Tips for launching a one-to-one initiative

Involving students in the planning and procurement of a one-to-one initiative has worked out well for this Texas school district

initiative-latitude-learnThe Clear Creek Independent School District in Texas truly puts the public in public education. I cannot think of a more profound example of this statement than what is occurring today in our Houston-suburb school district of 40,000 students.

We are leading our teachers, students, parents, and community on a journey to refine teaching and learning in the 21st century as we deploy 30,000 Dell Latitude 10 tablets to students over the next three years. The Latitude to Learn initiative is unique to our community because it is deeply rooted in our district beliefs and mission, and perhaps most compelling, it is being designed by students, educators, technology specialists, and parents. Because it is our customized plan, I don’t have the magic formula for success—but I can offer some advice to school districts considering a one-to-one computing initiative.

First, go slow to go fast! For years, this school district knew that classrooms needed a boost and that our students deserved uninterrupted access to the world. However, funding and finding the right device always seemed to stump progress. In 2012, we stopped and took the time to capture the aspirations of teachers, technology specialists, parents, and students.

District leaders held design/strategy sessions as a cross-functional team to tease out our values about Learning and Technology interplay. I still treasure the stacks of spent sticky notes from meetings in which we aggregated thoughts into categories of Equity, Access, Engagement, Professional Learning, Instruction, Collaboration, Efficiencies, and my personal favorite—Realities.

“Realities” embodied the notion that technology is inevitable, and we have to acknowledge that to our students’ benefit. We approached the Board of Trustees as a unified team and showed them how ubiquitous access can improve learning for all students. We began with fundamentals, including a robust wireless LAN to support any mobile initiative (laptop, tablet, “bring your own device,” etc.). We spent countless long nights at community events soliciting input and feedback on the ideas. In the end, the plan stuck and won support from the community to invest $45 million in technology.

(Next page: Three more keys to Clear Creek’s success)

Second, listen to the “customers.” When it came down to determining what device we would use to support a one-to-one computing initiative, we vetted and interviewed several capable and highly respected providers. When we were down to the final choices, we handed the devices to our students—the end users, the customers, the ones who frankly would make this project succeed or fail. Our student panel chose the Dell Latitude 10 for its ease of use, Microsoft platform, and cost.

Third, don’t go about it alone. Developing and deploying a one-to-one computing initiative is not just a “technology” project. It requires buy-in, support, and sweat equity from a lot of people inside and outside the school district. We have the most talented and dedicated team of professionals, including personnel support from Dell and Microsoft, working through every technical, instructional, and financial detail to offer a truly personalized learning experience and initiative for students. We have called on our parents to help determine what anytime learning looks like at home from internet filters, parent responsibilities, insurance, and more. We will put together a team of students to help define Digital Citizenship for our school district and create the consequences of when it is not followed.

Finally, be patient. I’m assuming that if you are reading this, you might have some interest in how a one-to-one computing initiative can be done at your school district. Here’s the point I will try to make when it comes to the process of crafting a technology vision and initiative for a school district: there are no short cuts.

There is experience, vision, and purpose, and there are best practices and techniques, but there is no recipe, or answer to be found in the review of another school district’s choice. Much like a student’s learning, the value is in the process, and it is best done by a team. The solution is un-Googleable. Anyone who simply tries to replicate another district’s initiative on the notion of not “reinventing the wheel” likely will be disappointed. Rather, this should be a precision-engineered gear that needs to fit into a complex machine that’s a little different in every district. It must be designed, engineered, built, and installed. By all means, guidance should be sought—and we can all learn from others (Project RED is a great place to start)—but the solution does not have a SKU number.

When the focus is on something greater than any individual or department and the work challenges everyone to grow beyond their previous limits, honesty emerges and real teams are made. When you work on a project like this that centers on access and learning in your school district (and you will—it’s inevitable), may you have something unexpected happen to you as well.

Kevin Schwartz is chief technology officer for the Clear Creek Independent School District in Texas.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at