The Impact of One-to-One

After nearly a decade of state- and district-wide implementations of one-to-one computing, researchers at North Carolina State University report on results from seven major initiatives.

Throughout the country, schools, districts and states are utilizing one-to-one computing initiatives as a vehicle for improving education. These initiatives involve placing a personal digital wireless device in the hands of every student and teacher in order to meet such goals as: equity of technology access, increased student engagement, improved student achievement, development of 21st century skills, and increased opportunities for students with special needs. In a recent white paper, Laptop Initiatives: Summary of Research Across Six States, North Carolina State University’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation takes a close look at how well such goals are being met.
The white paper examines six statewide 1:1 initiatives plus one comprehensive district-level initiative. The initiatives are:
  • Florida’s Leveraging Laptops: The purpose of the Florida program was to develop “effective models for enhancing student achievement through the integration of the laptop computer as a tool for teaching and learning.” During the 2006-7 school year Leveraging Laptops served 47 K-12 schools (15 elementary, 13 middle, and 11 high) in 11 districts and reached 440 teachers and about 20,000 students. The program continued in 2008-9 with 73 K-12 schools and a focus on integrating innovative learning tools and project-based learning activities.
  • Maine’s Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI): MLTI, which launched in 2002, provides computers to all seventh and eighth grade students in the state. The program expanded in 2009 to include high schools, although the hardware for the high school students is funded by the schools, not the state. As of January 2010, MLTI served 100% of the public middle schools in the state, 55% of the public high schools and one private high school.
  • Michigan’s Freedom to Learn (FTL): FTL was started in 195 Michigan schools in the school year 2005-6. The goal of the program was to improve student learning and awareness of 21st century skills. The initiative took place in elementary, middle, and high schools. A total of 30,000 laptops were distributed to students and teachers.
  • North Carolina’s 1:1 Learning Technology Initiative (NCLTI): NCLTI, which started in 2008, was the result of a collaboration between the NC State Board of Education, NC Department of public Instruction, and Golden LEAF Foundation, with support from the SAS Institute. It included eight Early College (EC) high schools and ten traditional high schools, with approximately 9,5000 students in total, and had the overall goal of using technology to improve teaching, student achievement, and prepare students for work, citizenship, and the 21st century.
  • Pennsylvania’s Classrooms for the Future (CFF): The CFF initiative was implemented during the 2006-7 school year. The purpose was to prepare the high schools of Pennsylvania for the 21st century and to improve teaching and learning. By the end of the 2009-10 school year, the initiative had impacted 12,000 teachers and 500,000 students.
  • Texas’s Immersion Pilot (TIP): TIP was initiated in 2003 by the Texas Legislature to “immerse schools in technology by providing tools, training and support for teachers to fully integrate technology into their classrooms.” 23 school districts participated. One major goal was to increase student achievement through technology immersion. As of 2008, the pilot had reached approximately 14,399 students and 755 teachers in 29 schools.
  • Henrico County Virginia’s Teaching and Learning Initiative: The only county-wide initiative included in the white paper, Henrico’s program is the largest of its kind in the nation. The program began in 2001 and had two main goals: to improve students’ 21st century skills and to reduce the digital divide. Since 2001 the district has distributed 24,000 laptops to students, grades 6 – 12, and 3,300 laptops to teachers and administrators.
Data for the white paper was drawn from the research that was conducted by each of the initiatives. The methods used varied quite a bit from one program to another. For example, Florida made extensive use of teacher observation tools to evaluate progress and the Texas TIP researchers analyzed the level of implementation at each participating school (from those that were making relatively little use of the technology to the high-implementation sites that could more accurately be described as one-to-one).
Overall, however, the authors of Laptop Initiatives: Summary of Research Across Six States found some interesting patterns and consistencies across the board. Below are some of the key findings from the report, grouped into three categories: student outcomes; changes to instructional practice; and planning and implementation.
Teachers and students generally agree that laptops increase student engagement. For example:
  • Michigan: Students reported that laptops made it easier to do school work and increased their interest in learning
  • Maine: Researchers found that students were more engaged and more actively involved in their own learning; this was especially true of students with special needs and those who were at-risk or low-achieving.
  • Florida: Observers found significant increases in attention and engagement. Teachers’ action research results documented an increase in conditions that support learning.
  • Texas: Teachers reported that immersion increased student engagement
  • North Carolina: Teachers felt that technology enhanced student engagement, but also could create a distraction during class.
Teachers and students in some states concur that laptops increase student motivation, but results are mixed.
  • Maine: Teachers reported that students, and especially students with disabilities, were more motivated to learn and more interested in school.
  • Michigan: Teachers reported that laptops increased student motivation.
  • Texas: Students in the lower-implementing middle schools (those that did 1:1 less completely) were glad that they would not have the laptops in high school.
  • Henrico County: Teachers at the end of the third year felt that the laptops had not made a difference in students’ desire to learn or their interest in classes.
Students and teachers in some of the states thought that the use of laptops had a positive impact on student achievement, although this was not always supported by the test scores.
  • Maine: Teachers believed that the laptops improved student achievement in general and especially for students with disabilities. Students at the demonstration schools scored significantly higher in science, math, and social studies than did students at the comparison schools.
  • Michigan: Teachers reported that laptops increased student learning
  • Florida: Teachers’ action research results documented changes in student achievement (as measured by test scores, higher-level thinking skills, retention, and transfer of learning).
  • Texas: Teachers and students in higher-implementing schools believed that immersion improved the quality of students’ products and narrowed the equity gap, while teachers and students in lower-implementing schools believed that the laptops (which were used only occasionally) had a minimal or negative effect on test scores.
21st Century Skills (including technology skills, innovation, communication and collaboration)
  • Michigan: Students reported that laptops improved their Internet research skills. These students demonstrated significantly greater Internet and presentation software ability than matched-control students. They also felt that they used higher-order thinking skills to solve problems and challenges
  • Florida: Students in the program developed their abilities as producers of digital content, showed signs of developing innovation and critical thinking skills, and developed other workforce skills as a result of the initiative. Researchers observed significant increases in cooperative and collaborative learning and significant decreases in independent seatwork.
  • Texas: Students in the higher-implementation schools thought that immersion improved their technology skills, and teachers believed that immersion narrowed the technology equity gap.
  • North Carolina: Students reported that they used their technology to analyze information, create new information and submit assignments.
  • Maine: Teachers reported that laptops helped Maine students with disabilities interact more with other students and with teachers.
Self-directed learning
Students not only were participating more in group work but also were engaging in self-directed learning.
  • Henrico: Teachers believed that the laptops enhanced the learning experiences of students with different learning styles.
  • Maine: Teachers believed that laptops increased opportunities for individualized learning.
  • Pennsylvania: Students were more likely to choose and complete projects based on their interests, and their teachers were more likely to allow them to choose whether they worked independently or in groups.
Technology use for Instruction and the Changes in Pedagogy that Result:
Teachers in the initiatives used the technology in a number of ways and reported a positive impact on classroom instruction, and teacher readiness to integrate technology
  • Maine: Teachers used their laptops to plan instruction, create integrated lessons, present lessons, and create student assignments. The students used technology to complete assignments, create projects, and communicate with teachers and peers. Benefits perceived by teachers included increase in their own technology skills and classroom management benefits as a result of allowing tech-savvy students to help with technology support.
  • North Carolina: Students increasingly used their laptops to present information.
  • Texas: In higher implementing schools teachers and students used their laptops for increasingly more sophisticated tasks.
  • Michigan: Teachers were confident that they could integrate technology with their curriculum.
Teacher and student roles
Researchers noticed that the roles of teacher and students shift during the implementation of a 1:1 program.
  • Michigan: Teachers noticed that, with the laptops, their classroom practice increased student-centered activities.
  • Maine: Teachers and students noticed that with laptops in the classroom, students became teachers and teachers became learners.
It is generally acknowledged that effective leadership is crucial to the success of a 1:1 program.
  • Texas: In the higher-implementing schools the administrators were supportive of the program from the start and became more supportive over time, while in the lower-implementing schools support was marginal at first and became weaker as time went on.
  • Henrico: Administrators used their laptops for management and communication just as the teachers and students were doing.
  • North Carolina: Evaluators recommended that administrators could be supportive by facilitating professional development, setting reasonable 1:1 goals, modeling technology use, and communicating the vision of the program.
Professional development
Professional development is another important factor for the success of a 1:1 program.
  • Texas: The researchers found that, “Higher-implementing schools developed and maintained close relationships with professional development providers. These schools also gave professional development high priority by building in training days, basic training on teachers’ evolving needs, and holding teaches accountable for implementing what they had learned.”
  • Maine: Some teachers cited lack of time and insufficient opportunities for professional development as obstacles to the integration of laptops with the curriculum.
  • Pennsylvania: Teachers felt that the necessity of ongoing professional development got in the way of the program getting established.
  • North Carolina: Teachers agreed with the need for additional professional development and also wanted more opportunities to collaborate and share ideas with fellow teachers.
Robust infrastructure – including the opportunity to access the Internet is also important to one-to-one success.
  • Texas: Higher-implementing schools had good infrastructure before the 1:1 program. Lower-implementing schools had less than optimal infrastructure, which presented challenges for technicians.
  • North Carolina: One of the problems that teachers encountered was insufficient Internet access. They also relied heavily on technicians to assist them with smoothly integrating the technology.
  • Maine: Teachers identified lack of technical support as one of their main problems.
In general, the process of bringing 1:1 initiatives into the seven states and 1 county led to positive responses, ranging from improved student achievement to shifts in the way in which classrooms are run. Eight recommendations grew out of the 1:1 initiative research:
  • Develop a thorough implementation plan and train teachers before distributing digital devices;
  • Ascertain that the school or district has the appropriate technology and leadership infrastructure to run the program;
  • Secure strong buy-in from all stakeholders, including district and school leadership, teachers, students, parents, and the community;
  • Construct a leadership team with an eye toward members who will commit long-term to the initiative and support it;
  • Provide continuous professional development that is aligned with teacher needs;
  • Ensure continuous availability of efficient technical and instructional support personnel;
  • Enact polices for the appropriate use of digital devices and resources; and
  • Use data from project evaluations to inform and improve future program decisions.