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									One-to-One Computing Evaluation Consortium
                                           POLICY BRIEF
November 2005                                                                                        Number 1



Starting School Laptop Programs: Lessons Learned1
by Andrew Zucker, Ed.D., Senior Research Scientist, The Concord Consortium

  A growing number of states are                                 “For more than 100 years, Maine has
purchasing laptop computers for all students                     always been in the bottom third of states—
and teachers. Maine has been a pioneer,                          in prosperity, income, education, and
providing 34,000 computers and wireless                          opportunity for our kids. In my 30 years of
Internet access to all students in grades 7                      working on Maine economic issues, no
and 8. About a third of Maine’s high schools                     idea has had as much potential for
also provided laptops to their students in the                   leapfrogging the other states and putting
2004–2005 school year. Indiana supported                         Maine in a position of national leadership
an early one-to-one program. Michigan,                           as this one—giving our students portable,
New Hampshire, New Mexico, Texas, and                            Internet-ready computers as a basic tool
Vermont are also experimenting with state-                       for learning.”
supported laptop initiatives, as are many
individual school districts throughout the                      Policymakers’ goals for laptop programs
United States, including Henrico County,                      include increasing economic competitive-
Virginia, the largest district-funded laptop                  ness, reducing the inequity in access to
program in the United States, with more                       computers and information between students
than 23,000 computers.                                        from wealthy and poor families, raising
                                                              student achievement through specific
  The former Governor of Maine, Angus                         interventions (such as improving students’
King, said about the laptop program he                        understanding of algebra through the use of
initiated:                                                    education software), and transforming the
                                                              quality of instruction.
1
 This brief draws especially on two sources: Lessons learned about providing laptops to all students, by
Alejandre Bonifaz and Andrew Zucker, and Research: What it says about 1-to-1 learning, by William
Penuel. See References at the end for full citations.

    The Ubiquitous or One-to-One Computing Evaluation Consortium is a group of researchers at eight institutions
    each of whom is conducting evaluative research about the implementation and impacts of providing all students
    with a computing device. The consortium is principally funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation
    (REC-0231147) to SRI International. Opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not
    necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation, SRI International, or the consortium.
                           SRI International · The Concord Consortium · The Metiri Group
                     Rockman ET AL · University of Virginia · Education Development Center
                                         Kent State University · Boston College

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  The limited number of rigorous research            department of education, Maine chose to
studies on one-to-one laptop programs                implement a professional development
report positive findings. This fact, backed by       program to help rural middle schools
the generally positive evaluations of such           improve the teaching of mathematics using
programs as those in Maine and Henrico               the laptops.
County, suggests that one-to-one computing
is well worth considering. Fortunately, there          Align technology policies with the goals.
is a lot of information available to help            For instance, if students are expected to do
policymakers who are starting a laptop               homework using the Internet, or enroll in
program to avoid potential pitfalls.                 online courses outside school hours, then it
                                                     may be important to allow students to take
  Most importantly, no one component is              computers home and also to help some
sufficient for a successful program; instead,        families by offering them a low-cost way of
a comprehensive or systemic approach is              connecting to the Internet.
needed. Bette Manchester, who oversees the
                                                     Build strong leadership at all levels
Maine Learning Technology Initiative, has
said, “There needs to be a leadership team             Strong leadership is needed from the
that looks at things through three different         classroom and the school levels to the
lenses: the lens of curriculum and content;          district and the state. Technical needs alone
the lens of the culture of the building; and         ought not drive the program; instead,
the lens of technical needs.”                        educational goals and purposes must be at
                                                     the forefront. According to preliminary
  The following lessons, drawn from articles
                                                     results of an evaluation, “the ongoing
and reports about current and past programs,
                                                     success of one-to-one in Indiana is
are intended to increase information sharing
                                                     dependent upon the support and
across laptop programs and help leaders and
                                                     involvement of building-level leaders.”
stakeholders build on existing knowledge.
                                                     Similar findings apply in other programs.
PLANNING                                             Think about funding for the long term
  Planning may take a year or more, but is             Teachers’ and administrators’ knowledge,
an essential first step.                             attitudes, and skills are critical to the success
                                                     of a laptop program. Therefore, make a
Align the laptop program with key goals
                                                     long-term commitment to ongoing training,
  What are the school system’s primary               as well as to technical support. Funds should
goals and what will be needed to achieve             be set aside in the operating budget.
them? For example, which goals for students          Successful programs use multiple sources of
are most important—increased motivation,             funding, including appropriate state and
better writing skills, test preparation,             federal programs.
technology proficiency, broader access to
Advanced Placement courses, more critical            Develop solid partnerships inside and
thinking and reasoning, or any of many               outside the school system
others? To meet the goals, it may be                   Partnerships establish a solid foundation
important to license appropriate software or         for the project. Take into account stake-
websites, provide focused teacher profes-            holders’ level of interest in the one-to-one
sional development, select new curricula, or         initiative and demonstrate success early.
develop new assessments. For example, in             Texas, for example, began its program in a
response to needs identified by the state            small number of pilot sites. Similarly, in


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Maine, former Governor King said, “[it] was           addressing their needs. At the same time,
critical because it gave us a test site that we       technology coordinators need staff develop-
could point to.” Also investigate business            ment about school change processes that
partnerships and collaborations with                  support the key goals of the laptop program.
evaluators at an early stage.
                                                        Use a variety of training and professional
Plan logistical details carefully                     development formats, and understand that
                                                      teachers and administrators value both
  Laptop initiatives are often delayed or
                                                      formal professional development events,
disrupted by small details rather than by
                                                      such as workshops during the school year or
major problems. Computers need to be
                                                      summer, and informal opportunities to learn
protected, arrangements need to be made for
                                                      from their colleagues. It may be useful to
charging batteries, systems must be in place
                                                      partner with local universities, education
for distributing the laptops and for daily
                                                      organizations, or other institutions. “The key
management, and Internet filters and other
                                                      is to plan as best you can but to remain
control mechanisms should be in place. The
                                                      flexible,” the past superintendent of Henrico
director of the Buddy project in Indiana,
                                                      County, Mark Edwards, points out.
Nancy Miller, said, “Think long-term.
Ensure impact by ensuring that the mundane            Train parents on basic technical skills
aspects of the project (maintenance,                  and inform them about the code of
upgrades, insurance, replacement of                   conduct and rules involved
equipment) are planned and supported.”
                                                        The value of parental involvement cannot
TRAINING & PROFESSIONAL                               be overemphasized. From the outset, Maine
DEVELOPMENT                                           expected parents to attend a 90-minute
                                                      training before the laptops were allowed to
  Training and professional development of            go home. Similarly, in Henrico County,
staff are fundamental components of a                 parents of every middle school student are
successful laptop program and should be               required to attend a 90-minute training
part of the program from the start.                   session before picking up the computers.
Provide training and professional                     These sessions provide technical
development mainly on curriculum                      information about the laptop computers as
integration, not only on technical skills             well as an explanation of the code of
                                                      conduct established for their use and care.
  Teachers participating in one-to-one                Training sessions should be accessible to
projects agree that in order to make the              parents; Henrico offered the training several
transition to ubiquitous computing, they              times throughout the day, accommodating
need not only help developing new technical           parents’ schedules.
skills, but also assistance integrating
technology into the curriculum. Effective             HARDWARE & SOFTWARE
training builds on existing knowledge,
                                                        The effective use of laptops depends on
attitudes, and skills. Knowing at an early
                                                      the availability of suitable digital resources,
stage the different technical proficiencies
                                                      as well as reliable hardware and a robust
that teachers and administrators have, and
                                                      network.
their attitudes toward technology
integration, can help in developing a
professional development plan that is
sustained, rigorous, and effective in


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Provide needed digital content and tools             Make technology support available
                                                     onsite and also offsite, as needed
  In order for teachers to integrate
technology in the curriculum, and for                  Teachers across programs often mention
students to use technology, they need access         the lack of sufficient onsite technical
to the necessary software, online databases,         support. Some schools contract one or more
and proprietary websites. Schools and                full-time onsite technical assistants. Several
districts should not only take care of               sites use student technology support teams,
licensing procedures to make the necessary           which consist of technology-savvy students
tools available to teachers but should also          who help teachers and classmates with
provide sufficient guidance or training on           troubleshooting and technical questions
using the tools. Many laptop programs also           during the school day. Developing clear
provide opportunities for their teachers,            procedures for shipping and repairing
often working in teams, to develop lesson            laptops offsite, when needed, as well as
plans, websites, online courses, electronic          maintaining a strong partnership with offsite
documents, or other curriculum resources.            institutions can help make this process more
                                                     efficient.
  Prior to purchasing laptops, determine the
key productivity tools needed and establish a        MANAGING CHANGE
standard software package to be used for
word processing, spreadsheets, presenta-             Allow sufficient time for change and
tions, and so on. Standardization will reduce        make it gradual
compatibility problems, training issues, and           Stakeholders need time not only to learn
costs. Determine whether email and chat              about and become comfortable with new
features will be available to students and, if       technology, but also to understand the
so, how they will be managed.                        change process and its implications for their
  Consider purchasing display devices (such          daily activities. In Henrico County, for
as projectors), because students and teachers        example, the middle school teachers
will sometimes want to be able to look at a          received their laptops a full year before the
single screen as a group. In Henrico County,         students, and that time provided the teachers
for example, each classroom has a combined           with a high degree of confidence in their
TV and computer monitor. Alternatively,              ability to use the computers.
classrooms may share the devices.                      Technology integration will be more
Maintain the network infrastructure                  successful when students are given
                                                     sufficient time beforehand to become
  Experience shows that a critical factor for        familiar with basic computer skills, like
the effective implementation of one-to-one           keyboarding.
computing is the existence and maintenance
of a high-quality network infrastructure.              Expect change to be gradual. For example,
Schools may require network infrastructure           students at different grade levels often
modifications, which can be costly and time-         receive laptops in different years. Over the
consuming. If these issues are addressed at          long term, as computers are used more
the onset, significant time and trouble may          routinely, changes are likely to take place
be saved later. Setting up the necessary             not only in instruction but also in assessment
infrastructure is not sufficient; it is also         systems (e.g., online testing), instructional
necessary to maintain it. Good technical             materials (e.g., closer ties between textbooks
support staff is critical.                           and digital materials, including software),


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management systems (including data-driven             Ongoing monitoring helps identify obstacles
decision-making), and communications with             at an early stage; for example, Henrico
parents (e.g., the use of password-protected          County found it helpful to use focus groups
websites where parents can view their                 of teachers and students on a regular basis to
children’s grades and assignments).                   identify and systematically address
                                                      unforeseen problems that occurred during
Provide models to teachers
                                                      implementation of their one-to-one program.
  Teaching with laptops requires new skills.
                                                      Conduct research or evaluation studies
Through professional development, model
lessons, coaching, videos, and other                    Because laptop programs are new (e.g.,
approaches, teachers need to gain a vision of         Maine’s 7th graders received their laptops in
ways for students to learn with laptops.              2002), and technologies are changing, there
                                                      is still much to be learned. Some useful
Foster and maintain stakeholder
                                                      evaluative studies of laptop initiatives have
participation and ongoing                             been conducted (see
communication                                         http://ubiqcomputing.org, and the references
  When all stakeholders (teachers, admini-            in this document, for more information).
strators, students, parents, technicians, local       However, there is still a paucity of
media, etc.) are well informed about the              information about impacts on student
project and collaborate with one another,             learning in many subject areas, cost issues,
emerging problems are more easily                     and other important topics.
identified and can be addressed at an early
                                                        An article by the author (Zucker, 2004)
stage. Use various approaches to reach out
                                                      provides an evaluation framework and an
to the broad community. Newsletters,
                                                      agenda for studying one-to-one programs.
community gatherings, formal/informal
                                                      Some needed studies are inexpensive and
presentations, parent nights, and
                                                      could be done in-house. In other cases,
consultations with community leaders can
                                                      external grants from federal, state, or private
all be helpful. Don’t forget the local
                                                      sources may be available for research.
newspaper or other media.
                                                        Authors of a book about evaluating
  Indiana organizes events where students
                                                      educational technology in schools (Means &
act as mentors to parents, siblings, and the
                                                      Haertel, 2004) suggest that there are a small
broader community. Other laptop programs
                                                      number of important evaluation principles
also involve students in various ways.
                                                      that will help guide future work:
MONITORING & EVALUATION                                •   Look for critical influences at multiple
  To meet the challenges of implementing a                 levels of the education system: There
laptop program, to learn more about its                    are many influences on teachers’ and
impacts, and to inform ongoing debates                     students’ uses of technology. Study
about the value of these initiatives, ongoing              those influences that are most
monitoring and evaluation are needed.                      important in the local context (state or
                                                           district policies, school leadership,
Make monitoring ongoing                                    demographics of schools, teachers’
  Some challenges may be foreseen and                      training and expertise, etc.). Don’t try
addressed during the planning stage, while                 to do it all.
others emerge during implementation.



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 •   Focus on the priorities for instruction,        students’ learning and about capacity
     and measure those: If student                   building in the schools.”
     achievement is being studied, focus on
                                                       This review of lessons learned about
     areas that are high priorities in the
                                                     laptop programs shows that they fall into
     laptop program. Even then, the
                                                     five key areas. Policymakers should pay
     evaluation field is likely to require the
                                                     careful attention to planning, training and
     development of more high-quality
                                                     professional development, hardware and
     assessments of student learning—for
                                                     software, managing change, and program
     example, to measure students’ higher
                                                     monitoring and evaluation. Addressing these
     order thinking, problem solving, and            issues from the outset will help schools
     technology proficiency.                         achieve the laptop program’s goals while
 •   Look for ways to evaluate the long-             minimizing unexpected problems.
     term costs and benefits of the
     technology infrastructure: Both costs           REFERENCES
     and benefits are difficult to quantify,         Bonifaz, A., & Zucker, A. A. (2004).
     but understanding them is important.             Lessons learned about providing laptops
     Little has been written about the costs          to all students. Newton, MA: Education
     of laptop programs, and about the                Development Center. Available online at:
     relationship of those costs to the               http://www.neirtec.org/laptop.
     benefits.
                                                     Means, B., & Haertel, G. D., eds. (2004).
 •   Let the research question drive the              Using technology evaluation to enhance
     choice of method: There are too many             student learning. New York: Teachers
     interesting questions about laptop               College Press.
     programs to study them all. Depending
     on the research questions, surveys,             Penuel, W. R. (2005). Research: What it
     case studies, experiments, or other              says about 1-to-1 learning. Cupertino, CA:
     methods may be appropriate. No one               Apple Computer, Inc. Available online at:
     methodology is best for answering all            http://www.ubiqcomputing.org/Apple_1-
     questions.                                       to-1_Research.pdf.
                                                     Robinett, C., Leight, M., Malinowski, C., &
CONCLUSIONS                                           Butler, J. (2005). K-12 One-to-One
  As computers and wireless networks                  Computing Handbook. Center for Digital
become more robust, seamless, and                     Education. Available online at:
affordable each year, more states and                 http://www.centerdigitaled.com/.
districts are providing all students with a          Zucker, A. A. (2004). Developing a research
computing device. These programs are                  agenda for ubiquitous computing in
complex and challenging. States and                   schools. Journal of Educational
districts that are beginning to implement             Computing Research, 30:4, 371-386. [An
one-to-one computing could benefit from               earlier version of this paper is available at
the many lessons that others have learned             http://ubiqcomputing.org/eval_materials.
through experience. Among the most                    html.]
important of those lessons is to focus on the
desired goals. According to Bette
Manchester, the laptop initiative in Maine
“is not about the technology; it is about the


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