“When dealing with implementing technology in schools on a daily basis, you need to use a velvet-hammer approach,” says John McCleary, superintendent of Crowley County School District.

Apr 13 2009

Ready For Launch: What to Add to Your One-to-One To-Do List

By answering six questions, you'll be well on your way to creating a successful one-to-one strategy.

By answering six questions, you’ll be well on your way to creating a successful one-to-one strategy.

No one talks about the digital divide much anymore, but it’s still out there. Crowley County School District in Colorado, which launched a one-to-one program for its middle and high schools last year, is one district that’s now crossing that divide.

“According to some reports, Crowley County is the 23rd poorest county in the United States,” Superintendent John McCleary says. “Due to this type of poverty, the digital divide is glaring in Crowley County when compared to the rest of the state.”

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McCleary was determined not to let that poverty prevent his students from keeping pace with students in the state’s more prosperous school districts. Last spring, the Crowley one-to-one program took flight when sixth- through 12th-grade teachers received Lenovo X60 tablet PCs. The teachers then distributed Lenovo ThinkPad R61i notebook PCs to students at the start of the school year this fall. The district has also paved the way for introducing one-to-one in its elementary classrooms by providing its third- through fifth-grade teachers with Lenovo notebooks.

In all, Crowley has deployed 22 tablet PCs and 300 notebooks, says Jay Bond, a computer consultant whom the county hired to manage its one-to-one technology and new wireless network. Bond set up Netgear wireless networks in each district building and linked the wireless hubs to the district backbone network.

“We believe that technology in the hands of our youth is one of the most efficient ways to get computers into homes and help bring Crowley County residents into the 21st century,” McCleary says.

But knowing that such an initiative will reap intangible benefits for your county’s residents hardly ensures that a one-to-one program will be funded or that it will succeed. That requires industrious planning and forethought, says Dominic Grignano, who spearheaded one of the nation’s earliest one-to-one programs in 1997 when he was technology coordinator for East Rock Magnet School in New Haven, Conn.

Cost per student per year for a one-to-one program in Cullman City (Ala.) Schools

According to Thomas Greaves of the Greaves Group, an educational strategy consultant in Encinitas, Calif., one-to-one computing is still in early adoption by most school districts across the country. And interestingly, smaller schools and districts have a higher ratio of students in one-to-one programs. The initial outlay makes it tough for large districts to launch such initiatives, he says.

But Greaves says the expense is worth it. In a survey done this past fall, his group found that 33 percent of schools with one-to-one programs reported significant gains in academic achievement, and 46 percent said their programs had moderately improved student learning.

To kick-start your one-to-one planning, answer the following six questions. McCleary, Bond, Grignano and others who’ve been involved in these initiatives offer their take on what ultimately drives one-to-one success.

1. What adjustments do we need to make to our infrastructure, and what should we buy?

Moving to a one-to-one environment fundamentally changes the technology landscape of a school; suddenly technology is pervasive, Bond points out. At Crowley, “we had to create an entirely new infrastructure in three months,” he says, “including rolling out the notebooks, tablets, projectors, printers, wireless network, classroom management software, new filtration and a new firewall, as well as upgrading all of our desktop computers to Microsoft Office 2007, new antivirus and various additional software.”

Take note: Bandwidth will be an issue, adds Stephanie Stearns, technology director for Battle Creek Public Schools in Michigan. When 25 kids in a class all click on a website simultaneously, there will be a Wi-Fi traffic surge. She recommends running true-to-life tests to validate the number and placement of access points. For that reason, the Michigan district also timed its 2005 program launch with a cutover to high-speed fiber from a T1 line.

To determine what technology to give to students and teachers, test as much equipment as you possibly can, recommends Stearns. Even now, her team tests every ultraportable that comes out, loading each one with live curriculum applications and giving them to teachers to evaluate.

End-user technology will evolve over time, and schools should not feel they must stick with just one type or brand of device. For instance, at Cullman City Schools in Alabama, which now has deployed nearly 1,400 systems to students and teachers in grades 7 through 12, the initial system of choice was a standard notebook PC. But this year, the third year of the program, the school opted for smaller systems and supplied Hewlett-Packard Mini-Notes at the beginning of the year and later Intel Companion PCs.

The first systems were too big, says Superintendent Jan Harris. “Students told us the laptop was heavy,” she says, noting that it’s crucial to continually seek input from students, faculty and parents.

Battle Creek followed a similar path. This year it bought 500 ASUS Eee mini-notebook PCs for all sixth-graders in the city. The ultraportables really fit well in small hands, Stearns says, who also cites the Eee’s Linux operating system and education bundle as good benefits.

2. How do we plan for and secure funding?

School districts must find funding wherever they can — that’s truer than ever in this tight economy, says Grignano. Money might come from a reallocation of the technology budget; federal, state or local funds; capital funds; partnerships with industry; textbook savings; donations; and perhaps most important, grants.

Both Grignano and Harris point to grant programs as fundamental for launching and sustaining a one-to-one effort. To be successful, a grant application should highlight something unique about a program, Grignano says, to ensure that it stands out from the other applications submitted.

It’s incumbent on the planning team to illustrate the investment potential, Crowley County’s McCleary adds. “We have had to really think out of the box in areas of funding and also address old expensive habits that are no longer good for us.”

For instance, why buy hundreds of pricey textbooks that literally are obsolete on arrival? That was part of the justification for obtaining the first-year funding, McCleary says, because he was able to show the school board that the total outlay for curriculum supplies would decline over time.

McCleary credits county leaders, especially county CFO Mike Apker and the Crowley commissioners, for seeing the potential of the program and helping the school district secure funding.

And buying isn’t the only option to consider. In Michigan, Battle Creek Public Schools initially leased its first 400 HP notebooks. “Cost is always a factor,” Stearns says. “The lease made it affordable.”

3. Who gets the computers first?

The answer: teachers, plain and simple. Only if the teaching staff feels at ease with the new equipment and can use it to do their jobs more quickly will the program succeed, Grignano says. The goal should be to take “everything that they did the traditional way and make it simpler via computer,” he says. They will then become the program’s champions.

Battle Creek knew that it could not cover all its schools in its initial deployment. “We had the how, but we had to figure out the who,” Stearns says. Her team used that quandary as an opportunity to ensure success for the schools that did receive the HP notebooks. Her team crafted a mini-grant program and asked principals to apply to participate. The key selection criteria were whether all teachers on a team were enthused to take part and whether the programs were student-focused, because one-to-one is not about providing administrative tools to teachers and staff, she says.

Grignano suggests that after teachers receive their systems, schools should give their youngest students priority. This is an approach that’s counter to what most districts do, but he says the upside is that students are fully literate by the time they reach middle and high school. The payoff? Teachers can truly take advantage of the possibilities that technology offers in the classroom.

“By the time my youngest one-to-one students entered the fifth grade at East Rock, they were so adept in their computer skills that it was like they were part of the workforce. They were all self-sufficient,” Grignano says. “That’s the whole point of the ISTE standards.”

4. What is our training plan?

“Training was our number one priority,” Cullman City’s Harris says. The Alabama district committed to training teachers during the school day over a six-day period. It also had one of its master teachers take on the role of notebook coach, which “continues to be invaluable to our program’s overall success,” she says.

Teachers are your front line, Grignano says. IT cannot pass out the technology, train teachers on the basics and walk away. It takes hours of upfront training and showing teachers how to use the systems with curricula tools. Even so, training should be woven into the fabric of the school day, not added on top because “there are so many demands on teachers,” he says. Finally, keep providing training, tips and new hardware and software tools (and online freebies) whenever possible to keep teachers engaged.

Teachers have packed daily schedules, adds Crowley County’s McCleary, and IT must remember that. “When dealing with implementing technology in schools, you need to use a velvet-hammer approach.”

5. Do we have adequate security in place?

“One of the things that helps us tremendously is that we have a stringent filtration system, and all of our computers are equipped with Computrace,” McCleary says. “Computrace gives peace of mind but also works as an invaluable deterrent before a student considers doing something stupid with his or her laptop.”

When it comes to physical security, Stearns and Grignano point out that it’s crucial to assign each child a specific unit and to provide them with a specific cart slot, too. “You have to hold the children responsible, although not financially,” Stearns says.

6. How will we support our users and maintain our systems?

“One thing we had to do was commit to making sure that we have a high-quality technology team that only focuses on district and school technology needs,” McCleary says. “This meant that we were no longer willing to just fund a teacher who worked on technology part time.” That decision led the county to hire Bond to help with the planning, deployment and now support of the tablets and the wireless network in the schools.

Grignano seconds that notion. It’s no longer possible for a teacher or the school librarian to also handle IT, as in the past. IT must be able to respond to technology glitches immediately and keep teachers up and running, he says.

Ask Your Students, Too

Cullman City Schools (Ala.) regularly surveys its primary one-to-one users, the students, to gauge their perceptions on how the technology is serving them. Here are recent responses from one of its middle schools:

  • 77% Student projects are better prepared.
  • 73% Lessons are more fun with notebooks.
  • 73% Group projects are easier to do.
  • 72% Students can learn more.
  • 70% I am getting better opportunities than students who don’t have notebooks.
  • 65% Students and teachers communicate more.
  • 63% Parents/guardians are more involved in school and schoolwork.

Beyond Definitions

Why must one-to-one be an all-or-nothing proposition?

By definition and common practice, these programs provide one computer for every student, and students also take their systems home. But with super-tight budgets the norm coast to coast, must schools give up on the idea of one-to-one altogether? Dominic Grignano, former technology coordinator and an early one-to-one adopter at the East Rock Magnet School in New Haven, Conn., says no.

If you can’t take the notebook computers to the students, Grignano says, then take the students to the notebooks in a lab. At least, they will be using the systems one on one for portions of the curriculum.

Alternatively, have the library media specialist manage one or two notebook carts that rotate among classrooms, or have one cart per grade level.

Finally, if funds are extremely limited, have kids share systems and work collaboratively, he suggests.

<p>John Johnston</p>