One-to-One in Texas
1/22/2007 By: Tom McHale
from Technology & Learning
Irving Independent School District isn't your typical candidate for a locally funded one-to-one computing program. With more than 31,000 students, most of whom are minority and economically disadvantaged, technology-rich classrooms and wireless laptops for all seems a pie-in-the-sky goal. But in October 1997, taxpayers approved a $47
million bond that would begin to fund a vision that has since resulted in National Blue Ribbon
School, Microsoft Center of Excellence, and other distinctions for the district schools.
Irving's recipe for success lies in strong leadership and the collaboration of community, educators, students, and administrators. The district was able to garner overwhelming support from all stakeholders by developing a clear vision showing how the project could transform the lives of its underserved students through equal access to technology.
The first bond monies went toward building the Academy of Irving, a high school for technology and careers, and providing each teacher with a laptop and professional development opportunities. The second bond for $54.8 million passed in 2001 and enabled the Academy to open its doors and issue laptops to all of its 1,200 students. It also funded a new wireless infrastructure, the replacement of aging equipment, and a first round of laptops — for 9th and 10th graders — in the other three district high schools.
Six years later, all high school students have laptops for school and home use. Dell has been the primary vendor, whose current model, the Latitudes 510, was chosen for its ability to store a second battery where the CD drive would normally be. Students are responsible for charging the batteries at home and also pay a small insurance fee.
Alice Owen, the district's executive director of tech nology, is convinced a one-to-one program in a wireless environment accelerates learning, acquisition of 21st century skills, and true technology integration.
Ensuring educator comfort with new technologies has been a primary district strategy, with most high school teachers issued laptops five years in advance of students. Professional development is ongoing with seven days yearly of site- and district-level training sessions plus a one-to-one symposium. Last year's two-day symposium drew educators, administrators, and executives from 11 states, with best practice sharing and presentations by CoSN and ISTE and breakouts on specific one-to-one topics. Additional support is offered via two Dell-certified technicians and instructional technology specialists at each site because Owen believes it's crucial that educators have timely help.
The district also supports technology integration through extensive online resources, especially at the high school level. Among them are streaming video through Discovery's unitedstreaming and DigitalCurriculum.com and e-learning portals through Blackboard (263 courses are available). The district also offers students multimedia tools such as Microsoft's PowerPoint and Moviemaker and Adobe's Macromedia Studios. Teachers can also use LearnStar Client to create automated tests, quizzes, and competitive games.
To train staff in the effective use of these new programs, a collaborative study group model was employed called Job Alike Training. Teachers were paid a small stipend to work with experts and colleagues five evenings throughout the year to learn to integrate these tools into their curriculum.
The district also instituted the TechFusion program, which involves integrating technology into the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards, with the goal to have it become "transparent." The program is self-paced; educators move from the knowledge level through application to integration in four different strands: desktop publishing, multimedia, data management, and online learning. Learners are required to submit at least two lesson plans with examples of student work that demonstrate an infusion or integration of technology. Lessons are evaluated by instructional technology specialists and posted for sharing on the TechFusion Web site.
How It's Working
Irving has a good body of evaluative information, due in part to being awarded a federal Technology Immersion Pilot Grant through the Texas Education Association. In October 2003 the district was selected to study the impact of one-to-one immersion for a two-year period at one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school. Elementary school students were issued AlphaSmarts as their personal computing device while middle school and high school students used laptops. Each classroom was set up with a data projector, teacher laptop, and wireless Internet — the current district model.
This TIP Vertical Integration Laptop Project was eval uated in spring 2006, and results are published online (www.irvingisd.net/tip/evaulations.htm). Data was gathered
by the University of North Texas through teacher, student, and parent surveys; classroom observations; and focus group interviews. Some of the results from the High School Laptop Initiative, which forms the bulk of Irving's one-to-one use, include an increase in the level of technology use and a boost in small-group instruction and presentation-based teaching strategies. And though most teachers reported "the laptop initiative had a positive impact on their teaching," they also believe "it has added additional duties for classroom management to their workload."
Dealing with classroom management issues at the high school level, such as students not bringing their laptops, is an obstacle many teachers are still encountering. In fact, TIP classroom observations note about 35 percent of the students were without their laptops. They also found greater instances of off-task behavior by students with laptops at the high school. "It's a whole new way of organizing your classroom," Owen said. "You have to find ways to engage the kids in different kinds of learning."
One way of doing this is through more group and project-based instruction. But even though this has increased, high school teachers reported less small-group instruction than their middle school and elementary school counterparts. Owen believes this has to do with the nature of how high schools are organized and is one key reason behind the push for reform. Today's students live in such a technology rich environment that many high school classrooms seem boring, she said. "One of the best things about laptops
is their potential to transform this."
Other results from the study include secondary students having a better attitude toward school than peers at schools without laptops, and a majority of parents "strongly agreed that they would be willing to support a bond referendum to continue to support the laptop project."
The district has just approved its Long Range Plan for Technology through 2010. The committee, which was
comprised of students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members, calls for every student to be issued a personal computing device and for technology use to be comprehensive and transparent. The plan points to "effective instruction" as the single most important technology success factor. Irving continues to face ongoing challenges, such as the classroom management issues, effective inte gration at the high school, and renewing funding, but its convinced of the power of one-to-one computing. "By putting a laptop in each student's hands, every lesson becomes a hands-on lesson," Owen says. "Why wouldn't anyone want to do that for their kids?"
Tom McHale is an educator in New Jersey.