1-to-1 | 2012 Digital Edition

The Hard(ware) Choice: Selecting a 1-to-1 Computing Device

Ben Grey, chief technology officer at Oak Lawn-Hometown District 123 in suburban Chicago, shares insights from his district's 1-to-1 netbook program and discusses how schools can begin researching a program of their own.

When it comes to implementing a large-scale 1-to-1 computing initiative, deciding which device students will use every day to support their learning requires a significant amount of thought and research. Laptop, netbook, Chromebook, tablet--each device has enough similarities to make the decision seem easy, but enough differences to make a big impact on the way technology is managed in the classroom and across your district.

T.H.E. Journal recently conducted a virtual roundtable with seven districts about how they decided on the device that would best fit their teaching and learning needs. The original version of this story, with additional video, is available in T.H.E. Journal's November 2012 Digital Edition. An edited version appears on the following pages. For districts' complete responses, visit the navigation bar at right.

The Participants

Matt Akin, superintendent
Piedmont City Schools, Piedmont, AL
Year Implementation Began: 2010
About the Program: 850 MacBook Pros deployed to all students in grades 4 to 12; students have devices 24/7. Additionally, the district is participating in an FCC pilot (Learning on the Go) that provides internet access at home to students.

Marissa Burkhart, director of educational technology
Consolidated School District 158, Algonquin, IL
Year Implementation Began: 2012
About the Program: 1,100 Kuno Android tablets bundled with CurriculumLoft, a web-based platform for story and sharing digital content, deployed to teachers and students in grades 3 to 5 at Martin Elementary School.

Ben Grey, chief information officer
Oak Lawn-Hometown District 123, Oak Lawn, IL
Year Implementation Began: 2011
About the Program: 2,200 total netbooks deployed to students in grades 3 to 8: HP Mini 1103 netbooks for grades 5 to 8 and Asus 1011 netbooks with Linux for grades 3 to 4.

Randy Rivers, superintendent
Bluestem USD 205, Leon, KS
Year Implementation Began: 2012
About the Program: 600 iPads deployed to students and staff. Students in grades 7 to 12 have 24-hour access to their devices, while K-6 students each have individual iPads stored in their classrooms.

Donna Teuber, technology integration coordinator
Richland School District Two, Columbia, SC
Year Implementation Began: 2012
About the Program: Eventual deployment to more than 21,000 students in grades 3 to 12 at 38 school sites. School sites choose their preferred device, with most choosing Chromebooks.

Daniel Townsend, technology and media supervisor
Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, Wyoming, MI
Year Implementation Began: 2009
About the Program: 600 Dell Latitude 2100 and 2110 netbooks deployed over three grade levels at Lee Middle and High School, with plans to deploy an additional 450 Dell netbooks over the next three years for full 1-to-1 implementation in grades 6 to 12.

Bryan Weinert, director of technology
Leyden Community High School District 212, Franklin Park, IL
Year Implementation Began: 2012
About the Program: 3,390 Chromebooks have been issued to students in all grade levels at this two high school district. 

What were the key requirements that informed your decision-making?

BURKHART: The three main considerations we had when selecting devices were compatibility with curricular resources, ability to manage device, and cost. The focus of our 1-to-1 initiative is literacy. Our initiative is directly aligned to the rollout of Scott Foresman Reading Street in a digital format, so our first priority was that it had to be compatible.

AKIN: Ease of use, cost, and creativity. We wanted a device that we could put in the hands of students and staff and it would work--simply and reliably. The consideration of cost refers to not just the cost of the device, but the long-term cost of repair/support, upgrades, and software. And, finally, we wanted a device that not only offered our users the ability to consume but also create.

RIVERS: Our key consideration was cost. The price point of hardware capable of providing students with a highly functional toolset has finally reached a tipping point.

GREY: Our process for device selection can be distilled to the following formula: goals + culture + cost = device selection.

TEUBER: Instructional needs, cost, and infrastructure requirements.

WEINERT: We want teachers teaching and students learning and not spending time dealing with tech setups, troubleshooting, and other issues. We want our teachers and students to have the ability to use as many different resources, tools, and activities as they can dream up. We want to focus as much time as possible on professional development and instructional support for our teachers and less time worrying about things like retrofitting our old buildings with more electricity.

TOWNSEND: We really wanted to ensure that this program would be sustainable in the future without ever having to bond or borrow dollars. By reallocating our textbook budget we were able to create a reliable budget for 1-to-1. We wanted to find a device that our students could easily take around the building but also be rugged enough to withstand everyday use. With a limited staff and an increasing number of devices, we wanted to spend the least amount of time imaging these mobile devices and more time working on improving the overall experience with technology.

What kind of research did you do to help you determine which device met your objectives?

TOWNSEND: Learning how other districts were implementing their 1-to-1 was the most valuable resource for us. Online research and personal visits to districts turned out to be a great factor in making our decision as to what device to implement. Taking a survey of our users to see what they were comfortable with was also a deciding factor.

TEUBER: Members of our 1-to-1 task force visited other districts and schools to see a variety of devices being used in classrooms. These visits were invaluable in giving us firsthand knowledge of how devices were being used and background information on any management or cost issues. The group also read literature on devices; Gartner research on device sustainability was very useful in planning. Based on the research findings, our device subcommittee designed a process to evaluate devices based on the instructional needs of our schools.

WEINERT: We ran a pilot for two years during which we had seven different courses of varying levels in multiple departments that were scheduled into classrooms with dedicated sets of laptops and other technologies. We were able to experiment with different devices and learn a great deal about how to scale our pilot into a full 1-to-1 implementation.

BURKHART: Most of our research was internal, in terms of testing curricular resources on various devices. The main decision for us was choosing between a laptop, Chromebook, iPad, or tablet. Some of that was easy. We immediately excluded the iPad because of some compatibility issues. Ultimately, our team all agreed that although we need to select a device, our initiative really isn't about the device at all. I really believe that because our goals are specifically tied to curricular objectives, it simplified the decision-making process.

RIVERS: Our research was based upon years of experience using electronic devices. Our most valuable resource was the device itself. We put iPads in the hands of our teachers a full year before a decision to implement 1-to-1 was made. It was the comfort level the teachers displayed using them and imagining the classroom possibilities the iPad presented that convinced us that we were ready to go 1-to-1.

Who participated on the research and evaluation team?

WEINERT: We sent 11 key staff members from our district to Mooresville Graded School District (NC) for their three-day learning extravaganza, during which they shared every aspect of how they've been successful in going 1-to-1, from planning through implementation. We sent our assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, one principal, and one assistant principal to visit three different 1-to-1 schools in Iowa. Their visit to Council Bluffs (Community) School District was especially valuable since they were using the device we were most considering.

And finally, after having two Googlers visit our district for a couple days, we sent the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, the director of technology, and one assistant principal to the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA, to meet with the entire Chromebook team to outline some of the things that we were hoping to accomplish by going 1-to-1 and to learn how Google would help support us if we decided to choose the Chromebook.

GREY: We convened a committee composed of individuals from our IT department, curriculum team, classroom teachers, support staff, parents, board of education, and community. Together, we worked through what we wanted our 1-to-1 environment to look like and what device we felt would meet our goals.

AKIN: We had a districtwide technology integration team that was established as a result of an Enhancing Education Through Technology-2 grant. This team consisted of district administrators, district technology staff, teachers, school level administrators, and parents. This team, which included curriculum and IT staff, made the recommendation.

RIVERS: We are a small school district with only 540 students. We don't have the luxury of IT and curriculum departments. The people making the decisions were the same ones who are on the front lines with the kids every day: the principals and teachers.

TEUBER: Over a two-day period, stakeholders from each school, including administrators, teachers, and instructional technology specialists, evaluated the devices.

So, you set your requirements, you did your research. Why did you end up with the choice you made?

GREY: We wanted our students to engage more deeply in the process of learning and thinking as a result of the 1-to-1 access. We wanted to create a culture of learning where students could own and have autonomy in their learning experience. This is, in part, what was so intriguing about the Linux solution (with Asus netbooks) we have deployed. Our students have full admin rights to their machines, and they can quickly restore the device back to its original state in less than 20 seconds, while still keeping all of their user files.

Finally, we considered price. At the time we were making our decision (18 months ago) the total cost of a fully loaded ubermix netbook deployment of 1,000 devices was $267,000, compared to $449,000 for iPads, or $849,000 for MacBooks. Netbooks running on the ubermix platform allowed us to meet our goals and create a culture of learning at a significantly lower cost than the other options.

RIVERS: We did not give much consideration to any platform besides Apple. Apple has a long-standing reputation of supporting technology integration in schools and the quality of their products is always first-rate. We wanted dependable hardware with a stable, user-friendly OS.

BURKHART: The Kuno stood out to us because it addressed our key considerations of compatibility, manageability, and cost effectiveness. The management features of Kuno and CurriculumLoft actually exceeded our expectations. When a student logs into their tablet, they see our district home screen and have access only to the content and apps we provide. Not only are we able to deploy web links and Android apps through a cloud-based management system, we can also build a library of documents, videos, links, teacher materials, etc., in the cloud and push it to the student tablets based on their course enrollment. It's incredibly easy to use and has helped us effectively implement our literacy program.

This repository of content can also be leveraged immediately when we continue this program in two more schools that house the same grade levels next year. From the technical perspective, not only are we able to deploy apps, we are also able to apply WiFi network passkeys, lock students out of the Android interface, and filter the tablet's browsing capabilities on networks outside of our district.

WEINERT: The Google Chromebook quickly vaulted to the top of our list shortly after we obtained two class sets and wheeled them into two of our 1-to-1 pilot classrooms and wheeled out the netbooks we had been using. Chromebooks are "invisible." The eight-second startup time and instant-on after closing the lids allows our teachers to maximize their instructional time. When logging in, the students are automatically authenticated to all of their Google Apps. Overall, the teachers are teaching and the students are learning during every class period without the technology getting in the way. All of this is quickly and easily orchestrated by the teachers and students with minimal tech support.

TEUBER: The Chromebook stood out as a device that would meet our needs based on the seamless integration with Google Apps for Education--we are a GAFE district--a full web browser to support web 2.0 tools, and a management console that easily enables us to register devices, filter access from home, and push out apps to all devices.

The Chromebook also stood out because of the long battery life, instant Chrome OS updates, and virus protection. Another feature of the Chromebook is that it works well with our district's virtual desktop infrastructure. Our students can log in to VDI on their Chromebooks and access applications running on our district server. NWEA MAP testing as well as other legacy applications are accessible.

TOWNSEND: Netbooks running ubermix stood out to us initially because (ubermix) created an easy to install, quick, clean, teacher resourceful, open sourced environment. The open sourced resources that come preloaded on ubermix encouraged our teachers to use these resources in the classroom. These same resources can be downloaded for free and used at the students' homes, where learning should continue. Pricey software applications hindered the district from providing those resources to students at home in the past. At the time of implementation we were heavily considering MacBooks, and essentially it came down to cost, comfort, and ease of support.

Technical support seems have been a major factor for many of you.

AKIN: We began with a small technology staff--one person. Our director of technology is responsible for all things that are related to technology (networks, repair, E-Rate, grants, planning, PD). Therefore, we needed a device that was going to work with little technical support. As I previously stated, we were also looking for a device that had software as part of the operating system that allowed for creativity. Ultimately, we felt that the MacBook was the best solution for our needs.

WEINERT: The Chrome OS operating system always works without any need for troubleshooting or tech support. So the focus (can be) on instruction and not on logistics. The eight-plus-hour battery life allows us to require students to bring a charged device to school every day and did not require us to plan for or worry about electrical needs for the devices.

The minimal tech support required to support these devices allowed us to hire two full-time instructional tech coaches instead of hiring more tech support personnel. The no-touch setup eliminated the need for hours of configuring the devices and students could begin using them immediately after the shipments arrived. The management of the users and devices is all done through the web-based Google Apps control panel and not a separate system, which allows for systemwide changes to be pushed out in seconds so the teachers and students can efficiently obtain the resources they need.

BURKHART: Manageability was a huge factor because our first phase of this project is over 1,000 devices. We were interested in being able to easily monitor what's happening and deploy resources without significantly taxing our technicians. Also, based on our current experience with about 150 iPads in the district, we weren't pleased with the options for managing them.

Let's talk about deployment. What was your process?

RIVERS: We used Apple's Professional Services and their project management to assist us through deployment. In a small district, our tech support resources are limited. We purchased Jamf's Casper Suite to assist us with mobile device management. We also installed a new managed wireless network infrastructure and increased our internet bandwidth. We planned a back-to-school rollout event with students and parents.

TOWNSEND: When we deployed the devices we rolled out a few communal carts of netbooks with little to no expectations. We wanted students to acclimate to the devices before we started the 1-to-1 initiative for that grade level. Teachers would check out a cart and use it in that classroom for the day.

TEUBER: In preparation for our 1-to-1 rollout, the IT department upgraded our infrastructure. Infrastructure upgrades to support 1-to-1 computing included adding wireless access points in every classroom, upgrading bandwidth, and implementing VDI.

GREY: In year one, we deployed the netbooks for grades 5 to 8 and added grades 3 and 4 in year two. We have maintained from the outset that our implementation will be a multiyear process, as implementing a quality 1-to-1 that will bring about lasting, meaningful change for the learning environment takes time and a great deal of effort for everyone involved.

Professional development is clearly a key element in deployment. Describe how it worked with your district.

TOWNSEND: We structured a 2½-day PD day during the summer to focus on curriculum integration as well as ongoing support from our tech integration specialist that included lesson planning and course development. We solicited teacher buy-in as well by compiling a list of online resources to help integrate technology into their planning.

TEUBER: We provided extensive professional development to teachers to ensure buy-in. Teachers in each phase of the initiative have received devices early so that they can learn how to use the devices and develop content, and the Richland School District Two technology integration team has a plan to ensure that professional learning is customized to meet the needs of all teachers.

WEINERT: We have always provided professional development opportunities for our teachers in the form of before/after-school workshops, institute days, internally run courses for teachers to obtain salary schedule "credits," lunch-and-learns, and personal training sessions. The big difference, once we announced that we were going 1-to-1, is that more teachers began participating. The obstacle of (not having access to the technology) was removed, and all teachers could begin implementing just about any web-based technology they wanted.

Since the deployment, have there been any considerations that weren't weighted heavily during the research process but have come to have a significant impact?

TOWNSEND: We did not spend enough time planning out our network. We implemented a wireless network infrastructure, but overlooked the intensity that the devices would have on our network. We have since spent a significant amount of money to revamp our network and proactively structure it to support devices for the next five years at least.

RIVERS: The biggest consideration that we fell short on was internet bandwidth. In our small district (540 students) a 20 Mbps circuit has proved to be inadequate. Our network has not crashed, but we are using 95 percent or more of the bandwidth on a regular basis and our up- and download speeds are running slightly slower than many home DSL connections. We are in the process of upgrading our internet circuit to 50 Mbps.

BURKHART: We didn't really take vendor support into consideration, but we sure ended up on the right side of that decision. I was expected to handle implementation internally and had organized it as such, but the three days of on-site support were invaluable. Their support team exceeded expectations and after implementation, they continue to be engaged in what we do.

AKIN: We underestimated an increase (in) enrollment. I would suggest that a district needs at least a 15 percent surplus of laptops. Sometimes things happen, a screen gets broken or there is spill damage. Ultimately, we have to be able to quickly put a replacement computer in a student's hands. If a student is in class without a computer, they are like a fish out of water.

GREY: I have been researching 1-to-1 programs for six years, and I thought I was fully prepared for what implementing a 1-to-1 would look like in a school district. I was mistaken. I underestimated the power of providing a computing device for all students. That has been my biggest surprise, and certainly, a profoundly pleasant one. The conversations that are taking place, the opportunities our students are being afforded, and the culture of learning that is being developed far surpasses my hopes and expectations.