1-1 computer initiatives are starting to become commonplace across the country and I fully expect that they will continue to grow in popularity. In fact, I believe 1-1 programs will the norm in the relatively near future. What’s not normal is the significance of the investment and the implications for teaching and learning that a 1-1 environment creates. For those two reasons, 1-1 programs deserve lots of attention in order to be successful. In no particular order, here are seven tips to help roll out a successful 1-1 program.
Clearly articulate the reasons for going 1-1: Prior to going 1-1 in our district, we formed a task force and identified several reasons why we thought going 1-1 would benefit our students. These reasons included productivity & organization, availability of online resources, spontaneity, college & career readiness, student-centered learning, authentic learning, personalized learning, and staff/student readiness. These reasons were promoted right from the beginning, at faculty meetings, school committee meetings, and parent orientation presentations. When reporting back on the progress of your program, be sure to reference these reasons and provide specific examples to add credibility.
Ensure buy-in from staff: This should go without saying but if you don’t have a critical mass of teachers advocating for a 1-1 program, you’ll run into issues right out of the gate. Some ways to build capacity include front loading your PD, involving staff in planning, regular communication, celebrating risk-taking, and modeling effective use of technology.
Have a communication plan: Transparency and regular communication are key to a successful 1-1 program. In addition to involving staff, don’t forget about your other constituent groups including the school board, parents, students, and the broader community. Chances are some groups must be brought into the conversation out of necessity, such as the school board if they are responsible for funding your 1-1 initiative. But don’t stop there. Consider issuing a press-release to the community and use social media as well as other communication channels to make sure everyone is aware of the initiative. If you are not proactive with your message, you run the risk of dealing with push-back after the fact. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Involve stake-holders: Our school accomplished this by forming a task force consisting of teachers, administrators, school board members, and parents. We established a vision for our work and a set of guiding questions to focus our efforts. Furthermore, each member of the task force had opportunities to reach out to members of their broader base. For example, we held lunch time focus groups with teachers in each department at the high school to solicit input specific to their needs. We also held focus groups with students. While this last step may seem obvious, I’m always perplexed by how many major initiatives that directly impact students happen without their input.
Have a plan for ongoing PD/Support: There are lots of ways to support teachers after the launch of a 1-1 program. In our district, we were fortunate to hire two part-time Instructional Technology Coaches (ITC’s) to provide just-in-time, embedded PD. Research shows that this can be one of the most effective models for professional development. Our ITC’s are also classroom teachers, one in science and another in English, and their continued work in the classroom adds to their credibility as a coach. As an added bonus, they also happen to be fantastic teachers and even better people! Of course, this is an expensive option but other approaches can work as well. Consider identifying teachers in various content areas and paying them a stipend to serve as technology ambassadors, look for opportunities to celebrate and showcase exemplary teaching practices, and provide traditional PD workshops as needed to build capacity.
Pay attention to the infrastructure: I’ve experienced some pretty dark times when the ‘network’ was acting more like a ‘notwork’. Trust me, nothing can railroad a 1-1 initiative more than an unreliable network. During one stretch where we were experiencing wireless connectivity issues, I remember one teacher asking me if this was the ‘new normal’. Simply put, the lack of a reliable network forces teachers to abandon technology-infused teaching in favor of low-tech options. That being said, even the best network will occasionally suffer some type of latency or outage. And, some issues are completely out of your control. For example, a specific website might be down or internet service to the school might be at fault, not the network itself. The infrastructure represents more than switches and wires too. Invest in human capital, in the form of tech support personnel, to serve the needs of individual staff members in a timely manner.
DO sweat the details: Our task force split up into a number of sub-committees, including one called the ‘nuts and bolts’ subcommittee. This group focused in the little things, those items that may seem insignificant but, collectively, show that a lot of careful planning went into the process. Trust me, it won’t go unnoticed. We looked at everything including printing, charging stations, insurance, help desk support, protective cases, wifi for those that don’t have it at home, filtering at home, a distribution plan, a parent/student orientation program, etc… One of my favorite things that we did was invest in a bunch of high top tables and chairs to be put in some of our common areas such as the main lobby and the library. We wanted to create a certain type of atmosphere, a collegiate environment so to speak, and these were a huge hit.
While this is not an exhaustive list, I think this post helps to highlight some of the important considerations when launching a 1-1 program. Looking back, we made some mistakes and learned a few lessons along the way. Overall, careful planning minimized issues and we are quite pleased with the progress we’ve made, most notably with a shift in the way learning happens at our school.