One-to-one computing programs only as effective as their teachers

The authors of the Texas study conclude: “Respondents at higher implementing schools reported that committed leaders, thorough planning, teacher buy-in, preliminary professional development for teachers, and a commitment to the transformation of student learning were keys to their successful implementation” of the state’s Technology Immersion Project.

Researchers and educators who weren’t part of the BC-published studies agreed with their findings.

Torsten Otto, an educator from Hamburg, Germany, said at his school (Wichern-Schule), the 1-to-1 computing model is only as successful as the teachers’ 21st-century classroom practices.

“In our 1-to-1 program … we put a big emphasis on project-based learning; otherwise, the laptop is no more than an expensive notepad. … Research needs to show the effects of this different style of teaching in terms of student engagement, motivation, and so-called 21st-century skills. The subject matters themselves don’t have as much room for improvement,” Otto said.

Where it all needs to start

Though the journal’s editors and researchers agree that teaching practices are key in making any 1-to-1 computing program successful, it takes a lot of steps to support innovative teaching.

A fifth journal article, not so much a study as a theoretical paper on 1-to-1 computing, argues that school district stakeholders should agree on a clear set of program goals.

The study, titled “The End of Techno-Critique: The Naked Truth about 1-to-1 Laptop Initiatives and Educational Change,” written by Mark Weston, adjoint professor in the Graduate School of Public Affairs and the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the University of Colorado, Denver, and Alan Bain, associate professor in the School of Teacher Education at Charles Stuart University, says that the first step in creating a successful 1-to-1 program is to have a “set of simple rules” created by a community of students, teachers, school leaders, and parents, that defines “what the community believes about teaching and learning.”

Schools and districts must outline their goals in implementing a 1-to-1 program, and how they think teaching and learning should change under this model, and then base their decisions on this plan.

In addition, the community must understand what technology infrastructure is needed for a sustainable program, and must be willing to make the necessary investment.

“Programs that have worked have started with a plan that was well thought-out and formulated by a vision committee that involved stakeholders,” agreed Pamela Livingston, author of 1-to-1 Learning: Laptop Programs That Work (published by the International Society for Technology in Education). She is also an education technology analyst for EdisonLearning and adjunct professor at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia and the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

“They have nearly all given laptops to teachers first, sometimes a full year ahead, so teachers can use the laptops and begin developing curricular possibilities,” Livingston said. “They have done a serious look at issues of infrastructure (network, electricity, wireless plan) and considered logistical issues (carrying cases, insurance) and formulated good policies and procedures.”

One common problem, said David Peterson, chief technology officer for ed-tech firm Fiddlehead and a project manager of ubiquitous computing initiatives for two decades, is that technology moves on and schools get stuck in a “technology refresh strategy financial quagmire. It costs money to keep PCs up to date, it takes technicians to keep them up to date, and those resources must be allocated year after year, requiring school board resolve. That resolve is tough to come by when it becomes a choice of teachers, buses, or new PCs.”

Meris Stansbury

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