One-to-One Computing: Promises and Perils

While interest in programs that put computing devices in the hands of all students and teachers seems to be rising, the financial and logistical challenges of starting and sustaining one-to-one computing efforts are significant.

One-to-One Computing: Promises and Perils

Thursday, August 6, 1 p.m. Eastern time

Putting a mobile computing device in the hands of every student and teacher isn’t just a matter of buying the machines. Implementation, professional development, and integration into the curriculum can be major hurdles, and evidence that such programs improve student achievement remains thin. Still, experts say interest in one-to-one computing is on the rise, because of its potential to improve access to online curricula, collaboration on school projects, and communication between teachers and students.

Related Story: “1 to 1 Learning” (January 23, 2008)

Thomas Greaves, chairman, The Greaves Group
Leslie Wilson, president, One-to-One Institute
Craig Stone, online production manager,, moderated this chat.

One-to-One Computing: Promises and Perils(08/06/2009)


11:13 Web Person: Casey: Today’s chat, One-to-One Computing: Promises and Perils, is open for questions, so please start submitting them now. The chat will begin at 1 p.m. Thank you for joining us.

12:56 Craig Stone, moderator: Hello everyone and welcome to the Education Week’s chat on one-to-one computing. My name is Craig Stone and I’m the Online Production Manager for

12:57 Craig Stone, moderator: Today we have two excellent guests offering their perspectives on this topic. Thomas W. Greaves is currently the Software Information Industry Association (SIIA) Mobile Computing Trends Watch Report Editor. Mr. Greaves’ recent work is highlighted in the 2006 and 2008 America’s Digital Schools surveys, which bring a wealth of data on the future of educational technology.

12:58 Craig Stone, moderator: Leslie Wilson is President of the One-to-One Institute, and has served public education in seven school districts as executive director of curriculum and instruction, high school principal/ assistant principal, special education administrator/ teacher, and adventure-based counselor over a 31 year span.

1:00 Craig Stone, moderator: They’re both looking forward to answering your questions so feel free to start submitting them. In the meantime, I’d like both guests to talk a bit about their own involvement in one-to-one computing. Leslie, perhaps you could start us off ....



Greetings! I am honored to spend time with you talking about one to one!! Having directed Michigan’s statewide program and honing a quality team at One to One Institute, we have learned many lessons and helped districts, states and countries implement successful programs. Our group is made up of practitioners-administrators, teachers, technology directors who have spent years in one to one programs. As a former principal and central office person, I can tell you that I have witnessed nothing more powerful for personalizing teaching and learning and increasing students’ progress than in one to one programs.


Tom: Hi, Craig,

I have been involved in 1-1 school solutions for about 15 years. Overt that time i have seen considerable evolution in the capabilities, results and acceptance. Nothing else that I have seen has the power to transform schools like properly implemented 1-1 computing. I am looking forward to hearing from our audience!


Craig Stone, moderator:

ok, here’s our 1st question ...

1:06 [Comment From Jeanne Hayes]
Have things changed regarding 1:1 computing in the last school year? Are districts dropping this appproach because of financial issues?



Jeff, There is great personalized student power when each one has one:) Computer labs need to be scheduled. One to one programs allow for students to have anytime and anywhere access to learning activities. As such, they expereince just in time ability to pursue information, remediation, communications that are important to their unique learning needs. Just imagine if someone told you that you could use your computer once or twice at week to get your work (job/schooling) accomplished. That is what we tell students who have access in school to scheduled computer lab time.

1:06 [Comment From Jeff]
Why one-to-one over computer labs?


Craig Stone, moderator:

thanks for answering Jeff’s questions Leslie, Tom, perhaps you can tackle Jeanne’s question?



i think it is too soon to tell the budget effects on 1-1. Surely they will be there though. The budget aspect is a downer, but on the positive side, the cost of hardware (netbooks) has dropped dramatically. This will encourage more schools ot go this route.

1:08 lesliew: Jeanne, One to one programs are increasing by a rate of 4% a year based on America’s Digital Schools’ research (Hayes/Greaves 2008). Programs that are subsiding are due in large part to two major issues: lack of leadership and/or consistent leadership; a shared community vision that included a strategic action plan for scale and budget.

1:09 Craig Stone, moderator: thanks for the quesion Jeanne/Jeff. Now on to grade levels....

1:09 [Comment From Lauren Pacini]
at what grade level do you begin implementation?

1:09 lesliew: Lauren,
I believe you can begin implementation at any grade level provided there is a cogent plan, vision and device that will facilitate the goals you set out to achieve. There are devices, teaching & learning activities available for all grade levels.


Tom: Lauren,

Our research has shown that there are few 1-1 implementations below 3rd grade. the majority are in middle schools. high schools are second, and elementary schools last in terms of numbers.


Craig Stone, moderator:

thanks for this question Colin ...

1:10 [Comment From Colin]
Our biggest parental concern for our 1-1 laptop program (grades 7-8) is that the laptop is too much of a distraction at home. Some parents even see it as so much of a problem that they’d prefer to get rid of the program. Is there any research that shows that allowing students to work out some of these issues of time management within some structure will actually help them to better manage their time as they get older? I’ve always argued that it’s better for them to have some growing pains now rather when they get to high school...

1:12 lesliew: Colin,
A very important aspect of implementing one to one programs is parent/caregiver education!! This is equally important to providing training for all school people involved with the program. Prior to deploying devices, we recommend parent/caregiver orientations and ongoing meetings (virtual or otherwise) to address the implementation phase issues that will occur. One to one programs that have highly engaged the parents/caregivers on the front end have had reduced issues regarding home management and maintenance.



This can be a problem. the best way to approach it is to have substantial up-front training of parents as well as students. if the parents get involved, and they learn how they can play a role in making sure the technology is used properly and cared for properly it makes a big difference. A school computer, properly implemented, is no the same as a home computer.

1:13 Craig Stone, moderator: Sounds like you are both on the same page. thanks for the question Colin. On to our next one ....

1:14 [Comment From Nancy]
I’m concerned about durability and down-time for repairs...

1:14 lesliew: Chris Chiang,
Absolutely!! In fact, Walled Lake Schools in MI is currently in this situation. They have had 4 middle schools (one to one programs) for more than 10 years. Now parents/caregivers are purchasing their own devices instead of having the school purchase them. I don’t know what % is doing this but it has certainly caught fire!

1:14 [Comment From Chris Chiang]
Do you see 1-1 moving towards parents buying the children laptops as prices drop, where they become like notebooks and pens, or district provided like textbooks?

1:15 lesliew: In our MI program, there was very little downtime for the program and each site had it’s own system set up for repairs. Having swap outs available is important. A well laid plan will alleviate these issues

1:16 Tom: Some districts like Clovis, CA have been doing parent purchased programs for 10 years. So it is happening. The biggest issue is local regulations. In some jurisdictions this is not allowed. But I agree. over time, and as computers approacht he cost of a calculator, the mode of purchase will migrate.

1:17 Craig Stone, moderator: It’s clear there are lots of worries over costs, can one of you talk in dollars & cents about the savings brought about by the shift from traditional laptops to the newer netbooks and the like?



A netbook will cost about half of the cost of a laptop on a total cost of ownership basis. This includes fthe cheaper device, lower maintenance costs, etc.

1:20 Tom: Interestingly enough, America’s Digital Schools reports that before netbooks, schools were not buying the lowest cost devices. they tended to buy the pricier models.



It has been my observation that schools are just now exploring the newer, less expensive models out there. I agree with Tom’s findings that schools were still purchasing the higher cost computers until very recently.

1:22 Craig Stone, moderator: Here’s another question from Chris

1:22 [Comment From Chris Chiang]
What extra steps have you seen taken when 1-1 is done in a urban setting?



Implementing anti-theft measures is important. Not having machines in easily identified backpacks is important. Improving school security so that outsiders can’t slip in and steal poorly guarded computers is essential.

Parent/guardian training is very important as well.

1:25 lesliew: I have seen school administrators bring bus drivers, cross walk guards, parents/ caregivers, etc., to the table to orchestrate measures by which they ensure students’ safety for one thing. In Detroit, administrators held meetings in local churches to drum up community support for students who would be walking to and from school with devices. It became a large community effort. Unfortunately, I have seen others w/out good plans in place disallow students from taking laptops from home to school.

1:27 Craig Stone, moderator: Thanks for the question Chris. Here’s a Q. from Troy ...

1:27 [Comment From Troy]
Do you have guidline on how many technical support people per amount of laptops in service? With school provided laptops-

1:30 lesliew: We don’t have established guidelines. We find that each site/district is unique in IT and tech support configuration. What we do is recommend defining that structure, looking at current up time/down time and demand, etc., and use their resources to meet those needs. For example, some sites have IT people on board all day; some deploy from a central location, etc. What best works is having teachers and students be able (learn how to) to do their own troubleshooting becoming more self-reliant.

1:30 Tom: A lot depends on the level of service provided by the vendor. Schools that use students get by on less. I have seen the support in the range of one person to 400 computers, on up to one for 2000. Of course, thus is wAy higher than business!

1:31 [Comment From Adrienne]
What specialized teacher training or continuing professional development is advisable for program success? This is also a program cost.



America’s Digital Schools figures show that schools spend on average $98/student/year on PD. The best PD starts months before the students get their computers, and continues on throughout the year, being delivered by classroom mentors.

1:33 lesliew: Professional learning for one to one programs is critical to success. It must be a) high quality, b) consistently scheduled, c) differentiated for each person’s needs, d) within a mentoring/coaching framework. Costs for one to one programs need to include resources for professional growth. It takes, on average, 3 years for a teacher to become truly proficient in teaching transformation for one to one environments.

1:34 Craig Stone, moderator: Top notch guys. Tom, here’s a Q. for you from EdWeek’s/Digital Directions’ senior writer Kathleen Manzo ....

1:34 Tom: The key to the training is to actually mobilize the curriculum, and to use the technology to fully personalize the education experience. Basic training on what buttons to push is not enough.

1:35 Craig Stone, moderator: The America’s Digital Schools 2008 Report, which The Greaves Group was involved in, mapped out some important trends to watch. We wrote about this report in Technology Counts 2009. The first one trend you identify is “Large-Scale 1:1 Implementations Are Alive and Well”. Tom can you tell us more about what the report says about this future trend?

1:37 Tom: What we found, between the 2006 and the 2008 studies, is an increase in the number of districts with 1:1, an increase in the number of schools per district doing 1-1, and an increase in the number of students per district doing 1-1, In 2008 this last number was a little over 1600. A few years earlier it was more like 500. So all the indicators we measured were increasing.

1:38 Craig Stone, moderator: Thanks Tom. We have a great question on what role Cell Phones can play in this area ...

1:38 [Comment From Guest]
what role to mobile phones play in 1-to-1 education?

1:38 lesliew: There is no question that many believe the next phase of one to one will be with mobile phones. It will be interesting to observe this evolution trying to take hold. Mobile phones have a lot of functionality and more with each iteration. They are a driving force behind the effort to reduce size, cost while ensuring the robust nature of personal, portable devices.

1:40 Craig Stone, moderator: recently produced a Webinar on the use of cellphones in the classroom, for those interested, here’s the link to the event. it was a great, and very popular discussion.....


Tom: It is unlikely that schools will be paying for cell phones and data plans.

And many/most schools ban phones from being used in classrooms. But this is starting to change.

Schools have already started finding ways to exploit the technology in a kid’s pocket. The price is right!!

We are seeing a wide number of applications in these areas, including school tiplines, mass notifications, use in homework help, etc. I expect this area will attract a lot of attention from software publishers, and will be widespread in a few years.

I think this area will be one of the fastest growing areas over the next several years as smartphones drop in price, applications get easier to use and more integrated, and measures are devevloped to allow phones to be used in classrooms without the current issues.

1:42 Craig Stone, moderator: Anne has a question that again, touches on the finance issue...

1:42 [Comment From Anne Clark]
My 2002 doctoral dissertation research studied the one-to-one computing programs of two small public colleges. The financial model used for one of these programs was a barrier to the success of that program. Would you comment on any especially effective financial models for one-to-one programs?



Project RED was established to address this question. No one has really studied the full cost picture. for example, a school copy machine budget can exceed $100K a year. In a 1-1 school printing costs can go down. The cost of digital materials is less than print materials, etc. When you consider the costs of failure, prevented by 1:1, the justification is very strong for technology.


Does your district offer a one-to-one program?
( 47% )

( 7% )

i wish!
( 47% )



Tom is right on!!! Project Red is going to be very helpful. One thing is certain! Those implementing the program need to have 1) a shared vision with strategic action plan including budget and 2) effective leadership and communication among all stakeholders. For more help with this go to and

1:46 Craig Stone, moderator: Jeff has an interesting take on this topic...

1:46 [Comment From Jeff]
With one-to-one computing, aren’t we just talking about every student having a laptop? Why is this a whole new topic of discussion rather than a budgeting decision? Is this really that radical of an idea?


What has been your experience of a one-to-one program?
( 43% )

( 0% )

( 0% )

Needed better planning & implementation
( 57% )




One to one programs are least of all about having a device. It is ALL about transfroming teaching and learning, and, above all, increasing student achievement-preparing them for this century. The radical nature of this is how tremendously different pedagogy is in a one to one environment. THat shift creates a powerful and student-directed learning approach.



Jeff, it isn’t radical to many, but currently only a few thousand schools are doing it. So it is radical to many of the stakeholders. One issue that has hurt the cause is that a substantial number of implementations are poorly done, and yield no results. These are the schools that end up on the New York Times front page. The good news is that our stiudies shwo that the success rate is increasing substantially over the last few years

1:51 Craig Stone, moderator: Thanks Tom, i think the results of our poll are mirroring your comments.

1:51 Craig Stone, moderator: Sue has a good Q. here ...

1:51 [Comment From Sue Daniels]
As a teacher who would like to see 1-to-1 computing in my classroom/school/district, what are the main benefits for the student? What will tip administration in favor of implementing 1-to-1 in our district?


If i had a magic classroom wand, i would wish for a one-to-one program in my school/district
You bet!
( 82% )

Not at the top of my list.
( 18% )

Absolutely not.
( 0% )




the main benefits to students are: teaching/learning in their natural language and habitat (using technology:)), ability to meet students’ unique needs and abilities, creation of self-directed and motivated learners due to high engagement with technology tools and rapid response/information rates, decreased discipline issues, increased attendance, increased achievement. School administrators would be thrilled to implement if they saw the vision of return on investment, not just initial capital needed, for this kind of program...not to mention the above benefits to our students.


Tom: I see the main benefits as personalization, and the elimination of the barriers of time, space, and money from accessing information. To quote a sixth grade Hispanic girl from Lemon Grove, California, on the positive impact of having her own computer in school, and to take home at night, she said, “Now I can find the answer to every question.”

It is also a productivity issue. Students can gain info faster, process it better, and produce higher quality output when employing technology.

1:56 Craig Stone, moderator: We ahve a very practical question here from Liz ...

1:56 [Comment From Liz]
My school is now in its second year of 1:1 laptops. Are there resources and methods are out there to help us collect data on the impact our program is having on student achievement?

1:57 Tom: It is hard to teacher training institutions to have a great impact on this issue. There are so many other things that they must teach. Getting one course added for 1:1 implementations would be very helpful. It could replace an existing comouter literacy course, since most entering college students are computer literate. Another thing I have seen work is for students to go to 1:1 schools for their practice teaching experience.


Craig Stone, moderator: Liz, here’s one resource, courtesy of’s Kathleen Manzo:

1-to-1 Learning: Laptop Programs That Work, by Pamela Livingston

1:58 lesliew: Such a great question regarding teacher prep programs. There is dire need to transform those programs for this century. First, technology tools would be integrated into the life of the teacher prep curriculum so that they were seamlessly used and modeled; second, pre-teachers would have the expectation to come prepared with his/her own laptop/portable device; three - faculty would incorporate technology tools within each area of the preparatory curriculum. Preteachers would be expected to matriculate only after demonstration of rigorous abilities in the areas of meaningful technology integration. There is a big difference between integrating technololgy and meaningfully integrating the technology.

1:59 [Comment From Aaron Popham]
What do teacher preparation programs need to do to better prepare future teachers to be hired in 1-1 schools/districts?

1:59 Craig Stone, moderator: Aaron popham’s (above) was the teach-prep question Leslie is referring to ... Tahnks Leslie.

2:00 Tom: Aaron, I answered your question out of turn. Please see above answer... sorry!

2:01 Craig Stone, moderator: ok folks, we’re getting to the end of our discussion, one more question and then i will wrap up with some resources for you all ...

2:02 [Comment From Aaron Popham]
You’ve talked about how 1-1 can help instruction and learning. How can a 1-1 program improve assessment? How can it help give teachers greater access to student performance data?



Great question!!

There is a strong movement towards online assessment. 1-1 schools have the advantage of no hardware constraints.

A number of companies now offer excellent programs that allow teachers to create standards-based quizzes, deliver them, and then to do extensive data analysis. 1-1 schools that are doing this regularly, and where teachers get capacity building training are amiong those who are doing much better than average, and who attribute the improvements to the technology.

2:05 lesliew: One to one is about increasing student achievement while transforming teaching and learning. Assessment is greatly enhanced when each student can use personal technology for formative assessments that provide real time results. Teachers can use those findings to adjust pedagogy, resources and differentiate/remediate as needed. Students can also self-adjust and remediate as needed. THey can quickly see/know their areas of strength and need. With this capacity, which is a strong component of one to one environments, students and teachers can use just in time information to continue the learning process in an uninterrupted manner.

2:06 Craig Stone, moderator: Ok guys, we’re come to the end for today, but i want to encourage you all, Tom and Leslie inlcuded, to carry on this converesation over on our forum here;

2:06 Craig Stone, moderator: Thanks to both Tom and Leslie for your input today, it was top notch. And a big THANKS to you all out there for taking part. We here at really appreciate it.


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