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How to Avoid Costly 1-to-1 Computing Mistakes

By Malia Herman — June 10, 2015 3 min read
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Articulate Your Vision: Experts on 1-to-1 computing say district leaders considering a digital conversion must clearly outline their goals. “A lot of the doomed initiatives start with the superintendent announcing that [the district is] going to give a tablet or a laptop to every student,” said Keith R. Krueger, the chief executive officer of the Washington-based Consortium for School Networking. “They need to start with why they are doing it and what the learning will look like.”

Start Small: The biggest mistake many districts make is trying to move too quickly. “You just can’t rush,” said Bob Moore, an education consultant and a former school district technology official. “Start small. Do a pilot. Roll out over a period of years. Don’t let the sense of urgency force you to make rash decisions.” Mr. Moore suggests that districts start in one grade or one subject area.

Get Schools Tech-Ready: The 144,000-student Charlotte-Mecklenburg district in North Carolina deployed 32,000 Chromebooks to middle school students this year. But it took the district two years to lay the technological groundwork to make that happen, said Valerie Truesdale, the district’s chief of technology. “None of our schools was 100 percent wireless,” she said. “It took us a solid year just to provision the classrooms and get the bandwidth where it needs to be.”

Prepare Teachers: Teacher training should go beyond how to use devices and software, said Leslie A. Wilson, the chief executive officer of the One-to-One Institute, a Mason, Mich.-based nonprofit that supports school expansion of effective 1-to-1 computing efforts. “There’s a big difference between training and professional learning,” Ms. Wilson said. “Teachers have to learn new things, change old habits, develop networks.”

Visit Other Districts: Lenny J. Schad, the chief technology information officer of the 210,000-student Houston district, sent teachers and principals to visit the Mooresville, N.C., school system, which had already successfully implemented 1-to-1 computing. “We wanted people to see it with their own eyes, to walk around and see the engagement,” he said.

Engage the Community: Mark Edwards, the superintendent of the 5,600-student Mooresville district, said broad-based community engagement is also important. “If the game plan is limited to a select group of people, the potential for success is lost,” Mr. Edwards said. “Include the school board, elected leaders, teachers, principals, parent groups so that there is a sense of community vision.”

Build a Brand: Mr. Schad said Houston officials built a marketing plan around their initiative, which they call Power Up. “We felt it was really important to have a brand,” he said. “If you talk to any parent, they know what it is.” Ms. Wilson of the One-to-One Institute said that was a problem with Los Angeles’ Common Core Technology Project—not everyone knew what it was. “Everyone needs to understand clearly what is being done and why,” she said. “That doesn’t mean they have to agree, but they have to understand.”

Make Content King: One lesson districts should take away from the failure in Los Angeles is that content matters, said Ms. Wilson. “The problem is districts buy devices—and then put textbooks on them,” she said. “There is nothing transformative about that.” Many successful 1-to-1 districts collect content from a variety of sources. “The new digital content that is being developed is so superior to old-world print, and it’s cost efficient,” said Mr. Edwards of Mooresville, which uses about 50 different content providers for its K-12 classes. “I can’t imagine using only one source,” he said.

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