Teaching with Tech

3 Keys to Successful 1-to-1 (and BYOD) Implementations

Districts three to five years into their 1-to-1 programs share best practices and lessons they've learned the hard way.

3 keys to successful 1 to 1 and byod implementations 

The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and/or 1-to-1 culture is firmly in place across much of the American educational landscape, with many districts entering a third year of implementation.

Such is the case at the Prince William County District in Northern Virginia, where students at Mary Williams Elementary school, Dumfries, VA, use iPads in kindergarten and first grade, and Lenovo Laptops in grades second through fifth.

Every device is provided by the district on a 1-to-1 basis, and three years into the program the biggest challenges often involve elements that people can't see. "There are a lot of hidden things that you must have in place," said Lynmara Colon, principal at Mary Williams. "First is your internet connection. And usually it's difficult to fund because people don't see it as infrastructure."

The second is adequate professional development or "meeting people where they are" among different skillsets. "I have an amazing staff, but they are not all at the same level of technology knowledge," says Colon. "Differentiate professional development way before the device arrives. Warn them about what is going to come and allow for mistakes."

Stocking each device with proper apps and programs can act as a workaround in situations where pristine internet is not available. With this partially in mind, Colon introduced the myON personalized literacy environment to students at Mary Williams Elementary to encourage reading proficiency. Colon explains: "One of the reasons I love myON is because you don't need to have internet to access the books. You can download up to 20 books, and still be engaged in the reading."

Rochelle Kolhouse, iConnect Zone TEAM Coach at Pikes Peak Early College, Colorado Springs, CO, fosters literacy using Reading Horizons via 1-to-1 devices. "We began using Reading Horizons last school year with our struggling readers," says Kolhouse. "This program has been phenomenal with our students and their reading. In terms of 1-to-1, that has certainly helped us to implement this program."  

Determining needs on a district-wide scale has its own challenges, ultimately requiring more flexibility across a variety of different student needs. Pam Moran, superintendent of the Albemarle County Public Schools, Albemarle, VA, is responsible for about 13,500 students across 25 schools in Albemarle — 15 elementary schools, six middle schools and four high schools.

The county is a testing ground of sorts for just about every demographic. According to Jamie Foreman, coordinator of instructional technologies, Albemarle County Public Schools, all students have devices (1-to-1) assigned to them in grades 3 through 12. "Starting in middle school, students take them home each day," says Foreman. "We are talking about elementary schoolers being able to take their devices home with them, but currently it's 6-12."

When Foreman started working at the district in 2010, it was a BYOD situation, and even today, "it's something we leave up to the schools a little bit, to see how it works best with their school." And if students would rather use a device they have at home, Foreman reports that they are not required to use a school laptop. "We certainly advocate for them to use a laptop," she says, "because we have licensing in those laptops that they can't access on a personal device, unless there is advanced software."

With so many variables, accidents and/or misuse is bound to happen. A warranty on Albemarle devices allows school leaders to get "robust service" when needed. "We do have a laptop agreement that families sign off on, and they understand the rules and risks," said Foreman. "If it's damaged a certain amount of times, there is a cost. We always try to work with families to make sure students have what they need from a learning standpoint, and we won't punish students for accidents."

"If we start to see a pattern," said Moran, "that's when we would limit use or put responsibility back on the family. We make our kids administrators of their own devices. We find that our middle school kids tend to have more viruses pop up in their computers. We see a fairly high percentage of machines getting re-imaged, which is a natural consequence of messing up your machine. That usually only happens one time, because if it gets re-imaged, they lose things that they put on the machine."

Give Students Ownership
Over at Tampa Preparatory School in Florida, families are ultimately responsible for fixing any broken devices at their own expense. As a private institution, Tampa Prep requires all families to purchase Apple iPads. If there is an accident, a loaner cart provides a temporary tablet for one week.

Now in the fifth year of its iPad BYOD program, Chad Lewis, director of technology for Tampa Prep, characterizes the move to Apple's signature tablet as "highly successful," mostly thanks to the wide range of apps. "If you standardize on devices, you can standardize on apps," he said. "We are pretty heavy users of an app called Notability, and that's how students take their notes. The iPad has proved itself to be not just a consumption device."

Among the 675 students in grades 6–12, BYOD is described as "a perfect fit for our middle and high school culture" because it helps students to "take learning into their own hands, and as a college preparatory school, we really model ourselves more like a university than a public school system."

Lewis spoke to representatives from other independent schools who chose to institutionally purchase iPads, instead of putting that expense on families. "At those places, there were widespread breakages — broken screens and dropped iPads — because students didn't have ownership of the iPad," said Lewis. "They weren't allowed to put in apps they wanted. They couldn't download iTunes; they couldn't do much. So it became almost like a textbook, and we all know how students treat textbooks."

At Tampa Prep, students are allowed to download any apps they want. For example, a number of students use an app called SoundNote, which allows them to record lectures and take short-hand notes. "When you go back home later that evening and want to listen to the lecture, you may just want to listen to a certain part of it," said Lewis. "You just touch that word that you took the shorthand for, and it will start playing the lecture back at that point."

Keep the Tech Current
Prior to selecting iPads five years ago, the school formed an iPilot team, made up of department heads and 20 interested teachers. They bought a cart of Chromebooks, looked into various laptops, and ultimately found the iPad to be perfect for the school culture. Every three years at Tampa Prep, families are asked to upgrade and purchase a new iPad with recommended specs for maximum performance.

Stephanie Miller, superintendent for Congress Elementary School District, No. 17, Congress, AZ, sees a similar time horizon for equipment turnover in her rural district. "In the past, we may have been able to say, 'Ok, we're going to push this computer for five years,' but now it's almost every three years," she said. "We had one year where kids were on the computers, and the computers were OK, but they weren't upgraded enough, and so it was taking five minutes for those computers to load. Now that's ridiculous.

"Sometimes in education budgeting, you say, 'If it's not broken, don't replace it,' but with technology you don't wait until that tablet breaks down," said Miller. "Instead, you must ask what will facilitate learning and what will be the most beneficial for students."

Prepare Teachers
Like so many other endeavors in education, success ultimately comes back to professional development. Chad Lewis said he agrees with Lynmara Colon about the importance of professional development to properly prepare teachers. As an exercise in "change management," a BYOD initiative, as well as similar 1-to-1 roll-outs, can induce anxiety without the right preparation.

"We actually hired a psychologist to help teachers who were very fearful about change and how it would affect their teaching style," said Lewis. "I've seen teachers who were on the verge of tears when we started talking about BYOD, to now being one of the primary users of technology in their classrooms."

"Remember that sometimes the cheapest option is not the best option," said Kolhouse. "First purchase or lease machines that are reliable and won't break down after a couple of months of hard use. And believe me, students can be hard on these devices. Ensure you have the infrastructure to support these machines. I've seen schools purchase great machines only to find out they don't have enough wireless hubs for students to get online. As a result, the 1-to-1 machines sit unused in a cabinet."