1-to-1 | Feature

9 Lessons From 1-to-1 Pioneers

Providing a device for every student doesn’t require a huge staff or an impossible amount of funding — and you don’t have to figure out everything before you’ve begun. But it does call for vision, planning and commitment, as these experts will attest.

Above: Pascack Valley Regional High School District's Paul Zeller and Barry Bachenheimer share
the key elements of how they have made their 1-to-1 implementation work.

Even as the Los Angeles Unified School District is being derided — rightly or wrongly — for bungled management, inadequate teacher training, overpaying for devices and insufficient attention to infrastructure, its massive iPad program has helped make the concept of 1-to-1 part of the national conversation beyond ed tech circles. Here, tech leaders from five districts share nine lessons they’ve learned over a collective 37 years of 1-to-1 computing.

1) Set goals and share them.

One lesson of 1-to-1 that just about everybody agrees on: It can never be about the technology. Barry Bachenheimer, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Pascack Valley Regional High School District (NJ), said, “Just because the kids are typing away on a keyboard or the teachers are projecting a website doesn’t mean what they’re doing is effective or learning is taking place. If you set your goals as things like student engagement, levels of inquiry, levels of understanding — which research has shown lead back to student achievement — and technology plays a building block in that process, you’ll set yourself up for a good program.”

Of course, those goals need to be realistic and achievable to gain buy-in. When Pascack first started its program 10 years ago, one aspect that district leaders agreed upon and stated repeatedly was that the board of education wouldn’t tie standardized test scores back to the laptop program. “That was a big relief for a lot of people involved,” said Bachenheimer. “They didn’t want to say, ‘Oh, because we’ve given you these laptops, suddenly, your scores are going to shoot through the roof.’ As a result, teachers could really focus on innovation in the classroom.” Incidentally, he added, the scores have gone up, on both state achievement and SAT and AP tests. “However, I don’t know if we can draw direct correlation between the laptops and the increased scores. I think it has to do a lot with the fact that we’re just teaching better. Students are better prepared, and the district as a whole just embraces the idea of achievement.”

As you’re setting goals, make sure to communicate to your stakeholders consistently and continuously. The Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township (IN) school community has seen a lot of building construction in the last 15 years. For that reason, when Chief Technology Officer Pete Just sought a metaphor for communicating about the district’s 1-to-1 program (which launched in 2012), he chose a blueprint. The contents of his “Blueprint for Digital Learning” come out of several years of thinking and planning by a “technology vision committee” that made broad recommendations about where the district should be going. One aspect of that, said Just, was “to focus on how we more tightly bind curriculum with the use of technology, which is becoming ubiquitous, and how we make the ubiquity of the technology something that really emphasizes teaching and learning.”

The one-page blueprint Just put together gets modified once or twice a year but consistently relays the overall set of goals, the components that will be required for success and the schedule for rolling out the stages of digital learning. He uses the document to communicate the goals of the program: information literacy, digital citizenship, engagement, equitable access to information and so on. “It takes people hearing it multiple times, knowing that you’re serious about it, and communicating in a clear and fresh way,” to keep momentum going, he said.

2) Parental involvement will evolve.

When the idea of giving computers to every student is new in the district, plan to spend a lot of time with parents. Early on in their programs, both Pascack and Henrico County Public Schools (VA) held informational meetings with all parents every year to explain how the program worked and what the benefits were for the students. Now, the districts have both backed off from that and taken different approaches to involving families.

Henrico now has meetings with parents of eighth-grade students who will be coming into the high school system the following fall. Even these meetings are targeted only to parents who haven’t had training with the district before. Parents can also choose to take the training online instead of face-to-face. Debra Roethke, interim director of instructional technology, explained, “It gives us an opportunity to talk with the parents about Internet safety, about how this computer that the student has is different from what they might have right off the shelf.”

Pascack has eliminated the parent meetings altogether. Parents would “rather get information via the website,” said Paul Zeller, director of technology. “Obviously, if parents have questions, they’re always welcome to call us, but at this point, this is just part of the fabric — like textbooks in a classroom.”

3) Every rollout must include PD.

In Wayne Township, before teachers could lay a hand on their new Chromebooks, they went through training on learning management system My Big Campus as well as Google Apps for Education, both of which were being introduced with the 1-to-1 program. “We didn’t want to emphasize the device,” Just noted. Teachers learned how to access the online applications from multiple devices, then they were introduced to Chrome — and finally the Chromebooks were handed out. “After about two weeks,” Just said, “they said, ‘That’s it? A hardware browser? Okay. We get it.’ ”

Just pointed out that devices weren’t issued to students until “many months” later, giving teachers the time to think through classroom management questions and begin tapping into the content that’s available, such as My Big Campus “bundles” that include open educational resources developed by educators that can be used, revised and distributed by other educators.

East Allen County Schools (IN) took a different approach. In May 2012, the district celebrated “iPadaPaLooZa,” in which it handed out iPads to more than 600 educators, who were then trained on iPad basics and given an overview of the first year of the blended learning initiative. As a follow-up, however, teachers at East Allen have a collaboration day every Wednesday in every building at the end of the day. As Keith Madsen, interim director of technology, said, students are dismissed 30 minutes early, and teachers get 45 dedicated minutes to learn about whatever the principal of their school wants to cover. About half the time, IT brings in a technology coach to train teachers on technology in the classroom, including specific iPad apps. That same coach will also meet with individual teachers or small groups before or after school hours and during their prep time.

Younger teachers may be more comfortable with technology, but they still need guidance. “They’ve been on the device since they were children,” Henrico’s Roethke noted, “but they’ve also been taught by teachers who sit up in front of the classroom and lecture to them. Giving them a computer is one issue. Giving them the computer to teach children and picking the right tool and when it’s appropriate to use it or not use it takes a little bit of learning.”

4) Fine-tune PD as the program matures.

Like everything else with 1-to-1, you can expect professional development for teachers to ebb and flow as the program matures. For example, PD at Henrico in its earliest days included a “whole lot of whole group training because there was so much to cover,” said Roethke. Now it has morphed into more one-on-one or small group content-based training. “When we sit down with teachers, it’s a combination of finding out what they’re teaching and what they’re comfortable with, and helping them take baby steps to move forward. It needs to be based in their content, so they have a purpose and reason for what it is they’re trying to do — not just throwing the technology at them and saying, ‘Here, try this.’ ”

Also, from the very beginning, Henrico assigned a technical support technician (TST) and an instructional technology resource teacher (ITRT) to every school. The TSTs do the hardware training and troubleshooting; the ITRTs do the software training. “Having those people in every secondary school is part of what makes our program so effective,” Roethke stressed.

In its earliest days Henrico would pull new teachers into summer training and show them everything they needed to do, “which was ridiculous,” laughed Roethke. Now the training for educators new to the district still begins in the summer, but the district has also added additional training throughout the year. “When they need to know how to do report cards, then we show them how to do report grades. Instead of showing them in August we show them in November,” she explained.

Because East Allen doesn’t have the kind of support staff Henrico does, Madsen has come up with an innovative way to provide ongoing PD. He has uploaded recorded training to iTunes U, Apple’s free resource for educator-generated audio and video instruction. Currently, the EACS iTeacher site provides 116 recordings covering everything from “Acceptable Alternate iPad Covers” to videos on “WebDav and WebDavNav Setup and Use.”

Madsen said, “iTeacher is all the training you need as a teacher on your technology with the iPad.” But, he added, “Inside iTunes U is where our professional development blossoms. It’s all at your fingertips. You don’t have to be at school in front of a technology coach to get this. You can be sitting at home in your comfy chair at 8:00 at night learning about the Showbie app.”

Most of the recordings are less than 10 minutes long and cover how to use the five paid apps and 25 to 30 free apps (including Pages, Numbers, Keynote and iMovie) that reside on teachers’ iPads. The training features the voice of Madsen or his technology coach, and the instruction focuses on the app from the teacher’s perspective and then the student’s perspective so that the teachers can see what the students will experience.

Madsen has also recorded tech support for students on iStudent (66 items) and for parents on i-Parent (39 items). Both are podcast channels that anybody can subscribe to.

5) Going paperless has its challenges.

A major benefit of a 1-to-1 program is eliminating the need for print textbooks. East Allen teachers have been able to mix up what they use in classes. They've developed their own curriculum, and now every grade has about eight “bundles” of content for each major subject, each covering about 4 1/2 weeks of instruction. Math and English Language Arts are tied directly to Common Core standards. Guidance about that content is available in PDF form online, with links to apps and other online resources that can be used, as well as core vocabulary, learning targets, evidence of learning and other teacher notes.

The district has also purchased three iBooks for the iPad from Pearson, including Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry, which students are supposed to download on their own using a unique Apple ID. While East Allen has “tentative plans” to continue with the use of iBooks, it’s running into a couple of problems, said Madsen. First, the size of the downloads makes for a “real burden” on the network at the beginning of the year. Second, students are sharing their IDs, which means kids can’t always get to the textbooks when it’s time to load them onto their specific devices. So now, rather than getting just any iPad from the district inventory at the beginning of the school year, students will be issued the same one they had the previous year, except in cases where they’re transitioning into new grades that have upgraded versions.

The transition from paper to digital content hasn't been hassle free. As more and more teachers are relying on cloud-based services in the classroom, they’ve been disappointed on occasion, which can be a setback for 1-to-1 progress. For example, for a short period My Big Campus had experienced dramatic adoption and couldn’t keep up with school demand; teachers experienced unexpected shutdowns and the loss of assignments. According to Madsen, “It wasn’t an East Allen problem; it was a My Big Campus problem. They’ve fixed it for the most part, but when the teachers get burned by this technology, they revert back to their old ways of doing things.”

His advice: Don’t overpromise on technology. Allow it to be a “grassroots movement.” He said, “If you get one or two or three key teachers in a building using it and they’re vocal about how much time it saves, how much it really helps student engagement, how much time it saves them, [that helps in] overcoming the fears that some teachers have with technology they’re not used to.”

6) Infrastructure is never complete.

Forget about ever being done with building your network infrastructure, said Thuan Nguyen, chief information officer for Kent School District (WA). “The infrastructure is something you’re constantly building and expanding.” At the same time, you don’t have to design and build it from day one for 100 percent utilization of resources like storage or servers. “The reality is that, the first day and the first year that you have your 1-to-1 program, kids and staff aren’t going to be fully using a lot of those resources.” Better to monitor usage and have a model that’s flexible enough to be added onto. That means watching CPU utilization so you can add on additional virtual servers and monitoring storage, so you can add more as demand rises. But, Nguyen said, “That’s an expense you don’t necessarily need to incur from the beginning.”

Just as the back-office infrastructure needs to be monitored to sustain the growth of 1-to-1, so does IT need to keep an eye on what will be the optimal client operating systems for its devices. Currently, Kent runs Windows 7 on every device. But it took IT 18 months of planning to get to the point where it could spend one summer doing all of the imaging for every computer. That advance planning allowed the district to be ready for the upgrade at the same time it was cycling out computers that weren’t capable of running the new OS.

7) Prepare for device abuse.

Testing various devices taught Wayne Township that the Lenovo ThinkPad X131e Chromebook had the features it needed: a keyboard, instant-on and a full-day battery life. But only lengthy pilot experience taught the district that this particular model would also hold up best under middle-school student use. Early on, said Just, “The first thing we saw is kids were forgetting they had a pencil or headphone on their keyboard and closing the lid.” The result: cracked screens. Second, even though the district provided a sturdy case, sometimes the kids didn’t put them in the case or they wouldn’t zip up the case all the way. “As they’re jogging down the stairs, here comes the device — right out and down the stairs it goes.” Because the Lenovo model is built with “a much more rugged, sturdier case” and has a “rubber bumper” around the edge, added Just, “that has saved a lot of problems from happening or being worse.”

Most districts appear to follow a four-year refresh cycle. At Pascack, though, the refresh rate is a scant two years. That keeps the “traditional expenses” related to repairs — replacement of batteries and keyboards — down. That said, with 2,000 computers among students and 300 for faculty and staff, the district keeps about 100 to 150 devices on hand as replacements or loaners for when accidents happen or problems surface. Early on in the program, the repair rate was much higher than it is now. But, said Zeller, students have learned to treat their computers as if they were their own.

It helps, he added, that “administrators also make sure [students] understand the value of the machine.” And it’s not just the principals. “We’re all on the same page. We know exactly what we’re going to do if the student is playing Frisbee with the laptop out in the courtyard or if a kid spills a bottle of water on it. It’s a policy. That’s crucial, because oftentimes technology people get thrown into the middle of it. I flip it around and say, ‘If the kid breaks a window, do you get the custodian involved or does the principal get involved?’ If the kid breaks a computer, it goes to the building principal just like a broken window.”

At Kent, before students get their laptops, they have to earn their “driver’s license,” which proves they’ve passed a test on proper computer care and usage including how to navigate, how to stay safe on the Internet, how to turn the wireless on and off, how to connect the computer to the network, how to charge it and the like.

Despite their best efforts, East Allen was seeing so many cracked glass screens on its iPads that the district sought out a small business in a nearby town that now replaces them for $100 (charged as a “deductible” to parents). On top of that, the district offers parents an optional annual $30 insurance plan (which also comes with a $100 deductible) to cover the eventuality that the entire device is damaged and needs replacing.

8) Streamline the management process.

Kent implemented its first 1-to-1 program during a period when the district was undergoing major reductions in the technical staff. So while demand for software installations and support was growing ever higher, the staff count was dropping by almost 60 percent. That forced Nguyen and his IT organization to get “really good at managing the devices remotely and making sure they were rock-solid enough to get through an entire school day.”

A few programs IT has adopted to stay on top of the work include the following:

  • Microsoft App-V to virtualize “as many of the applications as possible.” When a user wants software that hasn’t been installed yet or a teacher wants software for the entire class, they call the call center and it’s attached to the student account. Students log off and then log on and it’s there waiting for them;
  • Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager to manage and image the computers;
  • Absolute Software’s Computrace for inventory and theft management; and
  • DyKnow for classroom management, “so students are paying attention to the teacher.”

Every summer, the district replaces about a quarter of its computers and reimages the new ones along with the other computers to be issued in the coming school year. About 40 days before the end of the school year, IT takes inventory to identify “missing keys, broken keyboards, things that students may not put in a work order for” so that its outside HP service provider can order parts for refurbishing the computers. That company comes on site to clean all the machines as well as the custom-designed Always-On cases the students are expected to keep their devices in.

On deployment day, an IT team and a group of volunteers at the given school take over the library or the gym. Class by class, the students arrive and go around the “circuit,” picking up each component of their 1-to-1 bundle. The last stage is to turn on the computer and log in before they leave. “If there are any issues, we can troubleshoot and resolve them,” explained Nguyen. Students then return to their class and start a scavenger hunt developed with the teacher in that class that ties into the day’s lesson and also requires students to perform other computer-related activities, such as turning off wireless, finding certain features and locating software.

9) Once you’ve gone 1-to-1, you can’t go back.

During a recent lease refresh for the 15,000 computers being used by high schoolers at Henrico, the team working on the initiative looked hard at the question of whether the district would save money if it stopped the 1-to-1 program. Director of Technology Peter Taylor said, “Everybody looks at the program and they get fixated on the sticker price of the computer.” However, he went on, “What we were able to show is that the computer is not really an additional device; it’s become very much integrated into the DNA of what we do. We’ve been doing it for so long that it’s impacted so many decisions. We don’t spend money on textbooks. It was several million dollars a year; now it’s down to almost nothing. If we got rid of the laptops, a lot of the money we were spending on [those] would have to be spent replacing the textbooks.”

That kind of thinking goes on down the line. Because every student has a computer, every classroom effectively becomes a computer lab. In turn, dedicated computer labs have been turned into regular classrooms. If the 1-to-1 program were gone, those labs would have to be restructured for assessments and specialty software usage. “We would lose so much school capacity, we might be forced to build a new school,” Taylor pointed out. “It’s not an isolated decision. It has impact across everything that we do.”

Wayne Township’s Just added, “Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once.” Only by going a “little slower, a little more deliberately” will you get teachers on board and trained. His final piece of advice was, “Take your time, do it well, do it with fidelity, do it with excellence.”