1-to-1 Computing

Maine Ingredients

The nation's first-ever statewide 1-to-1 laptop program marks its seventh birthday by expanding into high schools, providing an occasion to celebrate-- and to examine the components of its success.

Maine IngredientsWHATEVER YOU DO, don't call Lisa Hogan a technology integrator, even though that's her official post with the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI), the state of Maine's 1-to-1 laptop program.

"I really hate that title," says Hogan, a former science teacher at Mount Ararat Middle School in Topsham, ME, and, all told, a 30-year classroom veteran. "I'm hoping to get it changed to 'instructional technology mentor.' If there's one thing we've learned in this program, it's that it should always be about the teaching, not the technology."

That's just one of many principles behind the success of Maine's 1-to-1 program, which this fall turns 7 years old, the longest-running statewide ubiquitous computing effort in the country. The plan to put laptops into the hands of every teacher and student in grades 7 through 12 throughout the state was the brainchild of former Gov. Angus King, who proposed the project in 2000. The first phase of the program rolled out to Maine's seventh-graders in the fall of 2002; eighth-graders were included the following year. By 2003, a total of 37,000 wireless-enabled Apple iBooks had been distributed to the state's middle school students and teachers.

For a draft of Mike Muir's 2005 report on Maine's 1-to-1 computing program, see here.

Now the state is set to launch the first phase of a rollout to its high schools for the new school year. Half the high schools in the state will be involved, says Maine's learning technology policy director, Jeff Mao, bringing the total number of laptops deployed to students to more than 60,000.

"We intended to expand the program sooner, but the economy went south," Mao says. "If not for that, we'd be talking about 100 percent adoption at our high schools right now. We've always envisioned this as a 7-12 program."

It may have rolled out slower than originally planned, but it's fair to say that Maine's program has emerged as one of the leading 1-to-1 computing initiatives in the world. According to the state's commissioner of education, Susan Gendron, Maine has been invited to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to explain its model to organizers of the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which evaluates the position and skill set of young people around the world. Mao traveled last year to share the state's experience with officials of the government of Australia, which is planning to implement a nationwide 1-to-1 laptop rollout. Gendron herself has been to China, Ireland, and Scotland to talk about the program. She has spoken before a meeting of the European Union. And other states contact her regularly about MLTI.

"I know we've had a big impact," Gendron says. "We're seen as a world leader in this work, and we try to share what we've learned with anyone who's interested."

Found Money

At least one ingredient of Maine's success is plain old luck. In 1999, Gov. King's finance and budget people informed him of an unexpected $70 million surplus in its budget. In his 2005 report on the early years of Maine's 1-to-1 program, "Laptops for Learning: The Maine Learning Technology Initiative," Mike Muir, then a member of MLTI's curriculum and professional development team and now the director of the Maine Center for Meaningful Engaged Learning, wrote that King immediately called for a large portion of this surprise windfall to be put into an endowment for "the procurement of portable, wireless computer devices for students." A task force was formed, legislation passed, and the program had its seed money.

King's successor has continued to provide support. Moreover, Gov. John Baldacci sees the effort to put laptops into the hands of Maine's K-12 students as part of an overall economic strategy. In his 2004 State of the State address, he declared, "If Maine is to position itself as a place where business and industry can find skilled workers, equipping every seventh- to 12th-grader with a laptop is the scale at which we must create the vision for Maine's economic future."

But powerful as they are, money and state backing alone don't account for the longevity of Maine's program, says Eileen Lento, K-12 strategist for computer chip maker Intel. "Everyone knows that Maine found a bucket of money that it committed to this program," Lento says. "It kind of won the lotto. But finding money isn't what you'd call a replicable model."

Lento, who created Intel's K-12 Computing Blueprint, a systemic approach to developing successful 1-to-1 laptop programs in K-12 districts, says that the success of Maine's implementation is about what happened after the state spent the money.

"A lot of these programs focus on the box-- the computing device," she says. "But the box is just part of a system. I've seen schools invest a lot of money in computers that just sat on the shelf or at the back of the classroom or in a lab. You need to think about 1-to-1 computing systemically. That's what Maine did."

Gendron confirms Lento's observation, saying that in the state's view, the "boxes" were always a means to an end. "We wanted our students to be among the most tech savvy in the country," she goes on. "But by 'tech savvy' we meant their ability to use computer tools for innovation, creativity, and problem solving, not their ability to defrag a hard drive or rip a CD.

"As we worked with our teachers on the use of computing resources to enhance learning, it quickly became less about the technology and more about the results."

"We wanted our students to be among the most tech savvy in the country. But by 'tech savvy' we meant their ability to use computer tools for innovation, creativity, and problem solving, not their ability to defrag a hard drive or rip a CD."

Training and Leadership

The work Maine has done with its teachers on integrating the laptops is regarded as the foundation of the initiative's success.

"We have been very deliberate about providing that training," Gendron says. "We have a cadre of seven tech professionals under contract to us who do training for our teachers, principals, superintendents, and technology coordinators."

Mao says it's crucial to provide that training before putting laptops into students' hands. Maine's high school teachers received their laptops two years ago, well in advance of this fall's rollout.

"The elemental conversations you want to have about education and learning are facilitated by the fact that the equipment is ready to go, and so are the teachers," he says. "The tech gets relegated to the role of supporting the teaching mission."

If professional development is the engine of the initiative, local leadership is its driver, Mao explains. "It creates that common vision within the school for what it's trying to do educationally and how the program fits inside that goal. We see far better success, far better buy-in-- happier people, so to speak-- if that leadership is there. If it isn't, you get a much rockier road."

MLTI establishes a leadership team for every school, consisting of a principal, a teacher leader, and a tech lead, Mao says. The teacher leader is what Mao calls "the E.F. Hutton teacher: When he speaks at the faculty meeting, everyone stops and listens. Every faculty has one. That faculty member may not be the most tech savvy, but that doesn't matter because it's about leadership, not technology."

Lisa Hogan was one of those teachers who commanded attention, Mao says. But Hogan admits she didn't start out that way. "During that first year that I had devices for every student in my room, I just sort of stood back and watched the kids working," she says. "It was like being in a foreign country, where you're taking the language in and converting it to English, and then converting your English thoughts into the language to respond. Then one day I noticed that I wasn't doing that anymore. I'd gone to a place where I was able to make decisions about using technology more intuitively. I'd learned to speak the language."

MLTI recently pulled Hogan out of her classroom to become a technology integrator-- essentially a mentor educating her peers on how to make the best educational use of student laptops. She hit Mao's radar in part because of a project involving climate change research that was an exemplar of tech integration. Hogan and 30 students spent weeks examining temperatures and precipitation in Maine over the past decade, and concluded that the state had been warming up. With their laptops, they took their research to the internet, connected with actual climate research scientists, and decided to put together a community symposium about global climate change and possible solutions.

"Their level of engagement was incredible," Hogan says. "One evening, I got an e-mail from a student. He's a great kid, but really wasn't engaged in school. At 8:00, up pops an e-mail from him. In it he writes, 'I know I don't write very well, and I sometimes have trouble with spelling, so would you look at this e-mail I want to send to the town manager about wind power?' I was stunned. I looked it over, made suggestions, and sent it back.

"Now it's about 8:20, and I expected that I'd talk to him at school tomorrow. But by 8:45 he's back to me on e-mail, and he's fixed the letter. This is not a kid I could count on to do homework, but there he was, sitting at home, working on this e-mail." Without the advantage of a take-home laptop, Hogan says, the student never would have been immersed in the project that night. "It opened my eyes to the potential of this technology and the 1-to-1 approach."

What Went Wrong at Liverpool?

Maine IngredientsJUST AS THE STATE OF MAINE sets to expand its 1-to-1 computing program, another laptop initiative launched at just about the same time will come to an end. Liverpool Central School District, located near Syracuse, NY, made the decision in 2007 to phase out its leased student laptop program. That process will be completed this fall. The district's program, begun in 2000, enabled students in grades 10 to 12 to lease personal laptop computers for use at school and home for about $25 per month. Participation rates in the voluntary program ranged between 70 and 75 percent of students in the beginning, and at one point approached 90 percent.

"The program was intended to change the way instruction was delivered to students," says Maureen Patterson, assistant superintendent for instruction. "That was the vision at the time, anyway. But it actually had no impact at all on student achievement.We did lots of studies, and it was clear that the technology wasn't being used to enhance learning. So, frankly, it was an easy decision to say this is finally done."

That decision made headlines when it was announced in 2007. The New York Times reported on a program plagued by student hackers and parental complaints about leasing fees. And Liverpool's school board president at the time, Mark Lawson, told the newspaper that many of Liverpool's teachers claimed "the box gets in the way."

But Patterson, who was a principal on special assignment at the district's lone high school when the program began, insists that student misuse of the laptops was minimal and more or less isolated to the first year, and that financial support from an educational foundation eased parents' concerns about the program's cost.

"We put the laptops into the hands of the students virtually at the same time we gave them to the teachers. Getting those devices to the teachers in advance would have made an enormous difference."

So what went wrong?

"It was the implementation of the program," Patterson says. "We put the laptops into the hands of the students virtually at the same time we gave them to the teachers. Some of those teachers were just learning how to use e-mail. Much more could have been done at the implementation phase to help teachers to become familiar with this technology and learn how it could enhance the pedagogy. Getting those devices to the teachers in advance would have made an enormous difference."

Also, the program lacked clear and measurable goals, Patterson says. "You didn't have, say, a science program or an algebra program that said, 'This year these three technology projects will happen across the curriculum and across the grade level,'" she says.

And because of the way the program was launched, with the teachers thrown into the deep end all at once, no teacher leadership was cultivated. "It's obvious to us now how important it is to identify teachers who are excited about the technology who will lead the way, make the change, and use the technology fully as a teaching tool."

Patterson says there was a "valiant effort" to correct early missteps, but the program never recovered from its rough start. Yet its demise may have breathed new life into Liverpool's overall technology approach. "We really stepped back and took a look at how we were using technology in our schools," Patterson says. "We began to get teachers to talk about why and how they might use it in their classrooms, how they could use it to enhance curriculum. Now, before a piece of technology gets put into a lab or a classroom, I need a proposal: Tell me why you want it and what you will do with it. And when I come to your room, what will I see?"

Patterson describes Liverpool's current computing resources as "phenomenal." They include PC and Mac computer labs, digital music and art labs, and numerous laptop carts, which are available to all the district's schools. "Our experience with the laptop program changed our decision-making," she says. "It showed us that evaluation has to be built into every technology implementation, that every plan must have measurable goals and a very firm commitment to improving student achievement."

It's About the Tools

Maine's decision to use Macs for its 1-to-1 computing effort over the more widely deployed Windows PC platform has raised some eyebrows. Only recently, Gendron had to defend the choice to a colleague who said the use of Macs puts students at a disadvantage. "She said it's PCs that the world uses, not Macs," Gendron says. "My argument was that it's the tools that come with our Macs that count. The hardware platform is less and less important every day."

In fact, in its request for proposals, Maine doesn't even refer to a laptop. "When we spec our package," she says, "we spec a personal learning device that will achieve all the learning criteria that we specify in our RFP, because for us it's about making sure that our students and teachers have the necessary tools for innovation and creativity. We're looking for a vendor that offers solutions that will help our kids and our teachers."

Up stepped Apple, whose willingness to negotiate a competitive price points to another ingredient in the state's formula for a successful laptop program: a strategic vendor relationship. Although Maine's program is state supported, only the middle schools receive 100 percent financing. The high schools are a 50-50 state and local partnership. Every school in Maine is required to spend "targeted dollars" on technology. "I was able to say to the high schools, if you're willing to put that money toward 1-to-1 programs in your school, I'll negotiate a lower price from the vendor," Gendron says. "Apple stepped up to the plate and we negotiated a new contract."

The state's current deal with the company includes an order for more than 64,000 MacBooks for students and faculty, with plans to order about 7,000 more. The machines are being leased for four years at a cost of approximately $242 per laptop per year. Per the contract, Apple will provide Maine's schools with educational software, professional development, repair and replacement services, and technical support.

The Maine program also saves money, Gendron says, by embracing open source. "There's a wealth of open tools and content available online today," she says. "We help teachers through our professional development to learn about these resources and how they can integrate them into their instructional practices."

Mao cites the Open Educational Resources Commons project as an example of the types of free education tools Maine is working to bring into its 1-to-1 model. The OER Commons provides academic materials that may be used and reused without charge. "[Open source] has the potential to change how we deal with content, which then leads to different practices," Mao says. "We're still focusing so much of our work around traditional media sources. Kids in most 1-to-1 programs, including ours, still have math books."

Gendron concedes that the seven years of Maine's 1-to-1 program haven't always gone smoothly, and many of the principles that now drive the program were formed as lessons learned.

"Initially, Gov. King focused on the technology," she recalls. "He wanted our students to be technologically literate, and that seemed to be about the boxes. It was [former MLTI director] Betty Manchester who shepherded the program during the early years, and she convinced him that the success of the program depended on a comprehensive professional development plan."

In turn, Mao acknowledges that the state was slow to recognize the critical role of local leadership. "It's so important," he says. "We should have spent more time on it in the beginning. We learned quickly, though, that the leadership has to be there."


Still on Hogan's to-do list is a comprehensive system for educating parents about the technology their children are mastering. "This still needs to be addressed, and I think we can do it through our professional development resources," she says. "As we use this 1-to-1 program to move our students into the 21st century, we have to make sure their parents come with them."

Gendron takes an even longer view, noting how the 1-to-1 model will come to redefine the classroom. "The next step for us is thinking about breaking out of the environment of school," she says. "Because of our ability to provide 24/7 accessibility, anywhere, not all of our students need to be in the same environment. I simply don't believe that all of our learning will take place in the classroom any longer. That's a big change in the way we think about school."

If you would like more information on 1-to-1 computing, please visit our website at www.thejournal.com. Enter the keywords 1-to-1 computing.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2009 issue of THE Journal.