1-to-1 Computing | May 2013 Digital Edition

Research Driven? Here's How to Plan Your 1-to-1 Program the Right Way

A 1-to-1 initiative is only as good as the research, planning, and leadership behind it. The experts at Project RED detail the proven way to plan a successful program.


Leaders from Richland School District Two (SC), a Project RED Signature District, discuss how they train administrators and technologists. (This video is captioned).

This article, with an exclusive video interview, originally appeared in T.H.E. Journal's May 2013 digital edition.

Educators have seen the excitement and focus that students show when using digital devices. In hopes of increasing attendance, reducing dropout rates, and improving learning overall, more and more superintendents are driving their districts toward a 1-to-1 environment in which students take control of their own learning. The question is no longer whether districts should move to digital learning, but how they can do it well, what they should focus on to help students learn, and when they should adopt it.

To help schools answer these questions, in 2010 Project RED conducted a survey of technology programs in 1,000 US schools. The survey was the first and only national research focusing on academic results and financial implications of education technology. The research shows that, if effectively implemented, 1-to-1 technology programs can lead to improved student achievement and significant return on investment. Based on those findings, Project RED has created a replicable design for school districts to make the best possible use of technology in a learning environment to help improve student achievement and offer significant return on investment.

The Project RED research reveals that most schools' planning is less comprehensive than it should be. To help schools get ready, Project RED has broken down its research into advice and downloadable tools, which are available for free on its website. (Registration is required.)

Pillars of Success
There are four pillars for planning a 1-to-1 program that can mean the difference between success and failure. Project RED has a tool for each planning step.

1) Assess your district with the Project RED Readiness Tool.
Is your district ready to embark on a 1-to-1 implementation? Have you already begun, but are starting to realize the complexity of the process? Recently, when a superintendent asked us for help in implementing his 1-to-1 project, we asked when he was planning to start the project. His answer was a shocker: He said that the students and the teachers would all be getting their laptops at the same time--in one month. He, in turn, may have been shocked by our answer that he was on a track for failure. And indeed, things didn't work out as he had hoped.

This disappointment could have been avoided. By guiding you through a self-assessment of your district's current readiness, the Project RED Readiness Tool will alert you to crucial areas that you may not have previously considered in your project plan, including leadership, funding, technology and learning, and infrastructure. Leadership and funding are particularly mission-critical; you must be prepared for action in these areas or your plan is likely to fail.

2) Calculate the real cost with the Project RED Implementation Cost Comparison Tool.
Every superintendent will require a comprehensive cost plan in order to figure out the long-range costs and to justify these costs by explaining to the school board and the community the expected return on investment from a new initiative. In getting started, the most difficult aspect of planning is figuring out the "real costs" of implementation, whether in a BYOD program or with a school-supplied device. While a statewide program, such as the one implemented by Maine, may have lower average costs, this tool provides a broad array of costs to consider, based on the experiences of real school districts.

The cost of technology implementations can vary widely. For example, reported costs for 1-to-1 implementations range from $250 to more than $1,000 per student per year. The chart in the slide show represents nationally averaged technology implementation costs for a traditional school setting (a 3-to-1 student-to-computer ratio) versus a 1-to-1 setting. Since 2011, when this data was collected costs have been trending down in most areas. There are also more open educational resources than there were. On the cost increase side, more districts are hiring professional project managers to help with the process. However, these numbers are a good general guide to your overall costs.

3) Fine-tune your plan with cost-avoidance strategies using the Project RED 1-to-1 Cost Savings Calculator.
While there are many factors to consider in analyzing costs, Project RED's research provides you with 14 specific areas where you could reduce costs and repurpose funds for other investments. Few districts will be looking at all 14 areas of savings, but this tool will help your team prioritize the areas that you are actively considering. It is significant to note, however, that successfully implemented 1-to-1 districts consistently find some of the same savings. These include reductions due to disciplinary actions, as well as cost reductions in printing costs for supplemental curriculum materials, reduction in assessment costs, and reductions in mailing costs to parents. One North Carolina district reports saving roughly $15 per student by eliminating mailings to parents, now that every student has a computer. Recently, a Project RED Signature District (one of 20 1-to-1 districts selected through a competitive application process) reported that the increase in state funding associated with an increase in the numbers of students transferring into their district because of their 1-to-1 program funded their entire non-personnel technology budget.

4) Create a realistic plan for implementation using the Project RED Sample Implementation Timeline.
How can you plan to ensure success? Your plan works when it engages all stakeholders and focuses on the total learning environment. Preparing for a 1-to-1 implementation requires many steps. The Sample Implementation Timeline provides guidance on the timing and steps that districts should take to launch a successful program. Note that the sample timeline extends over many months and takes slightly more than one school year from planning to implementation.

A Model Project Plan
Many of you have started at least one initiative to use digital devices. And you may have felt under pressure to personalize learning in order to improve the active learning environment in your school. But America's Digital Schools 2008 found that two-thirds of initiatives didn't improve learning. So the smart leader will look at what has worked and learn from others' successes and failures.

In the view of Project RED's expert team, the single biggest problem with large-scale initiatives is the lack of a comprehensive project plan and the marshaling of resources to ensure that the plan will be adhered to.

The RED Design Model Project Plan can give you an idea of how all the pieces will fit together. This 1,501-line Gantt chart may seem intimidating, but it has proven to be a useful road map for a thoughtful, detailed implementation. The RED Design Model Project Plan offers you the ability to lead and manage your plan. Even better, your district can customize the Model Project Plan to reflect the unique needs, culture, and organizational structure of your school. As you go through the plan, you will find sections you can eliminate (such as bond funding) because they may not apply to your situation. The remaining plan is generally very manageable. Also, as you go through the plan, keep in mind that the person who acts as project manager (a vitally important position) will divide the plan into much smaller sections that will be assigned to different individuals.

Why use the RED Design Model Project Plan? Our research has shown that in every implementation, there are eight crucial success factors:

1) Secure funding source(s) for three or more years
2) Use of key implementation factors as identified by Project RED
3) Use of standards-based, digital curriculum resources
4) Hiring a trained, dedicated project manager
5) Use of a comprehensive project plan, either the Project RED Design Model Project Plan or one that is comparable in scope
6) Substantial and sufficient professional learning for all stakeholders, including change management for leaders
7) A focus on cost savings and long-term financial sustainability
8) Formal program evaluation

The Project RED Design Model Project Plan will walk you through these eight factors. A successful superintendent will treat a digital implementation as he would treat the construction of a new high school--and that includes working from a strong, focused, benchmarked, on-time, on-budget project plan. The Project Plan is not just applicable to new implementations. One district with several years of experience reported that when they went back through the plan, they found several areas in which they could improve their current system.

Tom Murray, director of technology and cyber education at Quakertown Community School District (PA), the Project Plan has "helped us take a closer look at everything we are doing, from policies to procedures. It has helped us to confirm what we are doing well. Now we can say that this is a research-based practice we are doing. And it challenges us, in areas where we were not performing as well, to do better."

The Nine Key Implementation Factors
Project RED research findings demonstrate that schools employing a 1-to-1 student-to-computer ratio and key implementation factors outperform other schools. The KIFs also offer significant opportunities for improving education return on investment by transforming teaching and learning.

Please note that the KIFs are an overall look at schools and cover all grades, subjects, school sizes, and demographics. If we had selected KIFs for elementary schools versus high schools, the results would be different. Likewise, statistically, KIFs for urban schools may have been different than KIFs for rural or suburban schools.

Here, in order of predictive strength, are the nine KIFs that are linked most strongly to educational success. More information on Project RED's education success measures is here.
1) Intervention classes: Technology is integrated into every intervention class period. Assuming we are talking about personalized, blended learning, and not the old drill and kill, technology is highly effective for intervention classes, but it is more broadly applicable--and useful--to all types of classes.

2) Change management leadership by principal: Leaders provide time for teacher professional learning and collaboration at least monthly. When a principal is properly trained (see KIF 9), they implement effective change leadership programs among all stakeholders in a school. This includes teachers, but goes beyond, to parents, staff, students, etc. This is almost a binary KIF. Without it, failure is all but certain.

3) Online collaboration: Students use technology daily for online collaboration (including games/simulations and social media). Online student-to-student interaction builds on the well-known benefits of student collaboration in the offline world. With online, the barriers of time, distance, and cost disappear.

4) Core subjects: Technology is integrated into core curriculum weekly or more frequently. It is always a shocker when you see a school spend millions for technology and then it is not used in one or more core subjects, which happens almost half the time across the US.

The root cause of failure here is the lack of a proper plan. Usually teachers were not trained, or curriculum materials not available, or school/district leadership was incapable.

5) Online formative assessments: Assessments are done at least weekly. If every student has a device, continual formative assessment should be automatic. Here's an outstanding example: A teacher in Los Angeles Unified School District (CA) gave a two-question math test every day via the LMS. When they arrived to class, students were to have their computers out so they could take the test before the bell rang. Meanwhile, the teacher automatically took attendance, and he knew where each student was in the learning continuum. Almost every student who came to class passed algebra. Previously every student had failed twice.

6) Student-to-computer ratio: Lower ratios improve outcomes. Project RED's sample size was large enough to add research value to a frequently discussed topic. Across all 11 education success measures, those schools with at least one device per student outperformed schools with higher ratios. The claim that it is enough that a student "has access when they need it" is apparently not supported by the research. It may have to do with the student ownership effect, as well as the ability to use a computer on a moment's notice.

7) Virtual field trips: With more frequent use, virtual trips are more powerful. The best schools do these at least monthly. Our speculation on the correlation between field trips and success is that they conjure significant interest and motivation for the students.

8) Search engines: Should be used daily. There is a high correlation between the number of times a student uses a search engine each day and student performance. We asked a sixth-grade girl from a low-income school what the main difference was in a laptop school versus a book school (her terms). She said with her laptop she could get the answer to any question in a minute. Before, she couldn't get answers to questions. Surprisingly some schools ban search engine use during the school day, with predictable academic outcomes.

9) Principal training: Principals are trained in teacher buy-in, best practices, and technology-transformed learning. We have never seen a successful implementation where the principal was weak or did not have change management/change leadership skills. The most challenging KIFs are related to change management and change leadership. These are critical to the success of any technology transformation initiative.

10) In our opinion, there are few districts that get this right. In part this is because the concept of transformative change is new to school leaders. Few of their peers have mastered the topic, so help is hard to come by. We believe that over time this will change.

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