One-to-One Laptops… What Makes it Work?

I posted for the first time today over at Teach More Better, a collaborative blog in the very early stages of development, which will hopefully offer some insight and varying perspectives into the world of educators in a one-to-one laptop district.

Irving ISD is beginning to re-evaluate its one-to-one laptop program to better serve our students and teachers.  At each one-to-one campus we are being asked to create a gap analysis plan to lay out what we are currently doing well, what we would like to improve upon and the steps to get us there.  My school seems to be getting a lot of praise for the way we have implemented our laptops, and I am proud of us, but we certainly have areas to improve upon as well.

Today I was in a meeting with my fellow Instructional Technology Specialists and we discussed the laptop program and where we think it should go.  We also discussed why  some of the schools have been more successful with implementation than others.  I have some ideas about what a district/school needs to do to make a one-to-one laptop program a success instead of a disaster, but I am curious what you think.

What do you think a district/school must do or have in order to implement a successful one-to-one implementation program?

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14 Comments on “One-to-One Laptops… What Makes it Work?”

  1. Keith Says:

    I think one of the most important things a school must have is buy in from the teachers. Without that, the laptops will never leave the backpacks. I think The Academy does a great job of that at the beginning of each year showing experienced teachers and new teachers alike the benefits of using the laptops in the classroom. Teachers are encouraged to present things they have done in their classroom that worked and also to facilitate discussion about why the program is so beneficial to our students.

  2. CWhillock Says:

    I apologize in advance for the length of this response, but there’s much to say on this topic……

    I agree with Keith’s posting. Teacher buy-in is key. I also think teachers need to understand that utilizing a laptop in a one-to-one environment will add a new level of complexity to what they do with regards to classroom management. It’s a new paradigm shift. How much do we try to “control” versus how much do we let go of? In a block schedule, hour and a half classes require the teacher to get creative and provide a number of activities so students don’t get bored. Boredom leads to random searching of videos on Youtube.com! However, is it really a terrible thing that a student checks their email during class? That depends on the curriculum and if they’ve completed their work. Some things we need to let go of and not stress over as much.

    Secondly, you need a strong ITS (Information Technology Specialist) staff (as we have here at The Academy!). Many teachers, who are new to technology, will be reluctant to move forward in a 1-to-1 environment if they feel the students may “outsmart” them. I can promise that will happen, but with a team of people (and I do mean more than 1…) to help, guide, advise, troubleshoot and generally support, you will be able to do this!

    Third, your district needs to understand that not all “playing” on the laptop is bad. Our district and school have provided fantastic training on new (well, perhaps old) trends in educational computing, which some of us have tried to implement. Unfortunately, with the district’s perception that “all YouTube videos are bad”, or “all social networking sites are evil”, they have restricted bandwidth and access, thus tying our hands in our ability to fully take advantage of all the educational tools within our power.

    Speed is essential!!! When students wait, they get bored and we lose their attention. Laptops need to have fewer start-up commands and should boot quickly. Bandwidth has to be significant enough to keep students from tedious wait times.

    Working laptops are essential. There has to be a rapid turn-around when a student needs repair on their laptops. When you fully implement electronic curriculum, it can be very detrimental to a student if they don’t have the tools they need to do their jobs!

    Teachers need to be in charge! As a teacher, you are in charge. Giving students an option of completing their work on paper or doing alternate assignments, will only undermine your efforts to be successful in the implementation of your electronic curriculum. Don’t provide the option! However, do make sure that your students don’t require internet access in order to complete their work if you know they will have to do work at home. Not every student has internet access at home.

    Finally, don’t simply automate the paper. Paper is not engaging and typically electronic paper will not be engaging either. Utilize all the tools at your disposal to create fun activities and videos that allow you to clone yourself. With these tools, you CAN be in multiple places at one time and students will be more in charge of their education by setting their own pace.

  3. L Whitewater Says:

    The second to the last paragraph of Whillock’s comments points to one of the biggest undermining actions that is happening on other campuses. As a teacher who taught at another “technology” high school campus before coming to the Academy the biggest hinderance to my implementation of technology into my curriculum was the fact that students were not required to have a laptop or access to a computer daily. This led to administration requiring me to offer alternative work, basicly this means I had to prepare two lessons for one topic. I thought technology was going to ease my work load?
    One of two common obstacles occured repeatedly at the other campus that resulted in only half of my class having a working laptop and only having one working desktop for student use in the class room. The biggest obstacle was the administration making it clear to the students and parents that a laptop is optional not a requirement for classes (many chose not to get a laptop even for free). Which lead directly to my technology enhanced lessons that I put time, energy and research into now becoming an optional, not required, assignment. The second obstacle that resulted in less than half of my students having laptops was common repair issues either taking 2 weeks instead of one day or not being repaired repeatedly.
    We have so many options to enhance our curriculum with technology and it is a shame that teachers are told new and innovative is not valuable.


  4. What does it take for a successful implementation?

    The more I think about this, the more I keep going back to a document that I saw not to long ago that lists six essential traits that are needed in order to lead cultural and structural change in any organization. When looking at what campuses have been successful and what campuses have not seen success with their laptop programs, I think these concepts ring true every single time. The six key components needed for successful change (implementation) are:

    1. Belief
    2. Vision
    3. Mission
    4. Incentives
    5. Resources
    6. Skills

    The way the chart reads, if one of these components is missing, the oranization won’t or can’t make the change. They become bogged down in:

    1. Indifference
    2. Mistrust
    3. Confusion
    4. Resistance
    5. Frustration
    6. Anxiety

    If you look at any campus where they are struggling with their laptop program, you will see that their faculty (and
    administration, students and parents, too) usually fall into one or more of these categories.

    Once of the great things about working at The Academy is that we have these things key elements in place for the most part. And those that we don’t have mastered, we address them and re-address them daily or weekly. Its a lot more work than I thought, too. When looking at campuses that may be struggling with implementation, they are lacking in one or more of these essential change elements.

    I would encourage strugglers (all of us) to look beyond the technology and begin addressing these six elements. Do we have a strong belief that we are doing what’s right for kids? Is our vision of a 21st century education in line with what we do on a daily basis? Is our mission shared among teachers, administrators, student and parents? Are there incentives (intrinsic and personal) that reward forward momentum? Do we have the resources to maintain the status quo, to move forward, or are we moving ahead of the resources curve? Do we (teachers, administrators, students) have the skills to make it possible to move from one step of the implementation to the next?

    Just my thoughts…

  5. Katie Creeger Says:

    Yup. I do agree with these statements. I use technology to accent my lessons. Sometimes it is the dominant component but more often than not, it is a tool that can be used to differentiate lessons for my students. Right now my students are using the computer to access current events. It is useful for all subject areas and all areas. Yes, you have to be creative with your lesson planning and you don’t have to use it every day- or even every other day. When the students realize that there will be a variety of instruction, they are a little more excited about coming to class. Kids get bored with technology if it is the only thing that is used.
    Teacher and administration buy-in is extremely important. If the teachers and administrators don’t buy into this program and the training that is involved, it won’t work. There is always a learning curve too. It takes awhile for a school to reach our level of technology use.
    If there is training available continuously, the teachers will feel more comfortable trying new things.

  6. Sarah Says:

    I don’t have much to add to what’s already been said, but I’ll throw my two cents in anyway.

    First of all, while I certainly agree that teacher buy-in is crucial, I am glad that Katie referenced administrator buy-in. Successful implementation starts at the top. When you have administrators who require teachers to offer an alternative, technology-free lesson, the one-to-one initiative loses credibility.

    Second, I’d like to toss out the idea of flexibility. Cathleen touched on it when she talked about “playing” on the laptop. One-to-one implementation cannot be fully successful in a classroom where the teacher needs to control everything the students do. The other day, my geography students and I were discussing the insurgency in Northern Uganda when one of them informed me that a very popular band has written a song about the topic. We found the music video on YouTube and – presto! – an event taking place thousands of miles away was suddenly relevant and engaging to my students. The class would never have made that connection if I’d written off the student’s comment just because it involved YouTube.

    Along that same vein, successful one-to-one teachers have to be comfortable with the fact that sometimes the students will know more about something than they do. But when a student does something with technology that I don’t know how to do, I just ask them how to do it. I’ve never had a student who wasn’t pleased to teach their teacher something new.

    Finally, administrator flexibility is also important. At our school, we’re blessed to have administrators who trust us to be the professionals that we are. There are no mandates about how we use technology – no, “everyone must write a blog,” no, “you must use technology every day.” Yes, there is an expectation, but no one is standing over our shoulders forcing us to do it the way they think it should be done. Our administrators allow us to run our classrooms in the way that we feel is best for our students, and I think there’s a lot to be said for that. I think that attitude filters down, too, and ultimately results in higher morale overall – and better student behavior.

  7. John Brown Says:

    This group of comments is the most encouraging thing that I have read from and about educators since I retired four years ago! The comments are very insightful, but they also say great things about the staff at The Academy.

    Congratulations on effectively carrying the torch forward!

  8. Gloria Willingham Says:

    What a timely discussion – I was just reading an article in Classroom Connect on “One-to-One teaching with Technology” by Tony Brewer. He mentioned some of the same things that I was reading in comments above. One quote that I found very interesting – “A mainstay philosophy of every successful one-to-one teaching and learning initiative is that we are preparing students for their future, not our past.” I think if we keep this in mind it will help to make the work and effort required to make one-to-one teaching with laptops successful, and a successful program should be mutually beneficial to administrators, teachers, students, and parents.


  9. First of all, I would like to thank you all for participating in this discussion… you guys rock!

    Secondly, in my opinion, your thoughts and comments are right on target, but I have a few other questions to pose…

    ** Since teacher, student, administrative buy-in seems to be a crucial component in a one-to-one laptop program, how do you get it? How do you get your staff and students to get on board and see the importance of teaching 21st century skills?

    ** How important is professional development in a one-to-one program and what “kind” of professional development is needed?

    ** How do you perpetuate and improve upon a one-to-one laptop program once it is in place? How do you sustain it?

    I would love some more comments and discussion! Thanks again for your support.


  10. I fear for a program that in 2008 includes, not one, but plural “Instructional Technology Specialists.”

    This speaks volumes for the lack of ownership and transparent use of the computers throughout the school. The more specialists appointed, the more likely teachers are to be dependent on those specialists and demonstrate a lack of autonomy, personal growth or professional leadership.

    To paraphrase Seymour Papert, how many pencil specialists does your school employ?

  11. Sam Farsaii Says:

    Gary,
    Dont’ knock it unless you have the big picture. Even though I know your intimate familiarity with Papert and your cross continent experiences with him I am still puzzled. I believe his reference of pencil in “Mindstorms” refers to a device for every student. The paraphrase of “pencil specialist” is a bit of a stretch. The reason we do not need “pencil specialists” is because teachers have mastered the art of manipulating the pencil from Kindergarten. They where taught with it, learned with it, and feel comfortable with its execution, limitations and know how to best manipulate it as a tool. Some teachers come well prepared and ready with technology integration, while others are still considering computers the “new technology” and are still not ready to transform their classroom. Desktop computers have been around now for at least the past 30 years; that is not “new technology”. So when are teachers going to naturally transform their instruction? Yes they do need hand holding, encouragement, support, … until the school grows it’s circle of influence to reach the tipping point. Once there, then every teacher is an Instructional Technology Specialist. Also keep in mind an instructional Technology Specialist at a 1:1 environment does much more than coach teachers. There are hidden day-to-day system managements and support issues from gradebook, to parent notification system, content management system, internet access, system compatibility, data acquisition system, … and the list goes on that need to be managed on daily basis so teachers can focus on instruction. Based on my experience I can assure you that Irving ISD would not be as far as it is today. We can plan things centrally, but someone at the campus level needs to provide the support to insure it gets done. What you say sounds good in theory, but I am speaking from daily practice 😉


  12. […] Angela Stevens has written about our current revisioning of our one to one laptop program in Irving, leading to some nice discussion about what the Academy of Irving ISD will do to take the next steps with community funded bond monies. Additionally, each High School campus has been asked to think about how they can revision their programs to make what we do with students more powerful and more effective. […]

  13. roadrunner Says:

    I have to agree with Sam in his response to Gary. Yes we need to build capacity in our teachers, but we should not expect them to magically become experts. This is not just about learning the technology, there is a need for a shift in practice. So what is important is job-embedded professional development that provides modelling and support in their classrooms together with the technical support to make sure the technology works. Over time, teachers will develop into confident technology users with the right supports in place.
    Cindy Seibel


  14. […] February 26, 2008 — musingsfromtheacademy Tomorrow is the district’s third laptop revisioning meeting, and two of the schools were asked to do a short presentation (5-10 mins) on our plans. My school […]


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