center. The student journalists from Bishop Kearney High School in Rochester, N.Y., were covering the launch and mission.
Shuttle commander Pam Melroy, a 1979 graduate of Bishop Kearney, provided the connection, which allowed the students to enjoy press privileges and work side by side with adult professional journalists covering the event.
Empowered with laptop computers and coached by their teachers, the students sent frequent audio, video, and blog reports to local and national media. At the same time, they kept up with assignments in their classes back home using their laptops, never falling behind on important class assignments during the week they were in Houston.
This kind of self-directed learning, taking place at school or at a distant location, supporting a project with a curricular connection, and coached by master teachers with their own laptops, represents the best of possibilities of one-to-one computing.
We’re at an exciting place right now in education. Literally thousands of open-ended Web 2.0 tools are available for engaging learners and invigorating classrooms everywhere; options for online collaboration are increasing every day; and polls of U.S. adults say they support efforts to use technology to better prepare our students to compete in a highly technical global economy.
But how do we take our classrooms into the future, empower teachers and students with the tools and functions for the challenges ahead, and enable deep, sustained learning? Providing every student and teacher with his or her own laptop computer, I believe, is one important step we can take to achieve those goals.
What It Takes
Building and sustaining one-to-one computing programs does not happen overnight, even though some schools have believed this and suffered the fallout when their efforts failed.
There have been several well-publicized failures. I’ve taken the time to read about these programs, and it seems that those that stumbled, or simply ceased to exist, have similarities.
For starters, school leaders did not seem to be willing to stick with the programs for the long haul, meaning any little problems or setbacks were seen as reasons not to continue investing in the programs.
Next, there seemed to be a lack of attention to the components needed to fix computers and keep the models current and operational. Proper attention includes a technical-support help desk, loaner computers, and a reasonable refresh cycle.
Also, to be successful, one-to-one computing initiatives must pay attention to policies and procedures, including consequences for inappropriate use of the laptops and whether the machines may be used at home.
Serious consideration of the goals of one-to-one programs need to be undertaken at the school, district, and state levels so that overarching questions of “why one-to-one?” are answered. A program needs a mission statement that really answers those questions and provides a road map for how the program will move forward. The mission for some is to improve students’ technology skills; for others, it is to create more opportunities for self-directed learning.
With the “why” questions answered, and a mission statement or resulting document crafted, a vision committee should be established to outline what else is needed for the program to succeed.
The vision committee must create a communications strategy so that teachers, parents, students, administrators, school board members, and community members feel well informed and part of the process. If you don’t keep people informed, you risk losing them as supporters of the effort.
Schools and districts sometimes make the mistake of holding back on communicating about one-to-one computing initiatives, not wanting to tell people about incomplete plans.
The next step is for the vision committee and people involved in running the program to become informed about best practices. Fanning out to observe and question schools, districts, and statewide programs results in an understanding of what’s working and what might have been tried along the way but didn’t work. Attending conferences that specialize in one-to-one computing is also helpful.
Weighing the Costs
The ways of paying for one-to-one computing initiatives are as varied as the schools that have taken this journey.
One-to-One Wiki for International Society for Technology in Education members http://sig1to1.iste.wikispaces.net
Anytime, Anywhere Learning Foundation www.aalf.org
K12 Computing Blueprint— Resources for One-to-One www.k12blueprint.com/k12/ blueprint/index.php
Maine Learns—Maine’s Online Learning Community www.mainelearns.org
One-to-One Information Resources (includes case studies) www.k12one2one.org
Pennsylvania State University’s Center for One-to-One Computing in Education http://1to1.ed.psu.edu
Irving (Texas) Independent School District Site on One-to-One www.irvingisd.net/one2one/ documents.htm
Compiled by Pamela Livingston
But such an initiative is not cheap. For instance, Pennsylvania’s Classrooms for the Future program required initial funding of $20 million, and another $90 million was added this past fall. That state program serves 358 schools in 304 districts.
Some districts negotiate leasing and other deals with vendors, spreading costs over several years. Some require parents to foot part or all of the cost of laptops.
Other districts rethought their hardware-replacement policies and stopped buying classroom and lab computers in favor of laptops or tablets. One budgetary advantage of that step is that most schools have already determined and funded their replacement cycle for classroom computers, so money is available for purchasing the smaller devices.
No one formula and no one funding source are available.
One important cost-related issue is the type of computer platform you plan to use. Laptops? Tablet PCs? Something else?
These decisions need to be tied back to your mission and what you plan to do with your one-to-one initiative. There are pros and cons along the way, and budgeting will be a factor.
Many schools make platform one of the questions they ask other schools and districts when they visit—for instance, “Why did you choose these computers, and would you choose them again?”
One thing is sure whether you decide on tablets or laptops: They will need repairs. They’ll have problems, sometimes caused by the students or teachers, and other times just because they’re electronic devices. Batteries will fail, students will arrive without a charged laptop, and laptops and tablets will be dropped and break.
Deciding how they will be supported, and what spare computing devices, batteries, power cords, and other equipment are loaned and how will be important. For instance, experts generally advise against having fewer than 3 percent loaner devices, batteries, and power adapters. So if you have 100 laptops, you should have at least three loaners.
Many schools find that when they implement one-to-one programs, they require full-time, in-house people to fix them, and a help desk. Some schools and districts rely on vendor support, which can work well if there is on-site personnel from the vendor, but generally does not work well when the vendor has to be called and repairs have to be scheduled. Just remember that few things can be as frustrating as a broken machine when you’re trying to teach in a one-to-one computing environment.
Research suggests professional development is also an important element of successful one-to-one computing initiatives.
Teachers who have well-planned lessons that empower laptop learning, who encourage self-directed learning, and who feel comfortable with a roomful of students with laptops are likely to succeed.
Frequent professional development for teachers with a follow-up component that uses online learning usually works best.
Don’t shortchange professional development—invest in it and support it fully.
A version of this article appeared in the January 23, 2008 edition of Digital Directions as 1 to 1 Learning