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Response: Make 1:1 Programs 'About the Learning, not the Device'

(This is the last post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new "question-of-the-week" is:

What are the do's and don'ts of a successful 1:1 computing program?


One-to-one programs, where all students have laptops or tablets in class, are increasing in popularity. This two-part series will explore of the do's and don'ts of a successful one-to-one program.

In Part One, Anne Jenks, Heather Staker, Larissa Pahomov, and Stephanie Smith Budhai contribute their responses. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Anne and Heather on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Today's contributors are Brady E. Venables, Djamal Balbed, Boyd Adolfsson, Joyce Cluess, and Dr. Robert Dillon.

Response From Brady E. Venables

Brady E. Venables is Instructional Technology Coach for Saluda County Schools in Saluda, S.C. whose innovative and engaging instructional strategies consistently result in high achievement among her students across a wide range of ability levels. She can be reached at [email protected]:

Going one-to-one in the classroom is a game-changing endeavor for teachers and students. Infusing technology appropriately into the classroom can lead to great individualization of instruction, student-led learning, and targeted differentiation. Leading a school into one-to-one computing is no easy task, however, and based on our experience there are a few Do's and Don'ts to implementing a successful one-to-one computing program.

Do prepare your teachers early with devices.

Provide teachers with the same devices the students will be using a year before your student roll out. Our teachers' comfort with technology varies widely and giving them plenty of time to learn the basics of the device (while they engage simultaneously in the important work of teaching!) is essential to getting all teachers on board with the initiative.

Do provide professional learning early.

When you provide your teachers with the new devices, simultaneously deploy a professional learning agenda. Start at the beginning, making rudimentary sessions optional for advanced teachers, providing content on how to use the device, selected apps your district will support, and move to advanced learning that covers how teaching pedagogy shifts with the influx of technology in the classroom. Even if your school is not one-to-one, it likely is not a technology desert. Computer labs, rolling shared carts, and media centers provide class sets of devices for teachers to practice their learning prior to the one-to-one roll out.

Do excite the community about the initiative.

Going one-to-one does not just affect teachers and students, especially in a take-home model. Devices may infiltrate student homes where previously access was limited and it is important to communicate the purpose and intention behind the initiative. Moreover, educating the community on digital citizenship practices and providing resources for having a healthy relationship with technology at home (use CommonSenseMedia.org for discussion guides and more) ensures a positive cooperation between families and schools when going one-to-one.

Don't stop the professional learning when the devices are deployed.

There will always be opportunities for professional learning with technology. Many schools cease professional learning opportunities after the first initial roll-out, but this leaves the teachers hanging. With so much to learn when going one-to-one and so many teachers being on different paths at different rates, it is important to continually provide support to your teachers. Moreover, as new teachers enter your school ensuring they receive the same learning as the rest of the faculty is imperative. Nothing changes as fast as technology and its application so keep learning and growing in your endeavor.

Don't ignore the importance of a solid digital citizenship curriculum with your students.

Teaching digital citizenship is essential no matter your students' age in your one-to-one computing initiative. Educators have an obligation to educate students about the permanence of their words on the internet and the consequences of digital actions. Share examples of poor digital citizenship and as leaders be models of good digital citizenship for our students. For resources about digital citizenship, check out iste.org.

Rolling out a one-to-one computing initiative is an exciting venture full of amazing opportunities for learning. This job is often designated to technology departments in the district that may not have strong instructional knowledge. Following these Do's and Don'ts as well as involving teachers and instructional coaches in the deployment will keep the focus on student learning.  

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Response From Djamal Balbed

Djamal Balbed spent close to three years at Clarke County Schools in Athens, Ga., where all students in grades 3 through 12 have a digital device. He oversaw the digital implementation which included evaluating and selecting student devices as well as instructional programs to support district initiatives. He is currently a Systems Analyst with Fulton County Schools:

When Considering A Digital Rollout, School Districts Must Consider Parent Participation

As school districts embark on a shift from paper to digital, there is no shortage of the many moving pieces that it takes to make it successful. The obvious considerations are: which student device to get, whether or not to lease, what grade levels should have them first. School districts have to ask whether or not the program is sustainable and not just reliant on grant funding or a one-time allotment of funds. In assessing a district's readiness, they have to determine reliability of their network infrastructure. They have to know whether or not their network can support multiple users. Schools that move to a 1:1 program have to account for closer to a 1:2 or even a 1:3 since students and teachers typically have more than one device that connects to the school network. But going deeper, school districts need to ask a bigger question: Are they ready for this shift? One way to answer that question is to ask the parents.

One of the best examples that I have seen of a district involving parents in the process from the very beginning is Baltimore County, Md. Lloyd Brown, the CIO in Baltimore, developed a program where all stakeholders were able to participate, including students, parents, teachers and staff. The name of their program; Teachers and Students Accessing Tomorrow (STAT) actually came from students. The program gives a laptop to students, but with a condition; the school first has to apply to become a "Lighthouse" school. In order to become a "Lighthouse" school, all stakeholders have to commit to doing their part. Students have to commit to using laptops appropriately. Teachers have to commit to learning how technology changes classroom instruction. School administrators have to commit to supporting teachers through the learning process. Parents have to commit to helping their children with using their laptop in a responsible manner. Only after all stakeholders have made the commitment will the school see their share of laptops.

Unfortunately, Baltimore is the exception. Too often district leaders make decisions in a vacuum with no real opportunity for input. Many times those decisions are too focused on getting devices into the hands of students. It sometimes feels like a competition between districts to say they've "gone digital". That should not be where it starts. If anything, that should be the last consideration. For district leaders to really create a sustainable and long-lasting digital program, they should start with parents. They should bring parents on board and create an advisory committee where real conversations can take place. They should give parents an opportunity to create the district's digital citizenship program to help guide student responsibility. They should provide training for parents on how to use the student devices so they're better prepared at home. District leaders should also have discussions with parents on student learning outcomes so they understand that it's not all about screen time.

The momentum for schools to "go digital" will only continue to grow. Implementing a program that takes into account all aspects will only help ensure its success.  Getting parents on board early can go a long way to building the foundation that will be in place for many years to come.

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Response From Boyd Adolfsson

Boyd Adolfsson is the Vice President of Technology Innovation of IDE Corp. (Innovative Designs for Education), an educational consulting firm focusing on instructional innovation. He has five years experience in K-12 teaching followed by 15 years in enterprise level IT management in the corporate world before returning to the field of education to meld these two areas of interest. Boyd brings his combination of education and business experience to helping school districts shift paradigms and design new approaches to technology in instruction:

A successful 1:1 implementation puts a mobile computing device in the hands of every student so that it is immediately available to them when it is needed as a tool for learning. Infrastructure, support and training are all crucial to achieving this goal. But even so, a new way of teaching and learning is necessary to really make it work.

DO invest the planning time and money in selecting and building your infrastructure.

Like the plumbing in a home, the technology infrastructure, consisting of the switching, cabling, WiFi access points, and other equipment, is often unappreciated and overlooked until there is a problem. Today's mobile cloud devices can be much less expensive allowing more schools to consider 1:1 initiatives.  But as these devices are so heavily dependent on the network and the Internet, the costs shift to the unseen and previously ignored backend infrastructure. First ensure that the devices selected for students and teachers are mobile, durable and reliable. Then plan a network infrastructure that can support a large number of these devices, in all areas of the school, under continuous heavy use.  A school should be considered an enterprise and residential grade Internet connectivity or equipment will not support the technology in a 1:1 initiative.  If technology infrastructure is not reliable, accessible, and convenient it will not become infused into learning. It will instead become an afterthought, something for when time is available and the risk is low.

DON'T require instructional staff to support technology.

The technology in a school 1:1 initiative can be compared to an iceberg, with 90 percent below the surface. But remember, it was that 90 percent that sank the Titanic! Technical support is necessary to troubleshoot and resolve issues quickly so that students and teachers do not lose time or the access to the resources they need for learning. Lack of technical support can often be interpreted by students or teachers as a lack of conviction and commitment on the part of the administration or community as to the importance of technology infusion, and it is especially important in the early stages of a 1:1 deployment. Teachers should be free to focus on student learning and the instructional application of the technology.  A trained and experienced technician should be responsible for the remaining 90% of the technology iceberg "under the waterline" such as network and device troubleshooting, user account management, system design and configuration, and also lower-level issues such as swapping out devices, replacing lost power adapters, or correcting misconfigured user settings. Once a teacher reports a technical problem they should expect to see resolution by a capable technician within 24-48 hours or better and get the learning back on track.

DO provide ongoing learning opportunities in both technology skills and instructional strategies.

Differentiated and continual learning opportunities for both students and teachers is just as important as a well-designed and supported technology infrastructure. Developing teacher sophistication with technology takes time. Using it in a way that truly enhances teaching and learning is an ongoing process that starts slow but accelerates quickly. Teachers are key to the success of a 1:1 implementation. Make sure they have sufficient time and training with the new technology before it is rolled out to students. Provide workshops before equipment is distributed to students and monthly learning opportunities throughout the year. They can then hit the ground running, prepared and with confidence. But don't assume that all students come to the classroom with the technology skills they need.  Being a "digital native" does not mean they are innately technology experts, just that they may be more comfortable with it. Create learning opportunities for students by building a student Tech Team to help with tech support or start up an Apple-style student-staffed "Genius Bar" in the library. Help teachers include how-to sheets or instructional videos to make sure the technology learning takes place in context where there is a 'felt need' for students.

DON'T expect technology to substantially improve learning and instruction without a cultural shift.

A well-planned infrastructure, excellent technical support, and ongoing, challenging professional development can only take a school so far without a cultural shift in how teaching and learning take place.  Only with a shift to a student-centered learning environment can a 1:1 technology initiative truly reach its fullest potential.

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Response From Joyce Cluess

Joyce Cluess is currently the principal of a K-8 Catholic school in Encino, Calif. (Our Lady of Grace School). She has taught Junior High Language Arts, Media Literacy, and was the Technology Director for St. Mel School in Woodland Hills:

Do make it about the learning; don't make it about the device.

Your program can easily become all about MDM systems, wireless access points, and content filters.  These are important considerations, to be sure. What's more important to the success of your program is how you support your teachers.  A one-to-one program represents fundamental change.  First, your teachers need to become comfortable with the device and its applications.  If your program is to be successful, the dynamics of their classroom environment will change.  It will become collaborate and student centered, so your teachers need to examine their curriculum, redesign their projects, and expand their expectations of student performance.  You are buying a device, but you need to invest in your teachers.

Do build your own tech team.  Don't rely on outside consultants for professional development.  Soon after the devices come out of their boxes you will see that some teachers take to them right away. Their eyes light up.  They start "playing" with purpose. These are your leaders.  Train them.  Empower them.  Let them teach your staff.  Invest your energy in the enthusiastic teacher; don't waste your time trying to win over the critical and the negative.  Let the evidence of teacher success bring them along.

Don't believe that all students are created equal in their knowledge of technology.  The students who are not "tech savvy" will be reticent to tell you.  

Do teach Digital Citizenship, Responsible Use, and Information Literacy to everyone (students, teachers, and parents) and teach it over and over again.  Every year.

DO trust your students.  Don't totally lock them out of the device.  Involve them in your program.  Let them contribute to the school's Responsible Use Policy.  Let them propose and review applications.  Form a Student Tech Team.  Ask them to join the faculty during tech training sessions.  You are forming a Community of Learners.  All of you are in it together.

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Response From Dr. Robert Dillon

Dr. Robert Dillon serves the Affton School District as Director of Technology and Innovation. Dr. Dillon has a passion to change the educational landscape by building excellent engaging schools for all students.. Dr. Dillon has had the opportunity to speak throughout the country at local, state, and national conferences as well as share his thoughts and ideas in a variety of publications including his books, Leading Connected Classrooms: The Heart and Soul of Learning and Engage, Empower, Energize: Leading Tomorrow's Schools Today:

The urgency to implement 1:1 programs in schools has reached a fever pitch. Schools are putting more and more devices in the hands of students for the purpose of leveraging the potential of a technology-rich environment. All of these programs are well intentioned, some of them are well planned and organized, and the best are effective in bringing greater engagement to learning and empowering students to grow in deeper ways.

As these implementations take place, many schools are avoiding the same mistakes as those that have blazed the trail, while others have struggled to avoid the pitfalls of implementing a 1:1 program. At the top of the list of these pitfalls are not having the necessary infrastructure to allow for success and poorly executed professional development to support the teachers, support staff, and students as the learning environment evolves through the addition of devices.

Exceptional education, and exceptional 1:1 opportunities for kids are only possible with a well-organized program, dedicated leadership, and an attention to the details that help to maximize successes during the initial launch of the program, but digging deeper, we find the true special sauce for excellent 1:1 programming. It lies outside of the actual program; instead, it is found in the culture of the learning organization that is built before, during, and after the 1:1 program is conceived, developed, and implemented. There are three key components.

The first is building a culture of YES. So much energy is sucked out of education by colleagues, leaders, and shadow rules and procedures that prevent new ideas and fresh ways of doing things from being brought to the table for cultivation. This culture of NO happens when a leader is presented with a new idea, and the response is something similar to "let me check with my boss to see if it is OK" or giving the innovator a pile of bureaucracy to complete before moving forward with the idea. In other moments, it is a subtle non-verbal that shows little support for the idea through a lack of listening or failing to give credit where credit is due as new ideas emerge. The culture of YES provides energy, support, and an intensity around removing the barriers to success.

The second is acting swiftly to remove the low hanging fruit that is clogging the system. At the beginning of many 1:1 programs, there are legacy issues surrounding the systems that inhibit technology integration from reaching its potential. Sometimes this is old hardware or leftover work orders. In other scenarios, it is old computers and printers that need repair or wiring that remains a mess. No matter what the issue, before starting a fresh initiative around technology integration, it is essential to build good will and trust through visually removing old issues. This can't just be handling things from an office or items that can't be seen as good will and momentum is built through those actions that can be seen and that impact the daily user experience. The future of the next project lies on the back of the last project, and this is the low hanging fruit that builds a culture of excitement surrounding an excellent program.

The third is having a responsive culture to the real needs of end user. Deep empathy as part of a technology department is a rarity, but with a culture of service, technology professionals judge their success only the basis of the success of the teachers and students. In order to make this mindset a reality, technology support personnel must put themselves in the shoes of others and begin to think about how to support as though they were the user of the new tools. Having technology that works is no longer an acceptable threshold because technology integration is only successful when users understand the potential and begin to use technology as a tool for engaging, empowering, and energizing their classrooms. When it comes to finding the right way to nudge a 1:1 program forward insist that a culture of service lies at the foundation of the work.

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Thanks to Brady, Djamal, Boyd, Joyce and Robert for their contributions!

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