DAILY INSIGHT: Targeted 1:1: When one $ize doesn't fit all

By Matt Townsley, CIO Advisor

Tight budgets or unsure of long-term funding. Lack of system-wide support and/or resources. Access to computers at home for many students.

These are all possible reasons a school or district may choose not to embrace a typical 1:1 computing initiative in which each student is issued a computer to use before, during and after school hours. While some schools are turning to a BYOD philosophy in order to replace or supplement their 1:1 computing, still others are left looking for viable alternatives. One possibility is what our school district is tagging a “targeted 1:1” approach.

Does one size fit all?

In the typical 1:1 computing setting, each student is issued the same device. This may work well if students are expected to complete similar assignments and projects (and if support and budgets permit purchasing a powerful enough device!). When learners are researching and word processing, a high-end laptop may be overkill. Similarly, when learners are producing graphic and audio-intensive multimedia, a cheaper tablet or laptop alternative may not fit the bill. In today’s limited budget era, schools need to find creative ways to increase student access to computers. Our experience tells us we are often tying up $1,000 devices in the hands of students when the work they’re doing could be done using a $400 device.Meanwhile, the class across the hall is left without access to a classroom set of devices. Beyond access to the technology itself, schools should also consider the most appropriate and effective way to infuse it as a part of each and every content area.

What is a “targeted 1:1” approach?

A targeted 1:1 approach considers various disciplines and grade levels when placing devices for student use in classrooms. On a smaller scale, this idea may not be new to many schools. Desktop labs have been customized and prioritized for students in business and computer applications courses for many years. Consider a modern-day example: Our high school digital photography courses have dedicated high-end Apple laptops with appropriate multimedia software installed. Students taking digital photography classes have priority in using these computers before, during and after school. When a need arises, the instructor may check out one of the computers for a student to take home.

Our district’s journey towards a targeted 1:1

The discussion in our district started with several teachers from each building forming a district team committed to meeting at least once per month over the course of a school year. This diverse team skimmed the pros and cons of 1:1, BYOD, iPads, tablets, MacBooks and Chromebooks. We attended a conference in which many 1:1 schools shared their success stories. Throughout this process, we learned that an overwhelming number of our students have access to computers and the Internet at home. Knowing this information, purchasing a second device for each student may not be viewed as a next logical step. Enter the targeted 1:1. Our instincts tell us…

  • iPads may work well with lower elementary students, because they are not able to type.
  • Chromebooks may be appropriate for high school English students because they often research using electronic databases and websites and summarize their thoughts in Google Docs.
  • When we provide iPads to lower elementary students, upper elementary students will have increased access to the existing mobile laptop carts in the building.
  • When we provide a lab of Chromebooks to the high school English department, other departments will have increased access to the existing mobile laptop carts in the building.

iPads and Chromebooks both cost significantly less than the MacBooks we’ve purchased in the past; therefore, we will be able to increase the quantity of devices available for classroom use.

In the long term, we plan to continually revise a matrix that appropriately connects learners’ grade, content, use and current and future devices.

Sample targeted 1:1 planning matrix

In summary, the primary outcome of a targeted 1:1 approach is increasing student access to digital tools while maintaining or only slightly increasing expenditures in a way that embraces innovative content-specific technology needs. A targeted 1:1 approach may be a viable alternative for school leaders currently unsure of short- or long-term resources needed to ensure sustainability of a typical “one device for every student” rollout.

Matt Townsley is director of instruction and technology at the Solon Community School District in eastern Iowa.