One-to-One Wisdom

Expert tips on how to approach professional development in laptop environments.

Laptop computing programs have been in K–12 schools since the 1990s, but in recent months one-to-one learning seems to have reemerged as a top topic in education technology circles. According to Tim Wiley, senior analyst at research firm Eduventures, about 1,000 of the 15,000 school districts in the United States currently have one-to-one computing programs in one or more of their schools. Though he says these represent only "pockets" of progress, it is nevertheless a promising trend.

At the same time, "Administrators are starting to realize that things like technical support and professional development are grossly undervalued," says Wiley. "The one-to-one programs that have been successful have made sure that quality control, data conversion, and professional development were taken slowly and done properly."

Why the need for comprehensive staff development? In addition to adjusting to new technologies, one-to-one educators must learn to reorganize themselves and how they manage the classroom, as well as transform their traditional instructional methods to fit a new environment—one that's more self-directed, project-driven, and collaborative (see for data).

With this in mind, following are some tenets K–12 technology leaders employ when prepping teachers for the challenges and possibilities of one-to-one.


Before you even begin to train teachers for one-to-one, you have to choose them. According to Rae Niles, director of curriculum and technology for Sedgwick Public Schools in Sedgwick, Kansas—where all sophomores, juniors, and seniors tote Apple iBooks—technology expertise shouldn't be an issue when it comes to enlisting teachers. In fact, she says one-to-one teachers aren't necessarily technologically savvy. "We don't ask teachers about technology," said Niles. "We ask things like: Do you like kids? Are you strong in your content area? Do you fit in our school? Are you flexible and open to new ideas? If the answers to those questions are yes, we think they can learn the technology."

Illinois Virtual High School (IVHS) is an online supplement to bricks-and mortar classes used by students from 350 schools; many of those students work on laptops. At IVHS, teacher tech skills are a prerequisite. Superintendent Mike Wicks employs a two-step screening process for prospective candidates. First, he requires applicants to submit their materials electronically as an initial gauge of technological acumen. Next, applicants take ISTE's technology assessment test. If accepted into the program, they then take a six-week course on pedagogy and online learning techniques.


Allowing teachers to first use the technology in their personal lives is key, says Wiley. "If a teacher is going to move into a one-to-one classroom, give that teacher a laptop for the summer and instruct them on how to do something that is applicable to their own lives—like looking for the best travel deal on the Web," he says. "It gives the teacher personal motivation to learn...once you know how to research the best travel deals, it is only a short jump to science research." To wit: Successful professional development should focus on practical skill sets, not just theory, or bodies of knowledge.


"I can't say enough about planning—planning is crucial," says Calvin Baker, superintendent of the Vail School District (VSD) in Tucson, Arizona, about professional development for laptop programs. VSD is home to Empire High School, a new school where each student has a laptop and access to digitized textbooks. Baker began professional development a year before the school opened, focusing on a train-the-trainer model starting with staff he identified as "bright, aggressive, and solution oriented."

Tina Barrios, supervisor of instructional technology for the School District of Manatee County in Bradenton, Florida, where 16 of the county's schools have one-to-one classrooms, agrees with Baker that districts should start early. "When you are moving to a one-to-one environment, you can't collapse planning time just to meet deadlines," says Barrios. "It's better to have one or two years to plan the implementation and to get teachers comfortable in this kind of environment."


Create a culture of heavy professional development, says Niles. At Sedgwick, the bulk of training is done in the summer, when new software applications and other tools are introduced and technology skills are updated. Throughout the year, a regional service center offers training on topics like time management; Apple provides training for its technologies, such as iMovie and iPhoto, and teachers can access quick tutorials from Atomic Learning, too. "You can never get enough professional development," says Niles. "We try to integrate the technology into the lives of the teachers."


Successful one-to-one schools engage teachers in designing the professional development curriculum. "Teachers need to be part of the decisions and not have that solution dumped on them," says Baker, who notes that vendors often rely on off-the-shelf training that doesn't always address teachers' specific concerns.

Make students an integral part of training as well, through more formal programs such as Generation Yes or simply on an ad hoc basis.

"We no longer have students and teachers, we have a community of learners," says Niles. "In many cases students know more about a certain technology than the teacher, and that's okay. It allows the teacher to become the student and the student to become the teacher."


One-to-one initiatives can boost teacher enthusiasm, but they also demand that teachers work longer and harder. "Marching a class through a textbook, once you know how to do it, is comfortable and easy," says Baker. "Looking for digital material, images, Web sites, and creative ways to present lessons is a lot more challenging...and that needs to be acknowledged and supported."

Jim Lehmann, faculty member at Walden University, tells teachers to take it slow and realize one-to-one is an iterative process. "Add to it, keep at it," he says. "Just learn something new two to three times per year. Eventually, you'll see how it compounds and pays off."

For example, take a course on online video players and formats, then add a class about movie-making software, and later learn an image editing program like Photoshop. Teachers who learn at a reasonable but dedicated pace end up accumulating practical skills.

Chris Cutter is a freelance writer based in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

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