Does One-to-One Work? A Review of the Literature

from Educators' eZine

How should we use technology in the classroom? So much time, money and effort is spent on placing technology into our classrooms but what works best? Should school districts be striving to get to the one-to-one student-to-computer ratio? Or would the old adage, "less is more" work better when it comes to computers. Furthermore, will having more access to a computer actually improve student achievement. Should computers, laptops, PDAs, etc. be used? These questions are and have always been at the forefront of educational technology and the following is a review of some of the research studies available and suggestions on getting around the problems they imply.

One to One Computing—Studies

Garthwait and Weller (2005) studied two seventh grade science teachers implementing one-to-one computing through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI). The 2002 MLTI placed a laptop with every seventh grade student in the state of Maine. The two teachers in the study teach science in average (non-economically disadvantaged or advantaged) school districts. It is a qualitative study which uses interviews, observations, e-mails, and teacher-produced handouts as data collection artifacts. Also, the authors ensured that both school districts' student demographics are close to the state's overall demographics.

The two teachers, Rick and Susan, have different lifestyles and teaching philosophies. Rick's philosophy is more constructivist and non-traditional than Susan's. Both teachers, however, see the benefit in ubiquitous computing. The article states that, "for both teachers, the effects of ubiquitous computing were strongly shaped by their beliefs about teaching and learning." Rick, who is unmarried with a Masters in Instructional Technology, was more able to "roll" with the "technological punches". In contrast, Susan, who spends more time with her family, was inundated with problems as the school's technology lead for the laptops. Both were effective in using the laptops for the entire year but actual data or acknowledgement for increased student achievement is lacking.

The Owston and Wideman 2001 study is intriguing and useful. The study compares one-to-one, two-to-one, and four-to-one student-to-computer ratios. Twenty-three classes from grades one to four got laptops, in the above ratios. There was professional development for the teachers, the study used control groups, and standardized writing scores measured achievement.

The study found that students in the classrooms with a two-to-one student-to-computer ratio outperformed all other groups. The one-to-one and four-to-one ratio groups also improved. The control groups had the lowest scores.

The implications are significant. According to this study, a one-to-one ratio may not be needed; however, it is necessary to have a substantial number of computers if students are to benefit. Namely, there should be one computer for every two students. Students needed to work together and shared more often in the two-to-one situation. Perhaps collaborative work and pairing up is more important than giving a computer to every student.

Donovan, Hartley and Strudler took a different approach in their 2007 study. It attempts to discover the concerns of classroom teachers during the initial implementation of a one-to-one laptop initiative at the middle school level. Seventeen classroom teachers and two administrators took part in a formal survey and one-legged interviews.

The initial implementation of any innovation requires change and thus, adoption. This study used the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM) as the theoretical framework and also as an effective tool for gauging teacher concerns. Tools of the CBAM model include Stages of Concern, Levels of Use, and Innovation Configurations. The results of the study show that over 50% of teachers had personal concerns of the initial implantation. For example, one teacher said in the questionnaire, "I'm worried about teaching with laptops because I don't really know what to do."

The study ends with three interesting and informative implications. First, professional development needs to be aligned with teacher concerns. Ideally, the professional development should align with the teachers' specific stages of concern. Second, teachers need to be given a voice in innovation adoption. Most change models would agree with this implication. Finally, participants need to understand that change is a process. Especially in the earlier phase of the process, patience is a necessity.

Liang, et al. (2005) studied different designs of one-on-one digital classrooms and rated them based on past experiences. The study broke down effective digital classroom environments by discussing

  1. What the major components of a digital classroom environment are.
  2. The effectiveness of the device used.
  3. The importance of wireless communication.
  4. The systems that were used in the past.

The discussion of affordances and the tables rating the use of the devices is very helpful. Since the technology used in classrooms is usually not built with classrooms in mind, the researcher or teacher must find an effective way of using the most appropriate technology (based on the ratings) in education.

The term affordance is introduced as a "relationship between an actor and physical objects, reflecting possible actions performed on those objects." The authors established 5 affordances which are posting, pushing, controlling, file-exchanging, and instant-messaging. By trying to accommodate all 5 affordances, an effective digital classroom can be established. This study could be used as a tool for designing an effective digital classroom.

Finally, Gosmire and Grady suggest measuring success through formative and summative evaluations according to the school's local technology plan. The data collected could then, theoretically, show an increase in student achievement through technology.

Building the One-to-One Classroom

The effectiveness of a one-to-one digital computing classroom and its ability to increase student achievement depends on many issues. First, the classroom teacher must adopt the technology for educational use. Second, that classroom teacher will need ongoing professional development for integrating the technology into the curriculum. Third, the correct equipment needs to be installed in the correct environment. Last, a system of evaluation of the one-to-one initiative needs to be established.

Since change can be such a dramatic event, the classroom teacher will need to be extremely patient and understanding. When the initial implementation of a one-to-one classroom occurs, the teacher will have the biggest impact on its success or failure. The teacher should be someone already open to using technology and perhaps even willing to put in extra time.

If successful, that teacher will need to be the champion of the one-to-one initiative. This could involve teaching and showing others how to succeed. The classroom teacher would also contribute to the evaluation of the entire project.

Professional development is necessary throughout the year for all aspects of teaching. This is also true for the use of technology and integrating it into the classroom. An increase in student achievement could not possibly occur without a full integration of the technology into the curriculum. Therefore, the school district needs to provide sessions for the teachers showing how to use the technology effectively and on an everyday basis.

The type of technology given to students depends on the learning environment. A classroom of visually impaired students would certainly have different one-to-one computing needs than a high school chemistry classroom. Spending the time beforehand to address the learners' needs would save money and help assure that the technology can be used effectively. It will help avoid the "computers that collect dust" problem that some districts are facing.

Finally, how will the district judge if the one-to-one initiative was successful? A system of evaluation should be created to determine if student achievement has increased. This system could be based on standardized test scores, surveys, or reaction statements by the students.


Does using technology in the classroom increase student achievement? Through diligent design, development, implementation and evaluation, it probably can. A one-to-one relationship, however, might not be the necessary means. The Owston and Wideman study is a good indication that more may not always be better. By slicing the amount of computers needed in half, the project itself may be more appealing to districts. The computers would take up less room, there would be fewer computers problems, and the cost would be lower. Those factors alone could greatly affect the success of the project itself.

Email:Scott Sarraiocco


Garthwait, A. & Weller, H. (2005). A year in the life: Two seventh grade teachers implement one-to-one computing. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 37(4), 361-377.

Gosmire, D. & Grady, M. (2007). 10 questions to answer for technology to succeed in your school. Education Digest, 72(8), 12-18.

Donovan, L., Hartley, K. & Strudler, N. (2007). Teacher concerns during initial implementation of a one-to-one laptop initiative at the middle school level. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 39(3), 263-286.

Liang, J.-K., Liu, T.-C., Wang, H.-Y., Chang, B., Deng, Y.-C., Yang, J.-C., Chou, C.-Y., Ko, H.-W., Yang, S., & Chan, T.-W (2005). A few design perspectives on one-on-one digital classroom environment. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 21, 181-189.

Owston, R.D. & Wideman, H.H. (2001). Computer access and student achievement in the early school years. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17, 433-444.