Apr 05 2010

Survive and Thrive with a One-to-One Makeover

A research team from North Carolina State reveals lessons learned that you can adopt to make your one-to-one program a success for the long haul.

Five lessons learned will help make your one-to-one program a long-term success.

Transitioning to a one-to-one computing environment involves careful consideration of several components if schools are to use notebook systems to their full potential.

Results of a study examining the implementation of one-to-one computing for 6,000 students and 400 staff members at 12 high schools in North Carolina highlight a few best practices. A combination of teacher and student surveys, focus groups, interviews and site visits were used to collect data about the obstacles, successes and lessons learned in the move to a one-to-one environment.

A number of suggestions were gleaned from that research:

Lesson 1: Plan Ahead

Probably the most important, if most obvious, piece of advice from the field is to take enough time to plan your one-to-one initiative well.

It is important to include everyone affected by the program in the decision-making process, yet keep expectations realistic. It will take time to adapt to such an innovative change in the teaching and learning environment, and positive outcomes may not be realized immediately.

A focus on teacher empowerment is wise, too. Teachers should receive their notebooks first, and professional development should be provided before a school rolls out notebooks to students. Ideally, teachers would receive their notebooks six months to a year before students.

Lesson 2: Prepare the Infrastructure

When implementing a large technology project, it is critical to establish an appropriate infrastructure that includes adequate bandwidth and reliable wireless access throughout school buildings.

But infrastructure includes more than just cables and access points – onsite technicians play a vital role in facilitating seamless and continuous use of notebooks for teaching and learning.

Order 10% to 15% more notebooks than needed to serve as loaners to teachers and students when systems are sidelined for repairs or maintenance.

Onsite technicians can resolve most problems locally, which means a shorter wait for students and staff who need notebooks repaired or wireless access restored. Onsite techs also make it possible for school personnel to track and prioritize repairs based on instructional needs. Finally, with onsite technicians available for troubleshooting, the technology facilitator is free to focus on providing instructional support to teachers.

Lesson 3: Include Professional Development

Professional development needs to be ongoing and differentiated to meet individual teachers' needs. Ongoing training should provide continuous access to high-quality, needs-based opportunities so that teachers and staff can learn innovative ways to integrate notebooks in everyday teaching.

Teachers were adamant that professional development should be tailored to their specific needs and include content-based training. In the survey and interviews, some expressed frustration at being made to attend courses below their instructional level; others felt they needed more basic general technology instruction.

Lesson 4: Create Notebook Policies

Effective notebook policies and procedures are essential to implementing successful one-to-one initiatives. Schools in the study often found success by using other schools' or districts' notebook policies as models, then customizing the policies based on input from their teachers, administrators, parents and students.

Students in focus groups emphasized one point in particular: Enforcement of rules and policies needs to be consistent. An infraction, such as checking e-mail during class, should have the same conse­quences regardless of the teacher or administrator who catches the student.

Additionally, schools must find ways to meet student safety needs, set acceptable use requirements and avoid viruses, spyware and hacker attacks – without unduly limiting how teachers and students use computers.

One-to-one environments will not achieve their full potential if students are denied access to necessary resources. Schools need support in meeting the requirements of the Children's Internet Protection Act while searching for the right balance between access and safety.

Photo: Mike Kemp/Jupiter Images

Lesson 5: Monitor Online Activity

Administrators, teachers, parents and students voiced concern about how computer use would be monitored. Most schools use monitoring software to track use.

But there are also a number of technical issues. The programs are not easy to use without training, and it can be difficult to sync the software with the right students. But teachers also praised the systems for including course management tools to build lessons that lock students in during class, making monitoring unnecessary.

Some teachers reported difficulty using the software to monitor multiple screens while trying to teach. Even so, administrators, teachers and students recommended that new one-to-one schools invest in monitoring software despite the difficulty and expense of setting it up.

Planning a one-to-one initiative is a complex process that takes time, energy and careful consideration of many issues. As you prepare to embark on such a project, remember that administrators, teachers and students must adjust to the significant, systemic changes that result from the introduction of this new learning environment.

Three More Things to Consider

One: Get buy-in from leadership.

Currently, there is much ongoing research about the impact of one-to-one computing on teaching and learning, but there has been little research about the leadership needed in a one-to-one environment. Consistent, supportive, distributed leadership promotes adoption and buy-in from teachers and students.

Key characteristics emerged from the study team's conversations with teachers at one-to-one pilot schools. Some hot-button items that school leaders must address to successfully support a new one-to-one notebook project include:

  • supporting teacher professional growth;
  • setting reasonable expectations for effective technology integration;
  • modeling technology use;
  • meeting instructional and technical needs;
  • communicating commitment to the purpose of one-to-one learning initiatives.

Two: Engage key stakeholders.

Part of sustaining a one-to-one initiative involves engaging key stakeholders.

It is important for teachers, students and parents to buy in to the program. School and district administrators, as well as the community at large, can facilitate this. A one-to-one program cannot be sustained in isolation; ensuring public-private partnerships is an essential component.

Three: Don't forget the budget considerations.

A one-to-one project is an expensive endeavor.

Careful consideration and planning of short- and long-term funding from both private and public organizations should accompany plans for rolling out a notebook program.

This will ensure that the project can be sustained over time, which in turn creates greater buy-in from students, teachers and parents.