Thursday, August 25, 2011

1-to-1 Laptops: 10 Lessons Learned

After a successful first year as a one-to-one laptop learning school for grades 4 through 12, we re-assessed what we had done well and the lessons we had learned before re-issuing our laptops to students for another year. Below are ten of the many lessons we learned in this new field of educational endeavor.

1. Screens are fragile. The laptop screens are more fragile than we realized. We had few problems, but the rigors of student life did result in some screen casualties. We simply continue to stress to students the incidents that have caused problems and how they can be avoided.

2. Maintain student care accountability. We had a soft rule that if a student damaged a computer, we would only re-issue a computer after any fine was paid. But it was our first year. Some damage was covered under warranty, and some was not. We were unsure what should result in a fine. In our zeal to get laptops back into the hands of the students, we were sometimes issuing fines after-the-fact. This resulted in a backlog of fines that we had to collect the following fall before re-issuing the laptops for another school year.

To do a better job, this year we intend to provide students with a loaner laptop for use only at school. When the fine is paid, the student may take the loaner home. If something later appears to be under warranty, we can always reimburse students for the fine.

3. The classroom arrangement changes. Teachers need to be more mobile. With laptops in the classroom, the guide on the side is more important than the sage on the stage. Teachers need to move around the classrooms to monitor what students are doing on their laptops. This means the teacher cannot just stand in front of the blackboard, and the arrangement of the desks may need to change to accommodate the movement.

4. Watch the power cords. Kids were terrific in caring for their laptops, but they were more cavalier when it came to caring for the power cords of the laptops. They are used to power cords and sometimes just grab the wire to pull the plug from its socket. Laptop power cords are not necessarily as durable as the cord for a lamp, and they are significantly more expensive. We continue to emphasize this to our students.

5. Teachers need not do technology every day. Some teachers, in their eagerness to be the most tech-savvy they can be, tried to make every lesson a laptop lesson. Simply put, not all lessons lend themselves to technology. Did you ever have a teacher who could absolutely captivate you with his/her story telling, and wouldn’t you like your kids to hear those same stories? Some of the best teaching can still be traditional teaching, and teachers should not overload themselves with their own high technology expectations for themselves.

6. Remove the clings. Our students were fantastic about caring for the appearance of their laptops and not using stickers, tape, or other adhesives on the laptop covers. Many took pride in their machines and purchased non-adhesive stickers (clings) to decorate their laptops. At the end of the year, we told students they could leave their stickers in place because they would each be re-issued the exact same machine in the fall. However, over the summer, some machines needed warranty work, and some pricey stickers were lost. This piqued some parents and kids. So at the end of the year, remove the clings.

7. Let the students lead. Many conscientious teachers feel they need to be the experts in the classroom. However, with this young tech generation going through the schools, teachers may never know the computers as well as the students. Teachers need to sometimes have the courage to say to the students, “Show me how this works.”

8. Watch the web usage. Although we had rules against students playing on-line games and watching silly kitten videos irrelevant to class, we were in no position to be the web police and constantly monitor what students were doing with their laptops during free time. This crimped our band width, and we had to work to make our access its most efficient. We did appeal to the kids to try to avoid during the day the videos that really gobbled up our band width.

9. Create tiers of access. Not all students are as responsible as others. In some cases, a student may violate a rule. In other cases, a parent may indicate that the student is distracted at home and unable to do school work. We created several tiers of access for the students. Our most responsible students have the fewest restrictions on their computers. It is a rewards system.

10. Emphasize professional development for teachers. We knew from what we researched up front that our whole one-to-one initiative hinged on professional development for teachers. We invested heavily in it, but we learned that the need does not really diminish over time. Ideas change. Web sites are added. Software changes. We learn. And we need to keep teaching our teachers how to get better.

O.K. Actually there are eleven lessons. The 11th we only learned after school got started this second year.

11. The new kids need to catch up. When we planned for our second year of one-to-one laptop instruction, we proceeded from the false assumption that kids are already tech-savvy and can catch on quickly. We created a boot camp for our new teachers. We learned we need a boot camp for the kids new to our school as well to help them get up to speed with the expectations of instructors.


  1. These are great lessons learned and valuable to share with other districts that are implementing similar 1-to-1 computing initiatives. The only item listed that I would clarify is #5. The segment that states "Some of the best teaching can still be traditional teaching, and teachers...." is spot on. I would just clarify that "traditional teaching" should be described as "engaging student-centered traditional teaching methods." My experience with inservice teachers has been that "traditional teaching" often refers to teacher-centered outdated instructional methods that are ineffective today. This is just a thought. Thanks for sharing this list.

  2. Great post! I'm interested also in what you had to do with infrastructure, such as a controller on bandwidth, wireless access points, etc. If you haven't purchased it already, I think you would be interested in Pam Livingston's "1-to-1 Learning." Have a great start to the school year!

  3. As a part of the professional development at our school getting ready for 1-to-1....this is really helpful thanks.