What approach to take when implementing a one-to-one program is a tough decision for any CIO, and it doesn’t much matter if you are in a large public school or a small private school. The approach Educational Technology Director Keith Schaeper took in introducing a tablet PC program at Seton High School, an all-girls grades 9-12 Catholic school in Cincinnati, was strong and supportive and included plenty of professional development. Also, Schaeper insisted that the teachers pick up the technology and use it every single day for some activity.
Schaeper’s approach is in stark contrast to the process followed at another private school, this one in Washington, D.C. Beauvoir, taglined, “The National Cathedral Elementary School,” serves pre-K through third grade. Director of Technology, Matthew Castanera-Bartoszek, introduced a 1-to-1 program to students in the 2009-2010 school year. But there, as he describes it, the culture of the school is “very gentle. Nothing is mandated or pushed at all.”
One commonality between these two schools was the way that private schools approached parents to build support for their program. The different roads taken by these two tech leaders have led to the same place: positive outcomes for their programs, which are likely to expand. Could it be that the distinct routes followed respectively by Schaeper and Castanera-Bartoszek can get you and your school’s 1-to-1 efforts to a similar destination?
STORY ONE: A STRONG-SUPPORTIVE APPROACH AT A HIGH SCHOOL
Schaeper joined Seton High in the summer of 2007, after the president of the school, with whom he’d worked at another, larger private school, personally recruited him. When he arrived, teachers had desktop computers on which they did email and entered grades. A couple of computer labs at the school were heavily used; the laptop carts not so much.
The leaders of the school wanted to better meet the needs of 21st century students and felt technology was the vehicle to do that. The president put an article in a local paper talking about the school’s plans. The vision offered in those not-so-subtle promotions: “To change the environment in the classroom,” Schaeper recalls. “To get us from being a ‘sage on the stage’—because the kids don’t learn that way; they tune it out—to a more participatory type of classroom.”
It’s safe to say Schaeper hit the ground running. He joined in August and introduced himself to the faculty via email. In that same message, he also informed them that the school would be rolling out new classroom gear, including a Lenovo ThinkPad X61 tablet for every teacher. But first they needed to show up for two days of training. That was when most met him for the first time face to face.
Between the time that message went out and teachers returned to start the fall semester, new technology had been added to their classrooms: a projector, a projection screen, a DVD/VCR player, and an overhead sound system, all of which were connected to work together.
On that first day of training, which lasted three hours, the teachers learned the nuts and bolts of their new equipment. The second day’s training, also three hours long, introduced the teachers to using their new tablets with the other equipment for educational purposes. “It was pretty basic,” Schaeper recalls. “How to pull up YouTube sites and show videos, how to convert lectures to PowerPoint.”
This friendly beginning directed at teacher use only led to a slow start, Schaeper says. “For the first month or two what I mostly saw was teachers taking what they’d always done and putting it up electronically—which was OK. After all, the kids still didn’t have their own machines.” But Schaeper quickly ramped up expectations, and he was not shy expressing them. “I was asking [teachers] to use it every day in class,” he says. He began monthly and then twice-monthly professional development sessions focused on integrating the lessons with the technology.
STEADY PROGRESS WITH CLASSROOM USE
As the year went on, faculty became more comfortable using their devices. For example, a Spanish class did a large Internet project on the Day of the Dead, watching YouTube videos and visiting various websites to learn more about the event. A religious class was discussing Mother Teresa’s diary, which had just been released in book form. The teacher was talking about the beatified nun’s crisis of faith. “The students didn’t believe her,” says Schaeper. “So she jumped on YouTube and showed them a video about that.”
Eventually, when the final decision was made to issue tablet PCs to students, Schaeper ran sessions that put the teachers into the role of students and made them experience the same things they’d want their own students to experience. Because the year was a big one for elections, the tech director showed the instructors how to use the tablets to do video projects. They worked in groups to write speeches and record them, then find visuals for particular candidates and tie the graphics to the recorded speech. From those components they created short video commercials about the candidate. “We taught them that project in the spring,” Schaeper says, “and English teachers put it to use in the fall.”
Schaeper also estimates that he spent half of his time during that first year just wandering the hallway. “I’d poke my head in a classroom if I saw them struggling or walk in and hang out and watch what they were doing.” Later, he’d send them a note or talk to them: “I saw you do this. Maybe we could do it this way.”
That firm but helpful hands-on approach, which he’d borrowed from his previous post at another school, received great reviews by participants. But he acknowledges that not everybody in tech is well-suited to play the teacher’s role as he does for those training sessions. To work, Schaeper says, the role-playing has to be done by somebody who “truly understands the classroom.” Although he has never been a teacher, he did get a dual degree in information science and math—with the intention of becoming a math teacher if the tech thing didn’t work out. Also during college, he coached high school soccer. “I have a pseudo education background,” he confesses. “That’s one of my advantages. When I came here, they all thought I was a math teacher. That gave me a little more credibility.”
PREPARING FOR 1-TO-1 AT SETON HIGH
During summer 2008, Schaeper prepared for the rollout of the same type of tablet PCs to all 9th and 10th graders. This was no big surprise to students. The school had already set the PR machinery in motion. The previous year the institution had sent out a survey for parents that provided information about the 1-to-1 plans and asking whether they’d support such a program knowing that tuition would increase. A robust 95 percent said yes.
The decision about where to start student deployment was Schaeper’s. “In the high school level it’s easiest to start with freshmen, because then you can phase it in year after year.” The faculty received professional development targeted to two new applications they’d be working with in the coming year: SharePoint for transferring homework between student and teacher and home and school and OneNote for student note-taking. Consistent with the strong guiding approach, neither adoption was voluntary. “I told them that the students are going to be told to take all notes in OneNote.”
Rather than bristling, the teachers were prepared. Those who weren’t on board with the whole program, says Schaeper, had already departed on their own. “There were people who were scared, people were frightened, who didn’t see how it was going to improve their classroom. They were shocked when I told them that the students are taking their notes that way. But there was nobody who said, ‘I’m not going to do it,’” Schaeper insists.
For their part, the kids loved it. “When they came in and saw OneNote, they really embraced it. ‘So all of our notes will be here. That’s kind of cool. No paper,’” he says, echoing their response.
Results have been what you might expect: a much more participatory approach to instruction. “We still have lecturing going on,” Schaeper says, “but the teachers are more actively engaging students in the class and students are engaging with students more.” The teaching changes have a physical manifestation too. “Some teachers have totally rearranged classes due to this. We have one class with all round tables. One teacher took big, long tables and made squares out of them. Another took normal desks and, depending on what she’s doing, she rearranges the classroom.”
At the same time as the introduction of the new technologies into the classroom, the school brought in a new assistant principal (since promoted to be the principal in the 2010-2011 school year) with a specialty in curriculum. In December 2008 she introduced “curriculum mapping,” in which teachers create a map of what the students are learning, the approaches used to teach it, and an assessment of the outcome. Although it’s process-intensive, there’s also an application attached to that, consisting of a database where teachers can search for what others are trying, where they can enter the standards they’re teaching to, and where administrators can look at what the teachers are doing and whether the education standards are getting hit.
Teachers initially thought the new program was something administration was using to check up on them in their classrooms. But Schaeper says the point was to get “everybody talking.” The new approach allowed teachers to get visibility into what others were doing that was working better.
So any attempt to evaluate the impact of the technology at Seton is intertwined with the introduction of those curriculum changes. But evaluation is taking place—although it’ll take a few years to see the ultimate outcome. The high school has surveyed freshmen and sophomores specifi cally about their uses of the tablets and will continue doing this to see what is perceived as working or not in the program over the long term. One goal, however—changing instruction —truly is being accomplished.
STORY TWO: THE GENTLE APPROACH AT AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
Private elementary school Beauvoir is attached to the Washington National Cathedral, an historic Protestant Episcopal church that has been host to presidential prayer meetings and state funerals. According to Director of Technology Castanera-Bartoszek, although the 380-student school has been using tablet computers for many years, only in the 2009-2010 school year did it try out a 1-to-1 program for the first time, focusing that effort on the third grade.
An initial plan to deploy laptops gave way to M&A Companion Touches, which Castanera-Bartoszek calls a hybrid device: “a netbook and a tablet at the same time.” These lesser known computers from M&A Technologies were designed specifically for use by children. The version Beauvoir uses includes a built-in handle and stylus, runs on an Intel Atom processor, has an 8.9-inch color touchscreen, and weighs about 2.8 pounds with a basic configuration. The decision to go with M&A devices dropped $30,000 from the projected cost. “We budgeted laptops in the $1,600 to $1,800 range,” he explains. “But the Companion Touches were $500 a piece. We got 80 more than we expected and we saved money.”
Unlike Seton High, which allows students to keep their devices 24 hours a day, the elementary school keeps the tablets at school. “Most kids have technology at home anyway,” explains Castanera-Bartoszek. “We thought it would be best and safest if we keep them in the building for the year.”
When Castanera-Bartoszek first arrived, the school had a computer lab where technology was treated as something separate from the regular classes. “Students would leave their classroom, go the lab, and have a different teacher,” he recalls. “That teacher would teach them skills on using technology, where to click on the mouse and that sort of thing.”
Then six years ago teachers were given a laptop with these instructions: “Take it home and make it part of your personal life. Do whatever you want to do with it. If you break the software, don’t worry; we’ll reimage it.”
In the next year the school introduced laptops—two or three per classroom. And eventually the computer lab was broken apart, and the school got a mobile cart that allowed teachers to bring the computers into their classrooms. But even then, the lessons were taught by a technology teacher and were still being treated as something separate. “The classroom teacher would leave and use that time to plan,” says Castanera-Bartoszek.
But the school administration wanted to get the technology fully integrated into the classroom, and they realized that would require eliminating that scheduled computer lesson and allowing the tech teachers to help prepare and co-teach lessons with the regular classroom instructor. “The more we did that, he observes, “The more we gave ownership of technology back to the teacher in the classroom.”
TEAM TRAINING DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK
Beauvoir’s approach to professional development is different from Seton’s. The strong assertive guidance of Seton wouldn’t work in Beauvoir. For example, one thing that doesn’t work there is when the IT department pushes teachers to use a specific technology. “Maybe it’s because we push this so hard and we’ve made so many changes in such a short period,” says Castanera-Bartoszek. “When we say something, people do eye rolling and say, ‘Oh, boy, they’re asking us to make another change.’ There’s a little resistance there.”
Another approach that has failed: group teaching. “When we bring everybody in a room together and say, ‘OK, we’re going to teach you how to do this,’ it doesn’t work,” explains Castanera-Bartoszek. “Some people already know how to do something; for others, it’s way over their heads.”
However, the school does provide one-on-one instruction to teachers. That was made possible by eliminating the separate technology classes. Now the roles of the dedicated tech teachers have been revised to give them suffi cient time to individualize professional development and help each classroom teacher on achieving his or her specific goals.
What has also worked is exposing instructors to new ways of teaching. For example, the school has made a point of sending faculty on field trips to see technology in action at other schools and to various local and national events, including the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference.
Also, Beauvoir has a unique program of placing an associate teacher into each classroom. As Castanera-Bartoszek explains, these are either new teachers fresh out of college or people interested in teaching who want to do a mentorship program. Those new teachers, who have been exposed to the latest instructional approaches using technology, bring their “digital native” skills to bear on the job to help veteran teachers with whom they’re teamed up.
Students are using their devices to do research through Google custom searches (where the teacher has created a list of sites the students can visit); work through BrainPop activities; and read and view content from Encyclopedia Britannica and Discovery Education, among other student applications.
Lately, Skype has been in use more frequently to do video conferencing with students in other countries as part of an annual global studies program.
Each class is equipped with digital cameras, schoolwide broadcasting system, and ceiling-mounted wireless projectors that are connected to document cameras. Castanera-Bartoszek says Beauvoir isn’t interested in interactive whiteboards (they have the old-fashioned kind) because “everything you can do with a whiteboard you can do on a tablet without having to get in front of the class.”
NUMBERS CAN’T TELL THE STORY
Currently, Castanera-Bartoszek can point to no numerical data to back up the value of the 1-to-1 program at Beauvoir. “We just gauge success off of how the teachers feel about their classrooms—how their classroom is working for them,” he says.
James Carroll is one of those third-grade teachers (who has since taken on the role of director of guidance & outplacement at the school) at Beauvoir. Carroll points to a number of improvements for the kids in his classes, in areas such as presentation, the ability to research more deeply, and even to become better “digital citizens.”
“My students were able to make choices in terms of how they produced and presented their work over the course of the year,” he says. “Children who had previously struggled with presentation and handwriting felt liberated by having the option to type up pieces of work in different subject areas.”
When assignments required research, the laptops were “invaluable,” in providing access to more and more kinds of materials about a specific subject. For example, Carroll says, before the 1-to-1 program began, studying a country or a specific animal would reveal “a paucity of books.” By going to pre-approved websites or online encyclopedias, students gained access to a wide range of information, including pictures and video, and “were able to work individually for sustained periods of time without having to wait for someone else to finish with a resource.”
The students also became great “digital citizens,” Carroll insists. Students were assigned specific, numbered laptops for which they were responsible. “They would not only take good care of it—including keeping it charged!—but they would also act within our guidelines and keep on task, so that the privilege would not be taken away from them.”
Finally, Carroll adds, the kids became increasingly proficient with laptop features and software, to the point where they would become the teacher themselves “and ‘train’ peers to use certain programs or websites to help them with their work.”
As a private school, Beauvoir must answer to the parents of its students, and one aspect of the pervasive technology in the classroom has been a major hit with that customer base. Instead of standard textual reporting—report cards—to communicate the progress a child has made, the school issues a PowerPoint slideshow with visuals and audio that shows off the work done by the student during the school year. That slideshow includes samples of writing, either scanned in or captured from a digital journal; photos; and audio recordings of the child reading at the beginning of the year and the end of the year. The parent downloads the slideshow and also goes through its contents in discussion with teachers during the parent-teacher conference.
For budgetary reasons, in the 2010-2011 school year device acquisition will focus on refreshing faculty laptops. But in the following year—2011-2012—Castanera- Bartoszek predicts the school will look at growing the 1-to-1 program down to first and second grades —“depending on what the budget looks like and what kind of devices are out at that point.”
WHAT’S A PUBLIC SCHOOL TO TAKE FROM THESE EXPERIENCES?
It’s all well and good for private schools to be sharing their experiences with 1-to-1 programs. After all, aren’t the parents paying directly for the equipment through tuition increases without the IT budget being squeezed? Aren’t class sizes smaller than in public schools, making device support more manageable? And isn’t there more time for teachers to focus on integrating technology into the curriculum, since there’s less emphasis on meeting state-mandated standards?
Not so fast, says Schaeper. Many of the challenges faced by private schools are the same ones that challenge public schools too. The biggest one, he believes, is to make sure members of the staff are using the computers in class to engage the students. “That’s the number one struggle—making sure engagement is occurring, not just taking old lectures and converting them to electronic. When that happens, that computer or laptop or tablet becomes a distraction to the student instead of an aid.” He adds that a couple of teachers at Seton still struggle to keep kids engaged in class. “My response to them is, ‘You need to quit lecturing the same way you’ve always done.’”
Of course, there’s the matter of financial feasibility. That’s still a hurdle at both Seton and Beauvoir—as it is at most, if not all, public schools. Schaeper estimates that the 1-to-1 program adds about $1,000 per student per year to cover the expense of all technology “top to bottom,” not just the devices themselves (the cost of which would be amortized across several years) but also personnel and backend hardware such as switches, wiring, and servers. He points out that as the numbers of students go up, that price per student goes down, which means he’s probably paying a premium because he has fewer students—560—to outfit than many other public schools.
Schaeper believes it’s possible to build the cost into the budget and bonds. His advice is to look at the regular refresh rate of computers in the school and redirect it to the 1-to-1 program: “Instead of refreshing 200 machines for the computer labs, issue 200 machines to the sixth grade class and roll it out that way.”