1-to-1 Laptop Program: Planning for Success

9/20/2010 7:00:00 AM

by Terrie Hale Scheckelhoff and Christine Murakami

Program Development
So you have decided to develop a 1-to-1 laptop program at your school/district. Where do you start? Though there are certain features that are constant across most schools, there is no “one size fits all” solution for every school/district. Each school/district must examine its own situation to determine how to best proceed. It is a good idea to find a school/district similar to yours that is already engaged in a 1-to-1 laptop program to help you get started, but be sure to recognize that your school/district is unique and adapt your program’s features to your specific needs. Following are some objectives to consider:

•    Align the laptop program with the school/district mission to ensure that you are meeting the needs of the students.
•    Build an infrastructure that supports the laptop program including wiring, server capacity, and technical support. However, it doesn’t all need to be perfect before you start. This is a moving target that will require constant adjustment.
•    Identify a task force that includes administrators, students, faculty, parents, and community members with IT experience who can visit laptop schools, attend conferences, select standardized hardware and software, and determine feasibility and financial options. Involving all constituent groups helps ensure buy-in.
•    Develop a timeline complete with tasks and benchmarks.
•    Give computers to faculty first and provide training.
•    Create a “pilot” program (if time allows). This permits you to discover problems, find solutions, garner support, and address challenges.
•    Develop student, faculty, and parent surveys that request input and priorities. Survey the community annually so that you can monitor progress.
•    Create student and faculty training sessions that include orientation programs and student and teacher technology classes. Flexible scheduling will be necessary.
•    Determine maintenance and repair strategies. For example, consider hiring work/study technology interns from a local college or university to staff a Help Desk.
•    Develop a constituent communication plan that articulates the goals, expectations, purpose, timeline, and financials. Communicate, communicate, communicate! No one likes to feel blindsided. Remember, change is hard.
•    Plan for computer hardware and software upgrades and enhancements. When and how often will you upgrade? How will you implement the changes? Will you require students to relinquish their laptops over the summer for upgrades and maintenance?
•    Determine a lease or purchase contract. Determine what is best for your school/district and your parent body. Each financial model has advantages and disadvantages.
•    Conduct internal and external audits. Plan to continually assess the opportunities and challenges of the program.

A successful program is continually evolving. Therefore, it is important to just jump in when you have a reasonable set of structures in place. Nothing ever will be completely stabilized, so no matter how much you plan, your plan will be outdated soon after you start, so don’t let the planning bog you down. Just start and adapt as you go.

Financial Information
One of the challenges of instituting a 1-to-1 laptop program is the cost. Do you charge a technology fee to each student? Do you ask each student to bring a computer to school? Does the school/district purchase the computers (or secure grants or donations) and distribute them? Do the students lease or buy the computers? Whatever method your school/district decides to use, it is important for you to consider sustainability and the lease or purchase details.

Develop a five-year budget that details how you will maintain the 1-to-1 laptop program. A laptop program never stands in isolation from other technologies in use at a school. For example, an online course management system such as Moodle or Blackboard is a perfect match with a laptop program because students have ready access to school work anytime, anywhere on their own computer. Interactive whiteboards, projectors, speakers, software, licenses, servers, network administration to name a few of the items in the technology budget support and complement the 1-to-1 laptop program and must be maintained. Recognize that the 1-to-1 laptop program is one aspect of your technology budget.

Items to consider when either leasing or purchasing computers include developing your “acceptable and responsible use” documents, defining the risks (e.g., theft, loss, damage) and how those issues will be managed, detailing the payment terms (if any), deciding the needed insurance coverage, determining the school’s maintenance and repair offerings (e.g., Help Desk at school or return to the vendors), explaining warranties, determining licenses, defining liability, clarifying who provides and maintains consumable parts (e.g., memory, battery, stylus), and determining policies for students who withdraw from the school/district.

Policies, Procedures, and Guidelines
 Policies, procedures, and guidelines that you will want to consider developing include:

•    Acceptable Use policy
•    Support specification document
•    Social networking guidelines
•    Disaster recovery procedures
•    Security procedures
•    Purchase or lease options
•    Software removals for student withdrawals
•    Peer-to-peer/Instant Messaging software use guidelines
•    Minimum required student typing speeds

Handbook Development
A handbook describing the program serves as more than just an information repository. The process of examining the program, and revisiting it annually, forces you to define, refine, and continually improve every facet of the program. A handbook:

•    anchors the program,
•    facilitates methodical planning,
•    helps identify gaps and overlaps,
•    supports communication with internal and external groups,
•    brings clarity to the intricacies of the program,
•    incorporates student and faculty voices,
•    provides a vehicle for sharing supporting research.

Starting a 1-to-1 laptop program at your school/district will change the way teaching and learning is conducted. Recognize that this culture shift will provide opportunities and challenges regardless of your preparation and training. Learn to celebrate your successes and to take one day at a time. Be persistent. Prepare and communicate - and remember, there’s no such thing as perfect! 

Terrie Hale Scheckelhoff, Ph.D., has presented nationally and regionally and published on topics such as technology integration, 1:1 laptop programs, and girls and technology. She currently is the Associate Head of School at the Columbus School for Girls in Columbus, Ohio.

Christine Murakami, M. Ed., is a veteran educator who has spent most of her 25-year career focused on promoting the use of technology in the service of teaching and learning.  She is currently is the Technology Integration Specialist for the Upper School at the Columbus School for Girls in Columbus, Ohio.

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