1-to-1 Computing :: A Measure of Success
The first rounds of data are in, and districts are evaluating the impact of their 1-to-1 programs. With the results showing a revolution in teaching and learning, the task now is to find ways to keep the funding alive.
WHEN TEXAS' TECHNOLOGY IMMERSION PROJECT (TIP) began in the spring of 2004, a grant from the US Department of Education allowed a parallel project to launch— eTxTIP—to evaluate and measure the success of the program, which equips middle school students in high-risk,high-need areas with laptops.
"Because we had the federal evaluation grant, we have been able to evaluate the program extensively," says Anita Givens, senior director of instructional materials and educational technology at the Texas Education Agency. And the results from the program's first year exceeded expectations, revealing an impact that stretched from the campus to the living room.
According to Givens, "The first-year report showed an increase in technical proficiency, engagement between the students and the teachers, a spike in parental involvement, and greater communication between the school and the home." She says the second-year report is close to completion.
Data is beginning to come in on several of the first 1-to-1 initiatives that were launched three or more years ago, an adequate time frame for obtaining measurable results. Just as expected, formal analysis shows that students are learning more through this new, collaborative instruction that opens the doors of communication and takes education beyond the classroom and into the community at large. Anecdotal success— accounts of positive transformations in the classroom from students, teachers, administrators, and parents—only serves to bolster the formal evaluations of these programs, which for most, were mandated when the programs were implemented.
The Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI), which began five years ago and provides each seventh-grade student in the state with a laptop, has also been undergoing evaluation, with two groups working in tandem to measure its success, says Bette Manchester, director of special projects for the Maine Department of Education. The first group, the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine, looks at how the technology is being used, viewed, and accepted at the state's middle schools. Among the findings, which can be found here, the CEPARE report states:
"There is a growing body of evidence that Maine's Learning Technology Initiative is impacting teachers, students, and learning in many positive ways:
- Teachers are more effectively helping children achieve Maine's state learning standards.
- Students are more motivated to learn, are learning more, and learning it more deeply.
- Students are acquiring 21st-century skills.
- The 1-to-1 laptop program is bringing about positive change in the acquisition of knowledge."
Machester says the state continues to work with CEPARE to measure results at particular schools, noting that the center evaluates schools individually rather than the program as a whole. "We chose not to just look at statewide student achievement," she says, "because that doesn't tell the whole story. Plus, doing those types of assessments is very, very expensive."
The second group involved in MLTI's evaluation, Maine's Impact Study of Technology in Mathematics, received a three-year federal grant, which just ended, to study one aspect of the laptop initiative. MISTM chose to research the impact of a technology-infused program, backed by professional development, on students' math achievement. Results from the first year showed that teachers in the experimental classrooms— who received additional professional development teaching math with laptops—reported they more competently taught mathematics using technology, and students performed significantly better on standardized tests than students in comparative classrooms in which teachers did not receive professional development. The results of the secondyear evaluation are expected in the spring.
If a kid gets excited about Hamlet because he worked on set designon his tablet PC in class, or he got to speak with the actors playing in Hamlet at the Globe Theatre in London via videoconference, how doyou measure that? Passion is a hard thing to measure. —Joe Hofmeister, Cincinnati Country Day School
Meanwhile, data on Freedom to Learn, Michigan's 1-to-1 initiative, shows that, like the other programs, FTL demonstrates a measurable influence on student involvement and technical proficiency, among other metrics. But other noticeable byproducts have proven just as important, says Leslie Wilson, director of FTL, which provides about 30,000 sixth graders and 2,000 teachers and school directors with wireless laptops.
"I observe [in the classrooms] quite often, and what I see is completely student-centered teaching and learning," she says. "All of the lessons are taught in project- and team-based settings, so students are able to take the learning experience beyond where they are to continue to be successful. It's no longer a passive learning experience."
Although updated formal evaluations are still to be completed, profound changes in the classroom environment are unmistakable. Within the TIP schools, Givens says the change in student behavior is astounding. "We discovered anecdotally, which has since been backed up by our evaluation, that disciplineproblems at TIP schools have almost disappeared," she says. "Students are engaged in the learning process andthey're not getting into trouble. It's making a real difference."
Wilson says her technology-equipped students are likewise noticeably more engaged in the education process. "I have never witnessed such a powerful transformation as now," she says. "I am in awe when I walk into the classrooms and see what these students are accomplishing, where students go with learning. There is no question this is spurring a new way of learning. It's like night and day—students are fueled by their own drive and their own capacity to learn."
Wilson adds that one of the major differences is the absence of downtime in FTL classrooms. "The moment they walk in the door, they are learning. The students are completely engaged, and when they are engaged, things happen."
Even in a private-school setting, where students generally are economically better off than their public-school counterparts, 1-to- 1 initiatives are making a visible, if not quantifiable, difference. "If a kid gets excited about Hamlet because he worked on set design on his tablet PC in class, or he got to speak with the actors playing in Hamlet at the Globe Theatre in London via videoconference, how do you measure that?" says Joe Hofmeister, technology director at Cincinnati Country Day School. "Passion is a hard thing to measure."
Cincinnati Country Day's 1-to-1 program, now in its 11th year, is funded by parents (who must purchase the tablet PCs their kids use), yet Hofmeister says there's nary a complaint."The parents are pretty excited that their kids have a leg up," he says. "And you simply can't argue that technology does not aid in the learning process." That process also benefits teachers, who in some instances had to turn their method of teaching on its ear, but have since made great strides thanks to ongoing professional development and peer mentoring offerings.
"It all comes down to what kind of pedagogy is occurring in the classroom," MLTI's Manchester says. "So part of the challenge is to continue to work on teaching methods."
Wilson agrees, noting that professional development was instrumental in getting teachers to back the state's efforts."Freedom to Learn has been supported by the instructors from day one, partly because teachers are able to get instant feedback on where each student is, which is a tool they've never had before," she says. "But it's not that the technology has been a panacea; the professional development also has been dramatic. In adding technology, the teaching experience has evolved, thereby enhancing the overall experience for everyone.
"They receive support at their level," Wilson adds."Regionally, there now is a coaching and mentoring model at the participating schools."
In the Texas program, Givens says teachers' growing level of ease with the technology is evident in the way they are using it."In the first year, teachers were just learning the technology, and so they used many of these tools in addition to their standard teaching tools," she says. "Now they have moved to using these tools instead of their standard teaching tools.
"We have a conference each June in which teachers from the technology immersion schools get together and share their experiences with each other, and we've found that this peer mentoring program is helping the comfort level of these teachers quite a bit as well."
Plus, each TIP school receives grants to expand professional development. "The fact that every student and teacher at the school is involved in this program has really made a difference," Givens says. "The attitude is like, ‘We're all in this together.'"
Cincinnati Country Day has taken professional development beyond its own teachers and extended its expertise to other school districts interested in adopting a 1-to-1 initiative. The school holds two-day workshops on how it has integrated technology into its curriculum.
"We have teachers coming from all over the world to see how we use the technology as part of the teaching experience," Hofmeister says. "Getting teachers to change and use the stuff that lies underneath the technology—the rub for them is, What do we do with the technology? That's why they come to this program."
Laptops at the private Cincinnati Country Day School cost parents $2,500 per unit.
Sustaining the Program
Perhaps the best indicator of the appeal of 1-to-1 initiatives is the lengths that districts are going to keep the programs alive. Despite all the benefits that the evaluations of these initiatives have revealed, some states have had to trim funding for new or ongoing 1-to-1 programs from their education budgets. In response, school districts are getting more resourceful, doing what they can to ensure existing programs remain in place by funding the programs themselves, using avenues such as bond initiatives and Title 1 funding allocation.
In Michigan, the end of state funding for Freedom to Learn after five grant cycles put the onus on the individual districts to come up with the money to nourish the program. So far, according to Wilson, every one of them has risen to the occasion.
Wilson, who is president of the One-to-One Institute, an outgrowth of the FTL program that the Michigan Legislature created to advance 1-to-1 learning nationwide, says the schools were on notice when the project began in 2001. "The notion was that the schools that were awarded and that implemented the technology would be expected to sustain the program after the funding stopped," Wilson explains. "We are at that point right now."
Wilson says it is because of the advance warning they had that the FTL districts thus far have been successful in finding the money to continue the program. "If you enter into an arrangement such as this without a sustainability plan and vision, you will come up short. Now, when the rubber meets the road, we have built a sustainability conversation and professional learning to help these schools move forward." Wilson says the districts have some "remarkable plans" for sustaining FTL, and her organization wants to help them tailor their budgets to achieve those goals. She adds that a number of schools are using Title 1 funding to help pay the tab."All of the schools have found ways to fund the program, and some school districts have even expanded the program into the high schools. The bottom line is they have leaders who believe they have to do it."
Michigan's case, however, isn't the norm. Most states that have funded a 1-to-1 technology implementation continue to do so in some fashion. The startup costs of such a program— purchasing laptops, installing wireless networks, and training teachers on the technology—are no longer line items on the budget. Rather, districts are now spending that money on replacement and/or additional hardware, IT maintenance, and professional development.
MLTI's Manchester says that despite hard economic times in the state, Maine is dedicated to funding its laptop program. "There is definitely the support of the state government and communities," she says. "If you asked the parents and community members, you'd find there is a lot of enthusiasm around the project."
In addition to state funding, MLTI receives grants from the National Education Association Foundation—whose website offers educators access to lesson plans and teaching tools—and has acquired professional development funds through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Other MLTI-related projects, such as Windows on Maine for content learning, have used National Science Foundation grants. Manchester says the worstcase scenario for Maine's technology initiative would be for the school districts to have to fund the project entirely themselves. She believes MLTI will survive—and succeed—only with the state's financial backing. "If the state didn't fund it," she says, "there would be the danger of unbalanced funding: Some school districts would not be able to come up with the same amount of funding as other districts. But with the state's support, the funding is the same regardless of the economic level of the district."
Manchester says that districts are meeting the program with enthusiasm, to the point where many school principals are ordering fewer textbooks and more of other types of learning tools. And some districts have found MLTI to be so beneficial that they have expanded the initiative into their high schools. But districts have to fund that expansion themselves. Manchester says the state is looking to help them find ways of getting the money. According to Givens, in Texas, support for the Technology Immersion Project is solid, as the state has extended funding for the initiative through 2011.
"There has been quite a bit of interest at the state Legislature regarding funding and the possibility of moving the program to the high schools and expanding to more middle schools," Givens says. "At last year's legislative session, a bill was introduced that would have provided $100 million for the program. It didn't pass, but I believe we'll be seeing some effort to expand the program in the next legislative session." She says it wouldn't surprise her if the program reached beyond the high-risk areas it now hits and went statewide.
Not content to wait for state funding to implement the program, "a lot of school districts are looking into incorporating technology spending into school bond initiatives. That's how a lot of them are actually paying for this."
As long as these 1-to-1 initiatives remain intact, students in programs such as those in Michigan, Maine, and Texas will continue to reap the many benefits. And those benefits ultimately spill out to the community and into individual homes.
"In some cases it is the first time technology has been brought home," Givens says. "We hear stories that parents have been able to get better jobs by learning how to use a computer with these laptops—that they've gotten raises. The program has made a difference in the household as well as the school."
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Charlene O'Hanlon is a freelance writer based in New York.
This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2007 issue of THE Journal.