Educators who promote the use of technology to improve learning almost always have visions of students engaged in exciting projects and solving challenging problems by collaborating and researching via the Internet. We in the Fort Smith (Arkansas) Public Schools have definitely had such visions in mind over the last six years as we have continued to expand our 1:1 Netbook Initiative. In our excitement of putting new laptops in the hands of each child, however, we have realized that there are critical issues involved in making 1:1 initiatives successful.
Selection of hardware is surely a critical issue, but sometimes this is the easiest decision to make because budgets, bandwidth, and battery power limit and control our choices. We have found the ASUS Eee PC best meets our needs and resources.
Since limited funds have not allowed us to make our 1:1 initiative a district-wide program, a more complicated issue has been the selection of teachers, grades and schools to participate. We began our 1:1 effort with the introduction of Palm handheld computers in selected elementary schools. In our first year, we selected one elementary school for our maiden voyage. We based our choice mainly on the number of faculty members who viewed technology as a learning aid and not an obstacle.
The following year we received a grant to continue our handheld initiative and tried having vertical teams in schools apply to participate. We created an application process and selected teams based on the strength of their applications. We were not totally satisfied with this method of selection.
In the third and final year in our handheld program, we expanded to individual teachers based on the strength of their individual applications. We scored applications with a rubric that included points for the number of technology workshops the applicant had attended and a description of the applicant’s favorite tech tools and how each was used. Also, the applicant’s principal was required to rate the applicant on scales related to innovation, self-motivation, problem-solving, collaboration, and “doer.”
After the third year of our handheld computer program, we shifted to netbooks for the expansion of our 1:1 initiative. We have continued to select teacher participants based on individual applications. We find this method results in the best use of our funds.
Perhaps the most critical issue with our 1:1 initiative has been the required professional development we provide. Our teachers agree to five days of training and monthly participation in district-led webinars during their first year in the program. Those aspects of our training have remained the same; however, the method and content of our 1:1 professional development continue to evolve with each group. Four days of the training focus on pedagogy and one day on technical troubleshooting, accessioning and imaging their laptops.
As stated earlier, our goal for our 1:1 classrooms was to transform worksheet and end-of-the-chapter-question classrooms to project-based learning environments. Since our first group of netbook teachers were all high-risk takers, everything we promoted in our trainings was understood and adapted by the participants. As we have moved beyond high-risk takers to more minimal-risk takers, we have adjusted our trainings.
We now design our professional development to reflect the levels described by Bernajean Porter in Grappling’s Technology and Learning Spectrum. We introduce a tool and have the participants use the tool as if they were a student. They learn how to use the tool and then create a simple activity for their classroom using the particular tool. The number of tools used is determined by the speed our teachers learn to use and adapt the tool. We are now working on more advanced professional development for our 1:1 netbook teachers that will focus on the Transforming Uses described by Porter.
Technical support has been a critical issue. As we have moved to netbooks, our 1:1 program has almost doubled the number of computers in the district. For our program to work, teachers are required to do almost all troubleshooting themselves. We use training time to teach teachers appropriate techniques for solving technical issues. Technology specialists are the next level of support. Only when these procedures have not resulted in a resolution to the problem are the technicians in the Technology Department contacted.
Informing the community
As in all effective educational initiatives, the public must understand why and how a new program is implemented. We have met that challenge by providing a Learning and Technology Showcase each year. Each teacher in our program selects a project for one to four students to display in a fashion similar to a science fair. The Showcase is held on the campus of the University of Arkansas Fort Smith and for many who visit the Showcase, this is the first time they see K-12 students use a computer for something other than for games and texting.
As is indicated in our showcase title, learning is the true focus of our 1:1 initiative. We promote learning over the use of technology for the sake of technology. We stress that how technology is used is more important than if technology is used. Our program continues to grow and evolve as we continue to address all of the critical issues involved in such an initiative.
For copies of our application, scoring rubric, showcase forms, or training agenda write George Lieux.