Smart Classroom :: From Revolutionary to Evolutionary: 10 Years of 1-to-1 Computing


Laptop initiatives are now a decade old. Once a point of controversy, they have become the cornerstone of every district’s technology hopes.

Smart ClassroomONE-TO-ONE COMPUTING is aging quite nicely, thank you. It’s getting on 10 years since school districts began experimenting with laptop initiatives, and their efforts—controversial at first, with school leaders and parents questioning the allocation of resources—are now paying enormous dividends. Today large 1-to-1 deployments in schools are welcomed for the transforming educational benefits they are anticipated to bring.

The anticipation is warranted. Studies on the effects of 1-to-1 computing, from sources such as the Center for Research in Educational Policy and NetDay, all support the premise that student access to computers in the classroom improves student engagement and achievement, and helps students acquire critical 21st-century skills.

Whether the computers are desktops, laptops, or tablets, in a lab, on a wireless cart, or on a kid’s bedroom desk, students want 1-to-1 access and see computers as learning tools, as essential as a pencil or calculator. Educators agree: What makes the difference is not individual possession of a computer, but rather the availability of computers for classroom instruction. But what will ultimately determine the degree of success a 1-to-1 initiative has is the quality of professional and curriculum development a school provides to support teachers in integrating computers into instruction.

Tablets Take Hold

Laptops were long the machine of choice for 1-to-1 programs, but tablets are gaining popularity. On the outskirts of Chicago lies Hinsdale Township High School District 86, which numbers about 4,600 students in its two high schools. In 2005, Hinsdale deployed tablet PCs on wireless carts to its teachers and students. The district trained teachers in the use of the tablets and developed curriculum for math, science, and humanities courses that helped them include the computers in classroom lessons.

Hinsdale’s use of wireless carts is a widely used solution for what can be a daunting appropriation of resources in both staff time and dollars. Carts are popular because they offer plug-and-play computers for all students. Teachers find this minimizes classroom management and tech-support issues.

“One-to-one computing and tablet PCs are not revolutionary,” says Tim Hohman, Hinsdale’s director of technology.“They are evolutionary. We have been building toward this for10 years, starting with one computer in a classroom, to minilabs,to wireless carts. One-to-one is the next logical step instudent computing and learning.”

Adam Fischer, director of information services and technology at Kent School in Connecticut, says his school has also moved its 1-to-1 initiative from notebooks to tablet PCs. The reason for the move can be seen in the classroom of veteran Kent physics teacher Peter Goodwin. Goodwin’s students solve physics equations on their tablets and e-mail their work to him. By reviewing their work step-by-step, Goodwin can isolate exactly where students make mistakes. He then works the problems out in class using the tablet and an LCD projector, posting both the problem and the annotated solution on the class website. Goodwin, after more than 25 years of teaching, has found that the tablets enable him to cover far more material with a higher rate of student mastery.

We have been building toward this for 10 years,starting with one computer in a classroom, to minilabs,to wireless carts. One-to-one is the next logical step.
Tim Hohman, Hinsdale Township High School District 86 (IL)

The transition from laptops to tablets was made possible, according to Fischer, by Kent’s diligent teacher training efforts.“Instead of dry tutorial sessions,we want teachers in 1-to-1 programs to experiment with themachines,” he says. “In addition to regular training sessions,we let our teachers take the tablets home on weekends andover the summer. By letting them ‘play’ with the tablets, theexcitement of what the technology can do just flows.”

Curriculum Development

In San Antonio, TX, the emphasis on integrating computers in curriculum development and student learning infuses 1-to-1 programs. Districts such as Southwest Independent School District and Alamo Heights Independent School District provide ongoing teacher training on the basic use of technology tools. Tech specialists provide instructional design tips for elementary through high school curricula, and school tech leaders coach their peers as needed. The districts also provide teachers with online visual tech training 24/7.

A bit further west, at East Mountain Charter High School near Albuquerque, NM, school curriculum is designed with the intent for students to build computer proficiency. Students collaborate on classroom projects and are asked to do annual inquiry projects that require using the internet and demonstrating their computer presentation skills.

“We started in 2004 with issuing laptops to all students and found too many obstacles to maintain consistent instructional delivery,” says educational consultant Mimi Neamen, cofounder and former principal of East Mountain Charter High. Neamen says that maintenance issues became a burden on IT staff, and students regularly would forget to bring their laptops to school. “Now the school deploys multiple wireless carts in addition to several computer labs. This has kept tech support to a minimum and gives students instant access to their network accounts. They use memory sticks to take work home.” Neamen believes administrator support of curriculum development that incorporated computer skills was instrumental in the program’s success.

Empowered Teachers

Los Angeles-based educator, author, and 1-to-1 computing advocate Gary Stager says that allowing teachers to stray from the standard training in PowerPoint, word processing, and the like to explore multiple technologies gives them a unique perspective on classroom instruction. “Educators in 1-to-1 computing schools become acutely aware of new ways for students to learn,” he says. “They also realize that many of the traditional ways we expect youngsters to learn are ineffective.” Stager adds that providing the newest technology to teachers has another benefit: It emboldens teachers, elevating their commitment to their classroom goals. “Teacher professionalism is enhanced,” Stager says, “when teachers are equipped with the tools of 21st-century professionals.”

But equipping teachers with technology is only a launching point. The success of a 1-to-1 computing program is in its application. Resources abound for teachers to put their student computers to work. Librarians, frequently doubling as K-12 media specialists, can supply teachers with lists of online curricula, sorted by grade and theme, to incorporate the internet and other computing tools into all subjects. Websites such as EduHound’s and Discovery Education’s provide free grade-appropriate lessons, projects, and games.

Not all classes or subject matter requires a computer. In fact, 1-to-1 computing needs some redefining. It should no longer be thought of as the personal possession of a computing device, but rather as access to one. It’s the daily personal access to computers that students must have in order to have an equal shot at learning.

Catherine Wambach has worked in education technology foreight years. She is the owner of Wambach & Company,specializing in education marketing public relations.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.

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