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2004 Lessons Learned About Providing Laptops for All Students

Date: 2004
Author: Alejandra Bonifaz and Andrew Zucker
Affiliation: A product of the Northeast and the Islands Regional Technology in Education Consortium (NEIRTEC)
Keywords: Leadership, Professional Development, Planning, Infrastructure, Parents, Business Partnerships, University Partnerships


Although one-to-one programs vary from one another, they have each demonstrated that a comprehensive, systemic approach is needed if the initiative is to achieve the desired goals. No one component is sufficient for a successful initiative. "If it's not going well," says Bette Manchester, "it's usually about the leadership. There needs to be a leadership team that looks at things through three different lenses: the lens of curriculum and content; the lens of the culture of the building; and the lens of technical needs."

As a way of helping states and districts interested in laptop initiatives, NEIRTEC has reviewed lessons learned to date from many laptop initiatives around the country.

Key Findings:

1. Build a strong leadership team at all levels.

Strong leadership is needed at all levels, from the classroom and the school to the district and the state. For example, Indiana's experience shows that strong and visionary leadership that encourages collaboration and risk-taking is needed from teachers, as well as from administrators. According to preliminary results of an evaluation, "the ongoing success of one-to-one in Indiana is dependent upon the support and involvement of building-level leaders."

2. Meet on a regular basis.

In Maine, school leadership teams (including the principal, a teacher leader, the technology coordinator, and the librarian) meet on a regular basis to assure that all aspects of the laptop program are moving at a similar pace, including the technical infrastructure, professional development, software needs, etc.

3. Think about funding for the long term.

Ongoing training and technical support are costly and require a long term commitment from the operating budget. Most of the initiatives reviewed for this document faced unexpected costs due to technical difficulties (such as inadequate network bandwidth), and personnel often requiring more training than was planned. Successful programs use multiple sources of funding, including appropriate state and federal programs.

4. Develop solid partnerships both inside and outside the school system.

Take into account stakeholders' level of interest in the one-to-one initiative and demonstrate success early: Stakeholders' initial perceptions of technology influence their predisposition to carry out an initiative like one-to-one computing, and they can either facilitate or hinder the implementation process.

5. Plan logistical details carefully.

Help protect the computers: Once laptops arrive, they need to be stored in a secure place that is accessible on a daily basis, especially in case students are not allowed or choose not to take their laptops home. To transport the computers safely, a well-cushioned carrying case will help prevent damage. Similarly, to reduce students' intentional or unintentional misuse of laptops, it is important to develop and establish a code of conduct that specifies the rights and responsibilities of students with regard to the care and use of laptops.

6. Provide training and professional development for teachers and administrators mainly on curriculum integration, not only on technical skills.

Effective training builds upon existing knowledge. Knowing at an early stage the different technical proficiencies that teachers and administrators have can help you develop a professional development plan that is sustained, rigorous, and effective in addressing their needs. Teachers value both formal professional development events, such as workshops during the school year or summer, and informal opportunities to learn from their colleagues. Team meetings, department meetings, and other ongoing events can become occasions to discuss technology integration.

7. Train parents on basic technical skills and inform them about the code of conduct and rules involved.

From the outset, Maine has expected parents to attend a 90-minute training before the laptops are allowed to go home. Similarly, in Henrico County, parents of every middle school student are now required to attend a 90-minute training session before picking up the laptops. These sessions provide technical information about the machines as well as an explanation of the code of conduct established for the use and care of laptops.

8. Make technology support available onsite as well as offsite.

Teachers across programs often mention the lack of sufficient onsite technical support. "If teachers new to computers cannot get the help they need when problems arise in the middle of a lesson, they will become soured to future technology use." Create a "student-run" help desk: Henrico was a pioneer in establishing a help desk composed of tech savvy students who, under the supervision of a faculty member, provide help to students and teachers who encounter technical problems during the school day.

9. Allow sufficient time for change and make it gradual.

10. Make monitoring ongoing.

11. Conduct research or evaluation studies.

Source Article: http://www.neirtec.org/laptop/LaptopLessonsRprt.pdf