Schools look to peers for 1:1 guidance

Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Ron Farrow, instructional technologist at Cape Central High School, gives technology training to teachers, Friday, June 28, 2013, inside the high school library. Part of the training included the use of Moodle, Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment. (Laura Simon)

Thousands of schools across the country have begun to with introduce students to technology on a more personal level. Dubbed the "1:1" initiative, each student is provided with some type of digital device, ranging from laptop computers to iPads to various types of tablet PCs.

Are the cost and upkeep, the time and effort put into weaving the technology into the classroom worth it?

Many school districts seem to think so. Information is available for schools considering some type of student device initiative: "How we successfully implemented student device technology" presentations from schools pleased with the outcome, results on student performance in the classroom before and after having the devices in hand and device training and seminars presented by companies producing the devices.

Some research questions whether there is much academic benefit to having devices in every student's hands.

It's a learning curve; districts look to schools already using 1:1 and learn what seems to work and what would be a mistake.

The Cape Girardeau School District looked to the Ste. Genevieve, Mo., and Joplin, Mo., districts, along with several others, for lessons, such as making sure the students like the devices, finding a device the right size to facilitate how the district plans to use it and seeing that the district invests in a sufficient backup supply.

The Cape Girardeau School District will distribute 1,200 devices to high school students in January. The device will be selected this fall. About $270,000 is appropriated in the 2013-2014 budget for the devices as an estimate for the first installment of a four-year program. The district has not yet decided whether to lease or buy the devices.

Ron Farrow, the district's new technology instruction specialist, said he thinks Cape Girardeau has done its homework. He visited Joplin to see how its 1:1 program worked. The initiative was implemented after the May 2011 tornado, when the district was getting back on its feet.

"They had all of these devices, but they didn't take into account the amount of devices that would be damaged or lost, and that was a huge financial hit," he said. "Learning from other districts' mistakes is huge, and I think that's going to help us. We're focusing on instruction, which is not new, but you never know what kinds of things can take place, so I think that we've done a lot of research to meet those things headfirst."

Dimensions important

Technology experts say the size and type of device a district chooses should be dictated by how the schools intend to use it. Cape Girardeau plans on administering end-of-course exams on the devices this coming year, something Ste. Genevieve did last year. Nancy Toombs, the technology coordinator at Ste. Genevieve, said the 9-inch screens on the current Acer Netbooks aren't quite large enough for state testing. The small laptop computers proved to be difficult for some of the bigger students to use. Teachers heard complaints of cramps because of the small keyboards. The school will invest in larger screens on the next batch of netbooks this coming year.

Cape Girardeau began an Action Research Committee last year to look at all facets of bringing 1:1 to the schools. Made up of teachers, administrators, board members, technology staff and community members, the group began a forum on the online course management system Moodle to share ideas, various studies and presentations.

Paul Nenninger, former school board member, was on the research subcommittee.

"Our job was to ask, 'What is it? What does it do? Is there success in the rest of the educational world in the U.S.? And is that a successful model that we can adopt and use for the Cape school district?'"

The committee discussed schools with thriving 1:1 programs and those that couldn't quite pull it off. They addressed the hurdles to making 1:1 a reality here and explored possible funding options and timetables.

"From what I read, I was confident that we were doing the right thing by looking first, doing a lot of reading and having discussion back and forth," he said. "There was a lot of sounding out, learning what it was about, what it's supposed to do, the problems people had run into. It was a pretty extensive look at schools that tried it. Some failures, a lot of successes."

Jury still out?

Successful districts such as the Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina would say the 1:1 program is worth the effort and trepidation. Districts with some 1:1 experience such as the Ste. Genevieve School District have teachers who say there's more student engagement in the classroom with 1:1. But some argue there isn't much empirical data on the extent of how the 1:1 technology affects student performance.

"One-to-One Laptop Programs Are No Silver Bullet," an article published by Educational Leadership, echoed what many studies find on 1:1 correlation with student performance: empirical evidence indicated mixed or no results, citing evaluations done on students in Maine and Texas. But the article mentioned research still shows students' technology skills improved, they become more engaged in the classroom and the programs are cost efficient because of spending less on paper copies and textbooks.

One school that has seen improvement in several areas is Mooresville, N.C., a school that has been referenced time and again when a district researches 1:1 programs. Cape Girardeau's committee studied its process; the Poplar Bluff, Mo., School District went so far as to partner with Mooresville.

Poplar Bluff Junior High School began its pilot program in August in conjunction with Mooresville with curriculum planning and technology. Poplar Bluff administrators have taken three trips to Mooresville, two during the year and once during the district's annual summer institute.

"We followed their model of implementation, deployment, teaching strategies, almost everything," junior high principal Bob Case said.

Mooresville has been running 1:1 for more than five years. The program had its jump-start in December 2007, when it handed out about 500 MacBooks to its teachers. By August 2009, every student in fourth grade and higher, about 4,000 students, had a personal MacBook.

"Mooresville is kind of out in the news now," Scott Smith, chief technology officer for the Mooresville district, said. "We've had visitors from all over the country. People would come and see what was going on. It's like, 'We get it, how do we actually do it?'"

According to a presentation provided by Smith, the high school's overall composite for students testing proficient on the state EOC exams rose from 68 percent in 2006-2007 to 91 percent in 2011-2012, a 23 percent steady rise over the years. Awarded scholarship funds rose from $935,370 in 2006 to about $2.7 million in 2012. The district's graduation rate rose from 77 percent in 2006 to 90 percent in 2012.


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