Critical Issues for 1:1 Programs

Posted by George Lieux on March 21, 2011

Looking to move to 1:1?  Learn from the experience of this Arkansas district.

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.

Choosing teachers

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.

Professional development

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

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.


Time to End the Tech Plan?

Posted by Bob Blackney on September 27, 2010

Oh dread. It is time again to rewrite our district technology plan. Contemplating this Sisyphean task got me thinking about where the requirement for a technology use plan came from and how can we improve it?

I did an Internet search for school technology plans to see what I could find. The oldest plan that I could find is a technology plan from September 1982 from a district in Salt Lake City. Interestingly, it was a 12-year plan for the small school district that totaled 412 words. Juxtapose that with the nearly 300 pages of our district’s last technology plan! It makes me wonder if all the energy we’ll spend rewriting it will pay off.

Sure, thirty years ago when the first computers started appearing on the steps of the schoolhouse, we desperately needed a plan for what to do with them. That was a good idea!

Fast-forward to 2010 and technology is so integrated into everything we do that it is nearly impossible to find an activity that has not been impacted by it. Instead of “How do we use this?” I’m far more likely to hear, “Why can’t I get this online?”

We are awash in a digital tidal wave. Like the music and printing industries, education is quickly moving to being completely digital. Instead of planning how to use technology, we are more likely to look for an electronic solution as our first alternative.

At this point, it makes little sense to write a detailed, three-year technology plan that is separate from every other planning document that a school district writes. What we need is a brief description that easily communicates the district’s direction to the stakeholders. Leave out the massive details that change before the plan can even get through the approval process. Forget the budget section that attempts to project expenses five years out when the Legislature hasn’t even passed a budget for this year! We need a simple plan that is integrated with other district planning documents and is revisited often—not once every three years.


Publishers Get It With Online Resources—Why Don’t Educators?

Posted by Jack Jarvis on April 30, 2010

As we move into this new decade, more and more teachers are beginning to utilize technology as a central instructional tool. That’s a good thing.  But to make sure effective technology use becomes standard practice, there is much to do.

A good start would be to provide training for teachers in how to access core curriculum resources such as online teacher’s editions, student texts, and supporting activities.  At the same time, students should be trained in how to access and use adopted online materials.  Students need a chance to take more control of their own learning.

Let me offer an example.  My district uses a math program with extensive online resources that include interactive videos and animation capabilities. Teachers can create activities that use these tools and assign them to students for homework or site computer labs.  Yet well into the second year of this adoption, we’ve yet to provide our teachers with any specific training on how to use these valuable tools.

That is a tragedy.  Given the fact students are online all the time, we are missing a great opportunity.  If we provided  access and some guidance, I believe students would take timeout from Facebook and Twitter to complete online homework assignments. The fact that publishers such as Pearson, Holt, and Harcourt have invested to provide these resources shows that they get where kids are these days.  I hope all of us who work in schools will soon do the same.


Education and the National Broadband Plan

Posted by Michael Simkins on October 5, 2009

fiberOptics by Matt Tanguay-Carel.  Used with permission.
fiberOptics by Matt Tanguay-Carel. Used with permission.

Most of us are aware that work is underway at the Department of Education on a new National Educational Technology Plan, but you may not know that education figures prominently in another federal technology initiative, the National Broadband Plan being developing at the Federal Communications Commission.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act directs the FCC to develop a plan that ensures every American citizen and every American business has access to robust broadband services.  The plan must include discrete strategies for how to use broadband to advance a wide range of national purposes from consumer welfare to health care delivery; education is among these.

To help collect ideas on what should go into the education component of the broadband plan, an IdeaScale portal is in place.   Here is a selection of some of the more interesting ideas contributed so far.

  • We’re asking the wrong question; it should be, “What kinds of research and development are needed to make emerging technology applications effective for learning?”
  • Collaboration, Internet research, and the organization and facilitation of the learning environment are the jobs of the modern educator; all of these technologies require broadband.
  • A blended model is best; use the technology and application that fits the current learning task.
  • In today’s challenging economic environment, the dramatically lower cost of broadband delivery makes the case for an online learning portal especially compelling.
  • Broadband can do more than just educate, it can inspire and open minds.

Have your own ideas about how broadband can make education better and/or cheaper?  Want to see what others have said and add your comments?  Like voting ideas up or down?  Visit US Educational Broadband Planning.