Schools all across the country are flocking to the concept of 1:1 learning, which is the concept of one laptop for every student and teacher in the school. While the benefits and success stories of a 1:1 learning initiative have been well published, there has been little information published about the implementation strategies used by technical coordinators in these initiatives. However, there are several key areas for a successful implementation of a 1:1 learning initiative, including having a solid network infrastructure, properly configuring and managing the laptops, tracking laptop inventory, and having an excellent laptop Help Desk.
From the technical side, having a reliable network is truly the cornerstone of a successful 1:1 initiative. The biggest concern regarding network infrastructure and the deployment of a 1:1 initiative is whether the network will be able to support the rapid growth in users. At the very minimum, this means doing an extensive evaluation of the Internet connection, wireless infrastructure, and server infrastructure. When the educational environment is dependent upon up-to-date information, the connection to the Internet must be reliable and fast enough to support all of the users on the network. The users must also be able to access the network from everywhere in the building, so an extensive wireless infrastructure is also necessary. Finally, the servers have to allow the users to communicate and collaborate over the network through a wide variety of services, such as Email and other classroom management software.
- Is your connection to the Internet reliable?
- Is there enough bandwidth to support all of your users?
- Does your district have a way to monitor and manage bandwidth?
- Are there enough access points to support the number of users?
- Are there any academic areas without wireless coverage?
Configuration and Management
One of the toughest technical dilemmas in the integrating of technology into a 1:1 learning initiative will be creating a customized software configuration that allows for the efficient management of all the laptops. There really is no right or wrong way to configure any laptop, but there are certainly some ways that are better than others.
First, it is recommended that there is a written user policy created before the configuration of the laptops. This is an important step because it can make a significant difference in the way the laptops are configured. The technology coordinator can use the laptop regulations as a guideline to know which applications, traffic classes, or sites should be blocked or allowed.
When creating the software configuration, the technology coordinator must be aware that there is a very thin line between not giving students enough access to use their laptops effectively as educational tools and giving them so much access that the laptops are unable to be monitored and easy managed. Giving students severely restricted access to the machine locks them out of all of the unwanted areas, but also locks them out of a wide variety of potentially valuable resources. In addition, severely restricted access often reduces the amount of customization and personalization that each student can give to the laptop. The idea is to empower the students, not to bore them with an uninteresting user experience. On the other hand, giving students full access to the machine gives them the ability to alter important configuration settings.
While this is nothing new for technology coordinators, it is much more critical in a 1:1 laptop initiative than in a traditional computer lab environment because mobile users eliminate the opportunity to do after hours maintenance and upgrades. In an environment where users are constantly roaming, it should be possible to perform software upgrades on the fly. Remote management of computers is ideal because it eliminates the need to have physical access to a machine.
- Do you have a way to monitor the laptops?
- Do you have a means to install software on computers remotely?
- Do student have access to all the resources available?
- Can student’s change settings that shouldn’t be changed?
The success of a 1:1 laptop initiative also depends on successful management of inventory. A database system for keeping track of laptops is essential. While many schools already have systems in place to handle computer inventory, the difference is that laptops are more transferable and harder to recover than traditional desktop computers.
Creating a database system for keeping track of laptops is absolutely essential because it creates the connection between the laptop and the user. For example, the database system would match the serial number of the laptop to the student that checked it out. Barcode scanners are helpful because a person can easily scan the barcode on the laptop and then scan the barcode on the student’s ID card.
Inventory tracking should be given considerable priority in the planning process and ensured that it is carried out in the deployment process. The best advice would be to create a team in your organization that will be responsible for creating the database system. Functionality should be the primary concern and the “look and feel” and “bells and whistles” can be added later. Without good inventory management every laptop is just another needle in the haystack.
- Do you have a system to checkout laptops to users?
- Do you have a comprehensive inventory record of all the laptops?
- Can you easily lookup what laptop each student has?
A 1:1 initiative would not be successful without a Help Desk to assist the users with technology related issues. This means having a knowledgeable staff that is available not only during school, but also before & after school to assist with laptop related problems. Therefore, one of the main responsibilities for the laptop Help Desk should be the management of laptop repairs.
The best way to effectively manage laptops repairs is to create an efficient repair process with a fast return time. The return time, which is the time from when the student reports the problem to the time the student gets the laptop back fixed, is absolutely critical in a 1:1 learning because the student’s grades depend on having a laptop to use in the classroom.
Creating an efficient repair process is achieved by working closely with your hardware vendor to utilize all the resources available, having excellent technicians, and having a well organized repair process. Creating a system of servicing laptops that integrates with your inventory tracking system could be one of the many ways to help increase repair efficiency.
- Is someone available to help users with problems?
- How will the laptops repairs be managed?
- Are there an adequate number of technicians?
As more schools across the country become successful with 1:1 learning, it will put increasing pressure on other schools to move to 1:1 learning. School districts will have to begin planning as they prepare to move to 1:1 learning. Technology coordinators will have to show leadership in making the initiative successful. Developing these key areas (network infrastructure, configuration and management, inventory tracking, and laptop repair) will allow for the successful implementation of technology into a 1:1 learning environment.