1-to-1 Computing | Viewpoint

Focus Your 1-to-1 Program 'Around Learning, Not the Device'

When it comes to 1-to-1 programs, it's not about the device. It's about teaching, learning, and transforming school.

Reading Therese Mageau's "Stop Buying iPads, Please" was like taking in the biggest breath of fresh air and slowly releasing it so that a spirit of tranquility encompassed me. Weird, huh? Not from where I sit. 

I, like Therese, witness the dramatic uptick in 1-to-1 programs--labeled such because of large iPad purchases and apps incorporation in schools. Note the phrase, "labeled such."

From Michigan's 1-to-1 program, Freedom to Learn, to our current work as the One-to-One Institute, and our co-authored research, Project RED, my organization works passionately to support the successful implementation of 1-to-1 programs in schools. This work is not focused on or because of a tool, device, or sexy apps. This work is about teaching, learning, and authentic transformation of the education ecosystem. It's about retooling pedagogy and teacher functionalities to create learner-centered environments where students are self-propelled through the personalization of instruction and learning activities.

Achieving the latter is hard work. It is complex. It involves many spokes of a wheel working in tandem to drive the entire operation in a unified, though changing, direction. All cogs must be integrated and contribute to the big picture. So, those who have purchased mass quantities of iPads (and the beloved apps) without heeding the warning signs of how to best get a return on that investment (by that I mean increased student achievement, transformed schools, and revenue positive results), beware the fallout.

Provided in this article are illustrations of the complex, multi-faceted planning and execution that must accompany a 1-to-1 or any robust education technology implementation. It's not about the device. It's about teaching, learning, and transforming school.

So what are the key factors that must precede, accompany, and be sustained for an effective 1-to-1 program?

1. Leadership for change is needed.

Those tasked with leading are charged with inspiring educators, technology leaders, students, boards of education, members of the community, and stakeholder work groups to understand and achieve common goals. Teachers embolden students; administrators embolden teachers. Together, these groups educate the community and gather support for the changes.

Those leading educational-technology implementations have to build a successful foundation by developing a shared vision for educational technology within the district/school. The underpinnings of this foundation are direct communication, sharing research and best practices, providing discussion, and feedback loops for the stakeholders mentioned above.

Key district decision-making leaders are usually the superintendent and cabinet members.  Their direction is critical in marching everything forward. Principals, on the other hand, provide the onsite leadership needed to amplify reforms and guide the necessary shifts in practice. Research demonstrates how important it is for principals to embed and consistently activate professional learning experiences for teachers and the school community at large.

The transformation is complex. No single person has expertise in all aspects of the work. With collective leadership, individuals are able to band around a shared, collaborative vision that transcends thinking from individual to the collective good; from teacher-to student focused practices; from rote to inquiry-based learning; and from static to dynamic content.

2. Know the district's 'shovel readiness.'

Dropping devices in the hands of teachers and students without planning is a recipe for failure.

There are many factors to know, address, and implement prior to implementing a 1-to-1 program and distributing devices. And employing technology for technology's sake is not an approach that fosters productive student and systems outcomes.

The Project RED Readiness Tool outlines key focus areas and degrees of what it calls "readiness." The factors needing this "snapshot in time" include leadership, finance, curriculum/instruction/technology, and infrastructure. The readiness scores determine if the district is in early, developing, or advanced stages. Analyzing the results guides the strategic actions the district needs to address to be successful.

The Project RED co-authors' study of numerous 1-to-1 programs led to the development of a project plan template. The RED Design Model Project Plan lays out, in detail, each task and the dependencies associated with effective 1-to-1 implementations. The readiness factors provide an overarching framework. Within that structure are myriad interconnected, moving tasks that require focused effort, ownership, and realistic timeframes. Think of it as taking each of the readiness areas and calling out the multiple activities associated with accomplishing each.

For example, within the leadership category of the project plan is the implementation team. Under the implementation team task are a number of specific items--from identifying team members to determining required staffing levels--that will likely take more than two weeks to complete.

3. Professional learning must be embedded for all educators, students, parents/caregivers, community, and the expanded stakeholder groups.

Leaders have to ensure a 360-degree approach to professional growth for everyone involved with the transformation. Since this work isn't just "tinkering around the edges," it can conjure dramatic shifts in beliefs and practices, system wide. Humans aren't often keen on change especially when that change may be departures from values and long standing behaviors. 

The following are professional learning areas for substantial focus when transforming to the technology-enhanced environment.

  • Changing teaching practice to student-centered, inquiry-based
  • Teachers and students creation of content and production of learning artifacts
  • Meaningful use of technologies with curriculum standards; unpacking the Common Core Curriculum-alignment with existing standards
  • Preparation for the 2014 online student assessments
  • Leaders' skill development in leading second-order change
  • Vetting and incorporating digital resources
  • Migration from static to dynamic resources--this is not about adopting "cool" apps.

Retooling is often necessary for each of the players--principals, technology leaders, teachers, students, parents. Ideally, the approach for serving each person's needs for professional development can be personalized and supported within a coaching/mentoring framework. Communities of practice where individuals come together to share, debrief, problem-solve and collaborate on solutions to emerging issues is an effective strategy. We know that episodic professional development experiences are ineffective in bringing about authentic professional learning. Consistent, ongoing strategies in this regard are what will make the difference.

Some districts have "flipped" the professional development--similar to flipping the classroom. They provide educators with online content which can be video, reading materials, podcasts, etc., and then have regularly scheduled face-to-face discussions to activate the learning and new knowledge. These sessions also provide an avenue to collaboratively create new practices aligned with new skills.

Other districts have an embedded half-day each week for educators to work on professional learning goals. Students may have a delayed start or early dismissal on these days. Two to three hours a week devoted to adults' learning goes a long way. While it isn't a complete answer, it demonstrates a commitment to educators' growth by having it part of their workday. It also provides a just-in-time chance for the educators to practice and apply knew knowledge or skills in their work setting.

These two examples model for students and community the importance of professional growth, collaboration and team work/problem-solving. It is a good segue for what teachers will activate for learners in the instructional process.