One-to-One Computing: Not a One-Size-Fits-All Idea

For those of us who have been in education for over 20 years, the evolution of educational technology from computer labs to classroom computers to mobile labs to one-to-one programs has been nothing short of astonishing. There’s no question that computers have had an effect on teaching and learning. But has technology delivered on its promise for student achievement? And does more technology, as in one-to-one programs, make enough of a positive difference to justify the expense?

The findings about one-to-one initiatives have been mixed. Like all educational innovations, success with individual technology depends on a variety of factors, all of which can be addressed with strategic thinking before and during implementation.

Project Red, an organization that researches and supports implementation of one-to-one programs, investigated what makes these programs successful. Their survey of nearly 1000 schools found the following key implementation factors:

  • Intervention classes: Technology is integrated into every intervention class period.
  • Change management leadership by principal: Leaders provide time for teacher professional learning and collaboration at least monthly.
  • Online collaboration: Students use technology daily for online collaboration (games/simulations and social media).
  • Core subjects: Technology is integrated into core curriculum weekly or more frequently.
  • Online formative assessments: Assessments are done at least weekly.
  • Student-computer ratio: Lower ratios improve outcomes.
  • Virtual field trips: With more frequent use, virtual trips are more powerful. The best schools do these at least monthly.
  • Search engines: Students use daily.
  • Principal training: Principals are trained in teacher buy-in, best practices, and technology-transformed learning.

One-to-One Options
Schools that are prepared to launch a one-to-one program have several options for structures and devices. The web site, Success Stories describes some different programs and how they have customized a one-to-one approach to meet their districts’ individual needs.

One of the most mature one-to-one programs is the Maine Learning Technology Initiative that began issuing laptops to all 7th and 8th graders in 2002. . A research study conducted in 2011 found that the initiative “has had a significant impact [sic] on curriculum, instruction, and learning in Maine’s middle schools.”

Programs that provide laptops or tablets to all students are expensive and not feasible for many schools, so many schools are opting for Bring Your Own Device/Technology (BYOD/T). Although these programs still require an investment in infrastructure and professional development, allowing students to use their personal devices significantly lowers the cost of a one-to-one computing program.

Because BYOD/T programs are relatively new, little research has been conducted on their effectiveness. What we do know, however, is that students are already using their personal mobile devices for school tasks. Project Tomorrow's research found that:

  • 15% have informally tutored another student online or have asked an expert for help with school subjects.
  • 18% have taken an online quiz to self-assess their understanding of subject-area content.
  • 1/5 have used a mobile app to keep their schoolwork organized.
  • 25% have found videos online to help them understand something they're studying at school.
  • Almost 1/3 of middle school students and half of high school students have used Facebook to collaborate on school projects.

Carl Hooker, Director for Instructional Technology in an Austin area school district, argues that 1:1 computing is already “old school” and predicts a 1:3 environment! A 21st century worker or student takes advantage of the unique features of a laptop, a tablet, and a smartphone, to communicate and solve problems. Considering how I use technology today, he just might be right!

More on 1:1 Computing
20 BYOT Resources by Category
A list of web resources for BYOT programs on topics, such as Best Practices, Security, Case Studies, Toolkits, and Social Media.

K-12 Blueprint 
A comprehensive site for school administrators on one-to-one computing, including resources on policies and funding.

One to One Computing: A Summary of the Quantitative Results from the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative 
A research study of a 1:1 program in all public and private schools in western Massachusetts.

Project Red
A collection of resources for administrators that are considering or implementing one-to-one programs.

In December 2015, Peggy Grant joined our extended network of alumni.