One-to-One in Michigan
10/15/2006 By: Tom McHale
The first in a series of articles examining one-to-one programs across the nation.
The Freedom to Learn program is a statewide initiative coordinated by the Michigan Department of Education and Ferris State University in Big Rapids. Now beginning its third year, the program targets underperforming middle schools in 100 of the state's 500 districts. More than 23,000 students and 1,500 teachers have been issued HP nx9010 notebook computers with wireless capabilities, and new instructional models center on inquiry and project-based learning.
Demonstrating a strong commitment to a one-to-one environment, Michigan dedicated $7.5 million to the start-up program, with both state and federal funds financing the implementation phase to deliver the $1,040 HP package to individual teachers and students.
Funding, however, remains an ongoing challenge because the program does not provide for the infrastructure, upgrades, and additional costs needed to maintain it beyond the four-year HP training and support commitment. According to a Metiri Group study, "One-to-One in Michigan: A State Profile," the funding model was based on the Henrico County, Virginia initiative, which sought to sustain a laptop program for every teacher and student without seeking new money after initial implementation. In Henrico, reallocation is key, with the county redirecting 4 percent of its operations and maintenance budget to keep the program afloat.
In Michigan, sustained funding is left up to individual school districts. According to Leslie Wilson, director of professional and curriculum development for FTL, districts must rethink current models, trust the vision, and make changes to meet it. FTL has used the CoSN-Gartner TCO Tool to help schools and districts determine the total cost of ownership needed to deploy and maintain the program. According to "Measuring the Value of One-to-One Computing," a case study by FTL consultants Wilson and Eric L. Peterson, three districts using the CoSN-Gartner Tool reclaimed significant monies by sharing facility laboratories, eliminating the use of classroom inkjet printers, enlisting financial support from parents, and purchasing refurbished computers, servers, and printers at reduced costs. Currently, FTL is in the process of creating its own TCO tool for school leaders and is offering professional development workshops about grant writing and alternative funding sources to administrators.
Michigan recognized that an extensive ongoing professional development model for administrators, teachers, and technology staff was central to a successful one-to-one implementation. FTL developed its own professional development model in collaboration with the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) and others. At the heart of Michigan's training program is a mentoring model that involves training teams of lead teachers who then coach others in their building plus monitor the needs and effectiveness of the program. The program goals are to allow all participants to become knowledgeable, skilled, and comfortable with their new roles within the changing school environment.
For administrators that means facilitating reform, communicating their vision to all school constituents and using resources, funding, and grants. Wilson sees this as crucial to a program's success. "That administrator needs to model and believe in the vision and be able to create that shared vision with staff," she says. FTL's professional development program offers leadership workshops such as its hybrid of McREL's Balanced Leadership and the Gates Foundation's LEADing the Future.
When every student is hooked up with a personal Internet-enabled computing device, the focus for teachers becomes integration and facilitation. After receiving their laptops, all participants attend a mandatory full-day orientation through HP that familiarizes them with the machine, software, and additional resources. Michigan chose a package that makes ongoing assessment and communication possible. It uses Microsoft's Class Server as the framework and includes Scantron's Assessment Connection, which allows teachers to build customized tests and quizzes from a regularly updated scientific bank of items aligned to Michigan's standards for grade level content. Also included is ETS's Discourse, a remote desktop management tool.
To aid in incorporating all of these new tools, the ATA Technology Academy (an SBC-funded homegrown training initiative) and FTL created a hybrid set of workshops that focuses on curriculum integration beyond traditional word processing, Internet research, and presentation development. Included is NTeQ: iNtegrating Technology for Inquiry, an inquiry and project-based learning program developed by Professor Gary Morrison of Old Dominion University and Deborah Lowther of the Appalachian Technology in Education Consortium.
Additional professional development resources include online courses and tutorials via Connected University, ongoing workshops on integrating program components (see the sidebar, "Michigan Toolbox"), and a 40-hour workshop for teachers on technology integration through Intel's Teach to the Future program. Administrators are also offered a 24-hour help desk, MACUL resources, and are encouraged to join learning communities to share best practices and problem-solving approaches.
How It's Working
Early results from a third-party evaluation conducted by the Center for Research in Educational Policy at the University of Memphis are encouraging. Through a combination of direct observation and surveys, the evaluation found a significant increase in cooperative and experiential learning and computer activities involving critical thinking, plus more student discussion than national norms. In addition, 61 percent of students reported being more interested in learning, 54 percent felt they learned more, and 51 percent believed their increased efforts would lead to getting better jobs in the future. Although achievement results from individual districts are promising, a statewide analysis of results in core subject areas is not yet complete.
Beyond the data, Wilson sees FTL's one-to-one program as transforming the classroom into a highly charged, student-centered learning atmosphere where teachers create a media-rich environment. Due to the emphasis on inquiry and project-based learning, students are also working more collaboratively, moving around, and depending more on one another than the teacher. "They are given permission to interact with the technology and each other in whatever way they need to learn," Wilson says. "It's a much more constructivist environment just by virtue of the fact that these kids are working in their native world."
Armed with lessons learned so far, executives from FTL, with support from HP and others, are in the process of launching the One-to-One Institute, a nonprofit, national organization whose mission is to facilitate school reform and student-centered learning through one-to-one programs. The institute identifies key components of successful laptop programs, serves as a clearinghouse for research and best practices, and links to other programs throughout the country to form a virtual community. Wilson, who knows firsthand the challenges schools, districts, and states face in implementing these programs, serves as interim secretary and vice president of programs and services. "You're burning down the house you knew and building over," she says.
Tom McHale is an educator in New Jersey.