Reinventing Curriculum

Only Truly 1-to-1 is Truly Transformative

From Engaging to Empowering

There are almost as many types of 1-to-1 as there are types of ... of ... bread, cheese or wine!  But, as we argue below, only a “truly 1-to-1” implementation can enable the transformation of teaching and learning in the K-12 classroom. 

Let’s start by identifying, then, different types of 1-to-1:

  • Type 1 –Lab setting 1-to-1: Here, a class of students is brought to a computer lab where each and every student is provided with a computing device for a class period.  Block scheduled class periods are better, but only incrementally so.
  • Type 2 – Rolling cart 1-to-1: Instead of a class going to a lab, the lab is essentially brought to the classroom; see “Lab setting 1-to-1” for details.
  • Type 3 – Cart installed in a classroom: A cart of computing devices is parked in a classroom on day 1 of the school year – and it stays there for the entire school year. Instead of the infrequent use of a computing device that is enabled by the sharing of types as in Type 1 and Type 2 1-to-1, Type 3 enables students to use computing devices in every class period. But, at the end of the school day, the devices go back into the cart. Boo hoo.
  • Type 4 – Truly 1-to-1: Type 4 1-to-1 is Type 3 1-to-1 but with a key twist: students are permitted to take their devices home!

Question: Why is Type 4 1-to-1 transformative but Types 1, 2 and 3 are not? 

Answer: Pedagogy. Type 4 facilitates a student-directed, inquiry pedagogy.

In an inquiry pedagogy, “learning starts by posing questions, problems or scenarios — rather than simply presenting established facts or portraying a smooth path to knowledge.”  In an inquiry classroom, then, it is critical that students be provided with support as they pursue questions and answers, problems and solutions. And that pursuit is 24/7, all-the-time, everywhere — inside and outside the classroom.

Still further, if the inquiry is truly student-directed, then students need to work at their own pace; students need to follow different lines of investigation; students need to work collaboratively, forming and dissolving groups during investigations, etc.

To support student-directed, inquiry, a Type 4 1-to-1 implementation is needed. Students need their computing devices 24/7 for:

  • carrying their light-weight devices (e.g., Chromebooks, smartphones) in their backpacks, and in so doing making access to those devices “ready-at-hand” — ready to capture phenomena, via taking pictures or videos or via recording sounds,
  • connecting to the Internet outside the classroom to support peer-to-peer, synchronous collaboration and to access virtually infinite resources available on the World Wide Web,
  • as well as for use during the school day in the classroom.

Now, a Type 4 1-to-1, student-directed, inquiry classroom is definitely not the norm! First, while inquiry underlies several popular pedagogies, e.g., project-based learning, 5E, not all educators and/or parents currently support inquiry. Direct instruction pedagogy — where a teacher — or the computer ala “personalized learning” – stands at the front of the class and tells students stuff, is still the dominant pedagogy.  

But that’s the point! In order to transform the classroom — in order to support the adoption of a different pedagogical framework such as inquiry — a Type 4 1-to-1 implementation is needed!  And, a Type 4 1-to-1 implementation is only now becoming truly economically feasible (e.g., via low-cost Chromebooks) and technologically supportable (e.g., with curriculum materials being coded in device-agnostic, HTML5).

A transformed classroom has the promise of a dramatic impact on student achievement. Until now, virtually all empirical studies of the impact of the use of computing devices note the “[use of computers results] in increased engagement.” Yawn! Of course the students are more energized and excited when they are allowed to use computing devices in school. Tell us something we don’t know!

But, in a transformed, Type 4, 1-to-1, student-directed, inquiry classroom what is on offer is empowerment, not just engagement. Finally, the students themselves can be directly connected to phenomena and to resources that help them explore those phenomena. Finally, with a Type 4 1-to-1 implementation, students can be in control of their own learning – in a blended learning classroom.

Okay, it’s time to come clean: we are cheerleaders; this is a blog, after all, not an academically rigorous, peer-reviewed, journal article!  Our objective in this blog is to set out a vision.  That’s the easy bit. We are under no illusion, candidly, that the path from direct instruction to inquiry via Type 4 1-to-1 implementations will be easy.  But there is a path, and there is finally an enabling condition: Type 4 1-to-1 implementations are finally within reach of today’s K-12 classrooms; Type 4 1-to-1 implementations are the new normal.

And, hey, some cheerleading is not misplaced; what could be more important than educating our children and better preparing them for the global, 21st century marketplace that awaits them!

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at