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


If a school or district can’t maintain a continuous 1-to-1 program, teachers will not have an adequate chance of improving student achievement and engagement through classroom practices.

Peterson recommends that during the planning stage, schools consider sustainable PC implementation strategies. For example, schools could use a mainframe delivery model.

“Instead of planning to replace 500 laptops every three years, schools could get by with replacing the CPU in the mainframe, or system board, or both,” he said. “But the end result is that all students have equitable technology and the upgrades are applied at one spot, the computational technology is applied at one spot, and when complete, everyone still has equitable [access to] technology. When the school has more students, or wants to go from a 4-to-1 to a 3-to-1 ratio, they simply add the ‘dumb’ terminals.”

Supporting teachers

Given the importance of teachers in the success of school laptop initiatives, it’s no surprise that “teacher preparation through [ongoing professional development] was important for successful implementation,” write Bebell and O’Dwyer. “As 1-to-1 programs become more popular, the quality and depth of preparation that teachers receive for implementation will become a central predictor of program success.”

Professional development that is “tied to curriculum support and development is most successful,” said Livingston. “PD works best when it is not a one-shot undertaking, but is varied and continues yearly. Studies again and again show that with any major school-wide initiative, the most important factor for success is what happens in the classroom.”

Otto agrees, saying his school gives teachers advance preparation: One and a half years before the laptops arrived, teachers sat down to plan their technology-based lessons. “Teacher training is critical,” he said, “because we need to know what works to be able to use it productively in class.”

John Orban, system administrator for The Country School in Easton, Md., said that whenever possible, schools should have faculty conduct these training workshops, “as it seems their peers pay more attention to them than [to] the ‘technology folks.’”

Orban said his school requires teachers to submit a written technology plan each month indicating how they plan to use technology in their classroom.

“The biggest fault with 1-to-1 initiatives is not looking at the entire process,” said John Thompson, associate professor in the education technology program at New York’s Buffalo State College.

“Buying laptops is the easiest part of the process, but too often school districts neglect such fundamental items as providing initial and ongoing professional development for the teachers and providing sufficient tech support,” Thompson said. “Taking a true TCO [total cost of ownership] approach would avoid many of the mistakes, as schools often do not have a good grasp of the real costs of starting and continuing a 1-to-1 program. And part of the TCO approach should be setting measurable program objectives and then doing formative and summative program evaluations, whose results are made known to everyone to provide a feedback loop in the continuous planning and re-planning that characterizes successful programs.”

Student involvement

But it’s not just teachers who experts say must be involved in the 1-to-1 planning process—students should be, too.

“Perhaps a backwards way of thinking by some accounts, we believe a ‘bottom-up’ approach is better than a ‘top-down,’” said Katie Morrow, technology integration specialist at O’Neill Public Schools in O’Neill, Neb.

Meris Stansbury

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