Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Before Becoming a 1-to-1 School: Five Preliminary Steps

The rapidly growing number of 1-to-1 laptop schools calls to question what a laptop learning school is. Very simple mathematics suggests that a school merely needs to purchase enough laptop computers--one for every student--and Presto! suddenly it becomes a 1-to-1 school.

But can a school spend all that money on technology and still miss the mark? I believe it can, and some do. There is a difference between laptop learning schools and schools with laptops. Before your school invests in the hardware to become a 1-to-1 school, take some steps up front.

1. It Starts with the Realization of the Need for Change. Examine the 21st Century skills. Think about the future our students will enter. Discuss what a classroom should look like now. If your system does not recognize a need to change instruction, adding technology is rather pointless. But change begins with having some fierce conversations about the need for change and the school's vision for the future of education.

2. It Takes Vision. The expression a computer is just a tool is overused to the point of becoming a cliche. Unless a school knows how it wants to use the tools, its evolution will be hampered. Schools that are using the laptops most successfully are trying to create student-centered classrooms. They want teachers to take an assisting role as students learn to teach themselves and each other. The vision may be for research using online resources and digital text books. This may call for 1-to-1 tablets. Or the vision could require more powerful technology tools to facilitate project-based learning and knowledge creation.

3. Hit the Road. One of the reasons many technology plans are never realized is that people don't know what they don't know. By the time they understand it, there is something new. The faculty need to get out of the building and see how other schools are using technology to accelerate learning. They need to attend conferences, seminars, and sales demonstrations. After broad exposure to a number of ideas and systems, staff can return to help forge a new direction for their own school.

4. Share the Decision.  A major acquisition of technology should result in a sea change in the pedagogy of the school. Therefore, this decision cannot be made by the administration and school board alone. The teachers who will be implementing this system need to be deeply involved in the decision. The discussion should include the support staff as well. The school needs to unite behind such a significant shift in methodology. This can only be accomplished if there is participation and support from the rank and file.

5. Include the Community.  Ultimately, it is your community that is paying the bill. They are your customers, and a school always need to be responsive to its public. Begin the dialogue in your PTO and advisory groups. Have the conversation with the people at the coffee shop. Involve your business leaders. Your local businesses may be your strongest proponents because they see how technology is changing their workplace (maybe faster than it is changing schools), and they need a technologically literate workforce.

So does this mean we should wait and take our time? Certainly not. With the speed at which our world is changing, we do not have time to wait. But I will address this in a post yet to come.

What other steps are necessary? Please feel free to offer your additional suggestions in the comments below.


  1. Great job, Dan! In 2006 and then in 2009 Pam Livingston (@plivings) published 1-to-1 Learning, the most thoughtful book on 1:1 thus far (in my judgement). It's comprehensive, from planning the process to classroom management strategies and school AUPs, she did a wonderful job covering all major areas of a 1:1 initiative.
    You thoughts on the community, however, are exceedingly insightful, in a sense a lesson learned. Your comments about the pacing of the implementation are also very thought provoking: Do move at the pace of staff development or do we take a ready, fire, aim approach to understand where to supplement with development after implementation?
    I look forward to your subsequent posts!

    1. Thank you, Brad. I value your feedback based upon all your experience. You are right. We need to be planful, but we must have the courage to implement with all due haste and be prepared to correct course along the voyage.

    2. You may find some useful articles on districtwide 1:1 laptop initiatives in the February '12 issue of School Administrator magazine. Web edition is at; print edition ought to reach subscribers any day now. ... jay p. goldman, editor,

    3. I will look forward to the articles, Jay. As always, I really enjoy your publication.

  2. One of the best things my school did prior to full 1:1 implementation was to rotate a class sets of carts from class to class.

    One classroom of teachers had full reign of the MacBook carts for one month (no sharing with other teachers or other classrooms). One-month full access made teachers think about how their teaching would be different in a 1:1 environment. Teachers utilized the computers more and more throughout their month. And, they grieved the loss of the computers when they left the room (the students grieved the loss too!).

    The more computer-savvy teachers had the carts in the early months of the year. They then shared ideas with other teachers as the carts changed hands.

    We're in our second year of 1:1. My teaching has been greatly enhanced by the 1:1 environment. Here are some examples:
    Keeping students engaged:
    Student news videos:
    Bookcasts (Podcasts):

    The other piece of advice is to have teachers focus on quality of student work and let students teach other students the fancy tech procedures. If one class of students can learn to do something, that class can teach another class (my teaching partner and I do this often). Our kiddos will sit next to students in another class to teach them how to make a google site, a podcast, or whatever. Students are not allowed to touch the other students' computers. Hence, the "teacher" students must use words to communicate. They can also set their computers beside the "learner" computer and model procedures.

    If students teach students, the classroom teacher is freed up to formatively assess the extent to which the tech project demonstrates curricular learning.

    Janet |

    1. This is excellent information, Janet. I hope others and learning from your ideas. Keep up the great leadership!

  3. Great post Dan, and as always, great comments from Janet. I'd be interested in hearing more from you both, I work with schools to coordinate 1:1 roundtables for a day of PD and networking centered entirely on 1:1 that include plenty of time for discussion, Q & A and often classroom & school tours. They're free for schools to host and free for educators, IT and curriculum admins to attend. Hope to hear from both of you soon,

    Abbey | @DyKnow |

    1. I will keep your contact information saved in a special place. I think I will have just the need for the talents you have to offer. Thank you for this information.