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Classroom Technology

‘1:X Computing’ Aims to Tailor Digital Tools to Learning Tasks

By Benjamin Herold — September 30, 2013 9 min read
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In Cindy Nguyen’s first-period psychology class at Lewisville High School in north-central Texas, digital devices are everywhere: During a recent lesson, 28 students were using 17 school-issued iPads, two student-owned tablets, seven smartphones, and one of the classroom’s five MacBook Air laptops.

It’s the new face of learning in the rapidly changing Lewisville Independent School District, which is in the process of giving all 53,000 of its students access to “the right device at the right time,” part of a so-called “1:X” initiative that began last spring. District officials are currently seeking to trademark the “1:X” name, which is also referred to as “1-to-many.”

Ms. Nguyen, a senior at Lewisville High, summed up the changes: “First, they gave us our phones back. Then they gave us iPads. Now, everything is online.”

Experts say the 1:X initiative is rare, positioning this district in suburban Dallas as a potential trendsetter in the rapidly changing world of digital K-12 education.

As it is, more than 2,000 schools around the country now provide each student with their own digital device, according to the One to One Institute, a Mason, Mich.-based nonprofit providing support for districts implementing 1-to-1 computing programs. Many more schools employ a variety of digital technologies that may or may not fit together coherently.

But the idea of a coordinated strategy to provide students with access to a variety of devices from which they may choose depending on the task at hand is a potentially powerful new development, said Douglas A. Levin, the executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, or SETDA, based in Glen Burnie, Md.

“In the professional world, the idea of different devices for different jobs is already a normal way of doing business,” Mr. Levin said. “It’s unrealistic for schools to think there’s going to be one killer device that’s going to do all things for all types of learners in all subjects.”

To date, Lewisville’s 1:X initiative has included introduction of a bring-your-own-technology program; the purchase of $19.1 million worth of iPads and laptops; $23 million in districtwide technology-infrastructure upgrades; and extensive training for staff, students, and parents.

Superintendent Stephen F. Waddell said it’s all part of a new look at the district’s approach to teaching and learning.

“What really matters is the kind of work students are doing,” Mr. Waddell said. “We want to see our kids doing work that involves projects, cooperative and collaborative learning, and inquiry, and we believe that utilizing digital resources will help that happen.”

Culture Shift

However, the type of learning Mr. Waddell described is not taking root evenly in all classrooms, according to district officials.

Lewisville High School officials want students to use the right device for the right task.

The district’s new laptops, intended to allow students to do in-depth projects and create multimedia content, have so far not been widely used. And Lewisville’s districtwide computing network, now being upgraded, is experiencing growing pains.

There are also questions about the long-term sustainability of an initiative financed in large part by bonds.

But two weeks into the new school year, hundreds of Lewisville students who had just received tablets were already using multiple devices to access and share information and assignments, work in groups, conduct experiments, and prepare presentations.

Though the Lewisville community tends to be conservative, said Lewisville High Principal Jeffrey Kajs, most have embraced the 1:X initiative. “I love the 116 years of how things have been done at this school,” Mr. Kajs said. “But I also have three young kids, and I know what their education needs to look like.”

Just down the road from Lewisville High stands a water tower emblazoned with a tribute to the school’s biggest point of pride: its Fighting Farmers football team, which won the Texas 5A state title in 1993 and 1996.

Football is still king in Lewisville, but the district’s student body—now 31 percent poor and 51 percent African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or multiracial—is undergoing a major academic and cultural makeover driven largely by technology.

This year, eight of Lewisville Independent’s 65 schools, as well as all district students in the 4th, 7th, 9th, and 10th grades, are involved in the second phase of the 1:X initiative. So far, the district has purchased 19,300 iPads, 3,880 MacBook Airs, and 1,887 MacBook Pros. The goal is to give every student and teacher access to multiple devices by 2016.

Superintendent Waddell said the purchasing is driven by the prominence of mobile computing devices in all walks of life.

“We see highly fluid, highly collaborative work environments that are becoming more and more creative,” he said. “We want our kids to be ready for that.”

Like many other districts, Lewisville decided that Apple’s mobile products were the best fit; a recent survey by Interactive Educational Systems Design Inc., a market-research firm, found that 80 percent of district technology officials used or planned to use iPads in their schools over the next two years.

However, Lewisville officials also recognized that effective implementation of a large-scale device purchase would require dramatic improvements to schools’ technology infrastructure.

The Right Device at the Right Time

Officials from the Lewisville Independent School District in suburban Dallas say the goal of their “1:X” initiative is to provide all 53,000 students with access to multiple digital devices, depending on the learning task at hand.

• MacBook Airs:

To date, Lewisville has purchased 3,900 MacBook Airs for classroom use. District officials say the laptops can be used to conduct in-depth research; write and edit longer papers and assignments; participate in large group projects; and generate more complex multimedia content. The laptops also guarantee access to technology for students who opt out of receiving their own tablets and serve as backup devices for when the tablets have trouble connecting to the Internet. In practice, the laptops have yet to be fully utilized in most classrooms.

• iPads:

Lewisville so far has purchased 19,300 iPads to be given to students. District officials say the tablets can be used for accessing, organizing, and sharing content, assignments, and files; taking notes; conducting basic research; collaborating with teachers and other students; utilizing a variety of educational apps; and creating multimedia content. District surveys found that teachers believe that 80 percent to 90 percent of the work required of their students can be done on tablets.

• Smartphones:

Lewisville also permits students to bring their own smartphones and other personal digital devices to school for classroom use. District officials say that smartphones can be used for quick look-ups and other simple research; generating basic multimedia content; receiving alerts and reminders from school staff; and as a back-up for when the district-owned tablets and laptops have trouble accessing the district’s network. In practice, personal digital devices are also a way to bypass the district’s security filters.

Source: Lewisville Independent School District

In little more than a year, the district has added more than 4,500 wireless access points on its 65 campuses, laid 265 miles of copper cable, upgraded its firewalls and filters, improved bandwidth to at least 7GB for all schools, restructured its IT support team, and streamlined the replacement of outdated school computers.

“Those are exactly the types of things districts should be looking at,” said Richard Kaestner, a consultant with the Washington-based Consortium for School Networking, or CoSN, a professional association for school system technology leaders.

“When you add all these devices, you need to understand your network capacity, break it down into its component pieces, and figure out where your bottlenecks are likely to be,” Mr. Kaestner said.

Also key, said Mr. Waddell, have been efforts to engage parents, community members, and teachers in developing the district’s larger strategic plan. The 1:X initiative, he said, “is really rooted in the long conversations we had about the kind of learning we think kids need.”

The results are evident in Lewisville High’s once-staid library, transformed into a university-like student center. As a steady stream of students line up at the new coffee shop, dozens sit around tables, surrounded by an array of digital devices.

During a recent lunch break, junior Janae Hart read a paperback copy of Slaughterhouse-Five while scanning analyses of the book on her iPad and looking up word definitions on her smartphone.

“Just getting ready for class,” she explained.

Taking ‘Baby Steps’

While there have been some big changes inside Lewisville’s classrooms, the implementation of the new instructional approach that the 1:X initiative is meant to spur is proceeding unevenly.

But one of the bright spots is Rebecca W. Delozier, a nine-year-veteran teacher who has been experimenting with online and “flipped” lessons for years. Ms. Delozier is now in the process of putting her entire biology curriculum on iTunes U, a course-building app for managing digital class content.

During a recent lesson on animal behavior, she used her district-issued iPad, iTunes U, and a digital tool called AirServer to project information for her students onto the classroom smartboard.

In pairs, the students set to work developing infographics about such topics as sexual selection. At one point, 15 students used 11 iPads, two classroom laptops, and six personal smartphones.

Unlike some districts that have bought devices, curricula, and software applications as part of a single bundle, Lewisville Independent expects teachers and students to personalize their devices with the tools they like best.

iPads are just one of several types of devices made accessible to Lewisville High students like Jquarius Wallace, 16, handing over his new school-issued tablet for protection; Jordan Brown,18, seated; and Dallas Beall, 17.

It’s part of a larger philosophy that puts priority on “authentic engagement,” said Penny Reddell, the district’s associate superintendent for learning and teaching.

“There are a zillion different ways to make learning fun,” Ms. Reddell said.

Some teachers, such as Ms. Delozier, were well prepared to take advantage of the new combination of freedom and technology.

A self-described computer geek, Ms. Delozier said she now uses her district-issued tablet to grade almost all student work. If a student chooses to complete an assignment the old-fashioned way, she said, “I’ll take pictures of the papers and grade the pictures.”

Ms. Delozier appeared unfazed by districtwide network problems early this school year. She helped students shift to laptops when their tablets had difficulty connecting to the Internet and to personal smartphones when they needed to bypass the filters that block access to many sites on district-owned devices.

Confronted with similar network challenges, though, Dawn Chegwidden’s environmental science class bogged down. After an extended delay, students ended up using their devices to search for basic information needed to complete paper worksheets.

“Sometimes, you have to do baby steps,” Ms. Chegwidden said.

To help bring teachers along, Lewisville has adopted a “tiered” approach to professional development. All 2,000 school staff members involved in the program have received basic training on how to use the devices. This summer, 665 of those teachers took additional classes on the Mac operating system and iLife software.

In addition, 65 of the district’s most advanced teachers volunteered to participate in a seven-day xCamp, led by officials from both Lewisville Independent and Apple, that focused on how to get students creating content with the new devices.

“We find the bright spots, then do a lot of encouraging for them to work with their fellow teachers,” Ms. Reddell said.

Flexible Road Map

District officials emphasize that the 1:X initiative will evolve.

Already, the district has tweaked its plans: After extensive classroom walk-throughs and teacher surveys last spring, officials found students were not using the new laptops as extensively as anticipated. In response, the district purchased fewer laptops this year and moved from a classroom-based to a cart-based model for some of its phase-two schools. This will allow for a comparative study to be used to guide decisions at the end of the school year.

Mr. Levin of SETDA said he finds that encouraging.

“Kudos to them if they can step back and say, ‘This is a longer-term commitment and vision we have, and we’re not getting locked into one approach,’ ” he said.

Such flexibility is paramount when it comes to paying for 1:X long term, said Mr. Waddell, the Lewisville superintendent.

Bonds have been used to pay for iPads and most infrastructure upgrades, Mr. Waddell said, but money for laptops, training, and support personnel has come from reallocation of existing resources.

District officials, he said, are also positioning themselves to pounce in the event that the Texas legislature provides greater financial incentives for school districts to adopt digital instructional resources.

“There will be a combination of things we do to sustain it,” Mr. Waddell said of the 1:X initiative. “We have a road map for that, but we’ll change our route as we go.”

Coverage of the education industry and K-12 innovation is supported in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the October 02, 2013 edition of Education Week as Picking the Right Device for the Right Moment


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