Classroom Technology

A Big and Rocky Year for 1-to-1 Computing

By Benjamin Herold — December 30, 2013 4 min read
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With big initiatives, new products, and some high-profile missteps, 2013 was a big—but not necessarily good—year for 1-to-1 computing.

Here’s a look back at five of the stories and trends in 1-to-1 that made headlines:

iPad Woes in Los Angeles
From June to December, Superintendent John Deasy’s unprecedented half-billion dollar push to put iPads in the hands of 660,000 Los Angeles Unified School District students and teachers has been a headline grabber. Unfortunately for Deasy, who touts the Common Core Technology Project as a major social-justice initiative, many of those headlines have been less than positive.

The initiative’s first phase began in Fall 2013. Within days, some students bypassed the devices’ security filters, and questions emerged about liability and responsibility. Some questioned the use of bonds to finance the initiative, and Education Week took a deep look at concerns over the new digital curriculum from Pearson that comes preloaded on each iPad.

The backlash in Los Angeles, led primarily by the teachers’ union and some members of the sharply divided school board, has been intense, leading Deasy to slow down the initiative’s rollout and likely playing a role in a several-day long drama in November when it appeared Deasy might step down.

The ripple effects were felt 2,700 miles away—in November, Miami-Dade County Public Schools announced it had “pushed the pause button” on its own 1-to-1 initiative, citing the problems in L.A. as a major reason.

Amplify’s Rough Start
Los Angeles and Apple weren’t the only ones to suffer from rocky 1-to-1 rollouts. In Guilford County, N.C., the first major rollout of new digital tablets from Amplify also ran into big problems, with Superintendent Maurice O. Green slamming on the brakes after a rash of broken screens and a few reports of overheated chargers among the 15,000 devices it purchased.

A division of the global media conglomerate News Corp. that is headed by former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein, Amplify received a ton of attention before its shaky plunge into the 1-to-1 market.

Five of the company’s six district customers have resumed using the Amplify tablets, but Guilford County will wait until a next-generation tablet is ready, per a recent report.

The Emergence of 1-to-X Computing

On a more hopeful note, 2013 saw the emergence of a new trend: So-called “1-to-X” computing, in which students are given access to multiple digital devices (smartphone, tablet, laptop) to choose from depending on the learning task at hand.

For our “Managing the Digital District” special report in October, Education Week took a look at the Lewisville Independent School District outside Dallas, which pioneered the concept and is rolling out what appears to be the nation’s first comprehensive 1-to-X initiative this school year.

“In the professional world, the idea of different devices for different jobs is already a normal way of doing business,” said Douglas Levin, the executive director of the Glen Burnie, Md.-based State Educational Technology Directors Association, when discussing the program in October. “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.”

Tablet vs. Chromebook Debate Takes Shape

Apple has dominated the K-12 market for digital devices, with reports touting the company as having secured 94 percent of the educational tablet market and indicating that some 80 percent of district technology officials use or plan to use iPads.

But late in the year, a competitor—the lightweight, low-cost Chromebook, which runs Google’s Chrome operating system and stores users’ information on the cloud—appeared to be gaining steam.

In December, my colleague Michele Molnar over at Marketplace K-12 wrote about Dell joining Acer, Samsung, and others in manufacturing the devices. I also sat down with progressive ed-tech guru Christopher Lehmann (whose school, Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, is the subject of a school year-long series here at Education Week) to hear about his decision to switch from Mac to Chromebook after seven years.

Expect this to be a major topic of discussion in 2014.

1-to-1 proponents push for E-rate overhaul

And, of course, no discussion of ed-tech in 2013 would be complete without a peek at the burgeoning effort by the Federal Communications Commission to revamp the E-rate program, one of the major sources of funding for districts looking to provide schools with the necessary bandwidth and infrastructure to support a robust 1-to-1 program. The FCC announced the intended overhaul in August, and thousands of public comments poured in throughout the fall.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the piece of equipment reported to have overheated on a few Amplify devices. The reports were regarding the devices’ chargers.

Follow @BenjaminBHerold and @EdWeekEdTech in 2014 for more news on ed-tech policies, practices, and trends.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.