One-to-one technology: Meeting expectations?

One-to-one technology: Meeting expectations?

by Odette J. Bruneau

One-to-one technology, the movement to put an Internet-enabled laptop, tablet, or smartphone into the hands of each student, continues to gain momentum. These programs offer students not only access to computers and the Internet, but can also offer “…technology infused curriculum and ubiquitous access to digitized learning materials “(Harris, 2010, p. 2).Even before the first iPads were launched in 2010, schools were experimenting with providing a laptop for each student. The launch of the iPad has allowed for more schools to attempt the 1:1 instructional approach with smaller, cheaper, easier to manage tools. Many states in the U.S.have adopted a 1:1 initiative funded by local, state and federal technology grants. Apple reported over 1,000 one-to-one projects in the U.S. in 2012.As of March 2013 there were 8 million iPads purchased for use in educational institutions across the globe and the expectation is that tablet sales will rise to 326 million in 2015 (Haselton,2013). This is an astounding growth rate for a technological approach that is personnel intensive, expensive, and that lacks sound research data on its efficacy.

As the enthusiastic proponents continue to praise the ubiquitous model (1:1) and predict that it will change the face of education, a growing number of dissenting voices are urging caution and careful planning.Alan November quotes one corporate executive who stated, “…too many schools are in the ‘spray and pray’ mode in which ‘spray’ is the technology and ‘pray’ is that you get an increase in learning” (2013, p.1). Larry Cuban in his article “The laptop revolution has no clothes” decries the “outrageous” claims made about the benefits of this model including higher paying jobs for students, revolutionized teaching and learning, and increased test scores when there is no clear evidence for any of these benefits (Cuban, 2006).M. O. Thirunarayanan, associate professor of Learning Technologies in the College of Education at Florida International University, maintains that selling unproven technology is unethical practice and school districts continue to purchase the latest products because they want to be viewed as possessing “cutting edge” technology (Cuban, 2014).With test scores always in the limelight, school districts feel the pressure to improve student academic performance and this costly, technologically intensive intervention presents itself as an indication of their commitment to do just that.

Research Indications in U.S. Schools

After more than a decade of one-to-one initiative in U.S. schools, measures of success are inconclusive and limited. Long-term studies involving substantial numbers of students are difficult to find and the conclusions of some reports are questionable because of their funding sources. Institutes, such as the Center for Digital Education, sponsored by e.Republic, a California-based media company, or the One-to-One Institute, which lists Intel as a “contributor,” provide reports on the benefits and implementation of one-to-one initiatives, but,given that their business is technology, it is difficult to believe these reports to be unbiased. Many of the published reports provide anecdotal information, based upon a limited number of participants, and provide conclusions derived from observations, interviews or questionnaires completed by teachers, parents and/or students and make claims such as “more focused students” when there were no baseline data provided nor control for variation in teacher or teaching style.

There are some consistently positive outcomes of one-to-one technology that relate to attitude, attention, communication, and specific skills. Generally, teachers report a higher degree of comfort and facility in their own use of technology. They indicate that the communication between the students and themselves is more frequent and that they can provide more timely, specific feedback. Students note increased interest in computer-related projects and skill in research and presentation software. Researchers have observed increased student engagement in one-to-one rooms and fewer discipline problems. Parents also provide generally positive feedback indicating that their children spend more time on research and have more interest in completing school work at home (Storz & Hoffman, 2012; Arguesta, Huff, Tingen, & Corn, 2011; Lowther, Strahl, Iran, & Bates, 2007).

While one-to-one technology initiatives appear to contribute to increased student focus and fewer discipline problems (Storz & Hoffman, 2012), at least one study shows more absenteeism in the one-to-one rooms (Shapley, Sheehan, Caranikas-Walker, Huntsberger, & Maloney, 2009). Silvernail and Gritter (2005) reported that the overall performance for 8th grade students on the Maine Education Assessments (MEA) had not changed since the launch of their one-to-one program in 2001 with the exception of writing.In fact, the 2014 eighth-grade writing scores for Maine on the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) were down 10 % (Warren, 2014). These are students who have had the one-to-one program their entire academic career. Shapley et al. (2009) reported on a four-year study of over 5,000 Texas middle school students who used one-to-one technology. Results on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) found no statistically significant effect on reading achievement for seventh or eighth graders in the technology immersion model, but found a marginally significant increase for ninth graders. The TAKS scores for seventh and eighth graders in math demonstrated significantly positive results, but results for ninth graders were not significant. Michigan began their one-to-one initiative, “Freedom to Learn (FTL), in 2005-2006. In a systematic study with 8 paired schools state test results indicated 3 pairs in which the control schools scored higher, 4 pairs in which the FTL schools scored higher, and 1 pair with no significant difference. The Michigan study, like that of Texas and Maine, reported positive feedback from administrators, parents, and teachers based upon their responses to questionnaires, interviews and observational data. Parents noted that their children spent more time on homework and research and teachers reported personal gains in confidence with the use of technology.Students appeared to be more engaged and communication between students and teacher to student was enhanced (Weston & Bain, 2010; Lowther, Strahl, Iran, & Bates, 2007; Shapley et al, 2009; Storz & Hoffman, 2012).Teachers and students felt more skilled in the use of presentation software, although Storz and Hoffman (2012) noted that the focus tended to be more on appearance than on content Informal data sources such as interviews and questionnaires indicate positive outcomes from one-to-one technology models, but more formal sources like state-mandated tests, are inconclusive. Goodwin (2011) summarized the overall results by stating, “…most large-scale evaluations have found mixed or no results for one-to-one initiatives “(p. 78).

One-to-One Initiatives Worldwide

The ubiquitous model of instruction is gaining traction in other parts of the world with outcomes similar to those of the U.S.Looi et al (2010) reported on a one-year study of third grade students in Singapore who were provided with an interactive science curriculum that was “mobilized” and presented on smartphones. Classroom observations indicated more engaged learners and teachers who felt more confident teaching science. Students were expected to use their devices and “teach” their parents science. Parent reports indicated that their children were able to explain concepts to them. Although year-end science test scores were higher for the treatment group, less than half the effect could be attributed to the treatment.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) published a study that concluded there is a lack of definitive benefit with the 1:1 model and urged caution in Latin America and the Caribbean (Chong, 2011).Chile, a country that began placing technology in the schools in 1993, launched a 1:1 mobile computer lab program in third grade classrooms in 2009 with the goal of improving mathematics, reading, and writing through the integration of technology. Over 1, 591 tablets were provided to third graders in state schools. Observational data indicated that the mobile computer labs (MCL) were used sporadically for mathematics and language and generally to motivate students rather than for innovative teaching or curriculum.There was wide variability in the availability and quality of internet service especially in the rural areas where some of the computers were not being used at all. While principals generally were more favorable of the MCL model, teachers expressed the need for more technological training and support (Claro, Nussbaum, Lopez, & Diaz, 2013).

In Finland, a country that always scores near the top in academic achievement, teachers don’t feel compelled to continuously integrate technology and there is caution about the ubiquitous model. The ratio of student to computer there is about 5:1 with only 27% of the students reporting that they used computers in their classrooms more than once a week, a statistic that is lower than the European Union average. Finnish teachers follow educational research and use innovative teaching strategies, but often rely on lower tech methods like calculators and graph paper to achieve their goals. Finnish students are told to leave their computers and cell phones at home unless instructed by teachers to bring them to school (Emma, 2014).

Player-Koro and Beach (2014) have referred to the Swedish movement to place 1:1 computers in state schools as “Neoliberalism.”They express the position that the movement represents private sector involvement on the part of business, social enterprise, and philanthropy to offer solutions to what are (by those agencies) termed the “problems” of state education. Peterson and Bunting (2012) reported on two classes, one in Level 3 and one in Level 5, where 1:1 technology had been in use for 2.5 years. Their conclusions, based mainly upon observation and interview, indicated that Individual Computer Technology (ICT) lays the foundation for creativity and collaboration. The found students interested and actively engaged and noted that authentic learning was often occurring. The concerns expressed by these authors related to how the computer technology often became the focus of the student work and the product was not always well connected to the content.

Pouezevara, Dincer, Kipp, & Sariisi (2013) have reported on Turkey’s FATIH Project, a plan to provide a tablet for each student by 2019. These authors suggest that the movement is political and that it was conceived without the demand of the schools or of other stakeholders and caution that the potential for failure is great. Although still being implemented, these authors stress that FATIH focus on implementation that provides equal opportunity in low socioeconomic regions, accelerated and refocused professional development, improved leadership and communication, and clearly identified outcomes that are measurable.

Other Concerns

Another concern with the one-to-one model is the inequity between lower and higher socioeconomic schools and students.Broadband width and access are insufficient in most K-12 schools and connection rates are slower in nonwhite and low-income communities.

Lower socioeconomic schools are underrepresented in the 1:1 projects and when the lower socioeconomic schools do have the 1:1 model, the technology is more often used for lower level tasks like drill and practice. Warschauer (2007) noted some teachers in lower SES schools did use the computers to foster critical inquiry; however, that type of teaching tended to occur more frequently in high-income communities and rarely in less affluent locations. Students in higher SES schools participated in more research and analysis in their mathematics and language arts classes while students in the lower SES schools used their technology more for visual presentations (Warschauer, et al., 2004; Harris, 2010).Barsegian (2013) noted that there are more filters in information and more school rules about when and for what technology may be used in lower SES schools. According to Darling-Hammond, Zielezinski, and Goldman (2014) teachers in high poverty schools report the lack of digital resources available to low socioeconomic students as a problem and only 3% of the teachers report that their students have the digital tools they need at home for schoolwork. Teachers in lower SES schools are more likely to have experienced less district preparatory and continuing training in the use of technology . Trucano (2013) reminds us that more and more schools are promoting the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) technology , “…which raises sets of additional questions worth considering related to things like (among others) equity, costs, maintenance and digital safety “(np).

Harris (2010) notes that because the majority of laptop programs serve higher socioeconomic schools, this contributes to the “Educational Digital Divide.”The digital divide is increased when lower socioeconomic students are not able to utilize ubiquitous technology in the same way their higher socioeconomic peers do. This lack of equality means the lower SES students, their families and communities are denied the possible benefits of ubiquitous technology and are not able to compete with their higher SES peers on the same level. He states, “…high SES students have been given ubiquitous access to computing while their counterparts in low SES schools have experienced little or no access whatever” (p.5). Further, Harris claims it is not enough to just implement one-to-one projects in lower socioeconomic schools, but teachers must employ a pedagogical foundation that follows research findings on effective instructional practice with lower SES students including more individual attention, frequent teacher feedback, and 

Conclusions and Recommendations

The presence of 1:1 technology in the classroom does not immediately add value to education programs or progress.What is clear from the research is that the districts in which the one-to-one models seem to be working are districts in which there was a clear plan before rollout. These districts planned for expenditures for repair and training, took the time to carefully train participants, involved families and other stakeholders, and were ready to assist teachers in using technology to enhance curriculum.

In order to maximize the potential for the model to be successful in a school district, researchers recommend that there be careful planning, a clear school vision, ongoing professional development, a strong infrastructure, and regular online student collaboration (McLester, 2011; Storz & Hoffman, 2013).A supportive administration is needed to ensure that teachers can use the 1:1 model for instruction and not be distracted by management issues like batteries, Wi-Fi reception, appropriate internet sites, and poorly designed e-materials (Dunleavy, Dextert, & Heinecket, 2007).Teachers have indicated that they want more emphasis on how to use the technology in their teaching, opportunities to discuss utilization with their peers, and ongoing support and mentoring (Storz & Hoffman, 2013).Alan November (2013) reflected that in every one-to-one project that was a “failure” there was a focus on getting the device out, enhancing the network, and teaching the staff to use the technology, but no guidance on what to do with the

Weston and Bain (2010) have urged techno-critics to think about a complete paradigm shift that would view technology as a cognitive tool. Rather than a focus on the technology itself, these researchers recommend that the technology be used to create a complete paradigm shift in which research-based practice such as differentiated instruction, cooperative learning, and project-based learning are offered in a sustainable and measurable manner. They urge schools to define what they think about teaching and learning, to be fully engaged in the design of the school model, to be open to feedback, and to demand that there is ubiquitous and systemic use of the tools.

The one-to-one movement is still young and careful long-term studies are hard to find. Research must follow one-to-one programs and compare student achievement from multiple perspectives including standardized test results, student research skills, and ability to use technology in multiple ways. Teacher input will be equally critical to help determine whether the alternative methodologies provided by computer technology are truly enhancing teaching.Administrator support can help determine whether the high costs of implementation, repair, training, and technological support do not outweigh the student/teacher gains. Finally, the voices of the communities and families should have an influence on the continued growth of one-to-one technology.There is no question that technological competency is a critical 21st Century skill and it seems certain that, even if all school districts do not adopt a ubiquitous model for classrooms, the ratio of technological devices to students will continue to increase.In the end, computers of any kind are simply tools and it will continue to be up to educators to use the research on effective teaching and learning to maximize their benefit.


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