The problem with the Program


May 8, 2009 by readlisaread

Today on Twitter (while I was Tweeting) a topic appeared that Tweeked(!!) my interest. The question was in regards to 1-to-1 laptop programs. I replied that my experience with a similar situation in my district, and how it was a less-than-stellar one. One of my Tweet-Peeps asked for more detail, so here it is….(now, I do hope this doesn’t get me fired….)

The program was to run for 3 years, and involve roughly 300 kids. The focus was to be on improving reading for information scores. The 3 years of the program were to span grade 5, 6, and 7. Now, before I move into Rant Mode, let me state that I am clearly a supporter of 1-to-1 opportunities for all kids, and I welcome (with relish) the day when kids come to school with a laptop as just one of their learning tools, along with pencils, glue and felt pens. However….if programs such as these are intended to encourage adoption of 1-to-1 technology, I think our program impaired the evolution towards that state.


  • span of program: in my district, grade 7’s are in Middle School, so in order for the program to run 3 years, the students had iBooks in Elementary School for the first 2 years, then moved to Middle School for the final year. Except for one class in the north end, which has a different configuration (K-7 and 8-12). That class started and ended in the same building. In the south end, there is yet another configuration (K-5, 6-8, 9-12) None of those schools participated.
  • breadth of the program: 10 grade 5 classes were chosen to participate. These 10 classes did not represent all the feeder schools to all of the Middle Schools, so in that 3rd year, in both Middle Schools participating, roughly 65% of the incoming grade 7’s were laptop kids. This presented a logistical time-table nightmare. In my school, the end result was to create 4 laptop classes, the district agreeing to supplement with a dozen or so iBooks to pick up any extras in those 4 classes, and one class of grade 7’s with no laptops.
  • support: in the first year, teachers volunteered who wanted to be part of the program. The school’s Prince had to agree as well, and they had to go into the program with a tacit understanding that that teacher would “loop” those kids for grade 5 and 6, then send them off to MS. Well, that’s not what ended up happening, so that in the second year, there were more than half the teachers to train again, and for the third year, all the grade 7 teachers needed to be trained. There was nowhere near enough tech support, mentorship, pre-service training…none of the necessary underpinnings were in place. Add to that the fact that only the first wave of teachers bought into the program. In the second year, they seemed cautiously willing to try to learn how the teach in a 1-to-1 situation, by Grade 7, the teachers were resistant and resentful of the program being dropped in their laps.
  • infrastructure: although wireless stations (ie, airports) were installed, printers networked, plugs rewired and all manner of other hardware issues addressed, the cruel reality was that, especially by the third year, the necessary tech and training was not even remotely adequate. The frustration level by year three was extreme on all sides.
  • expectations: because this was being billed as a “pilot” project, it was necessary to document, assess, collect data, re-evaluate, re-collect and continually compare, contrast and refine that data. The added workload for the teachers would, I’m sure, have seemed worthwhile had the students’ reading scores skyrocketed, as was the case in early 1-2-1 projects, such as the Peace River wireless writing project that saw raw-score increases in double digits for all of the kids in the program. The fact that final results were never shared in public or private speaks volumes about what was actually achieved in my district.
  • details: some things were never hammered out and agreed upon– such as whether or not the kids would be allowed to take the iBooks home; whether the program would recommence on the 4th year with a new lot of grade 5’s(it didn’t, and there are no plans to do so) ; what to do about “split grades”– a reality in almost every class in the program; student buy-out option=families were told at the outset that they would be able to buy the laptop at the end of the 3 years. This was quietly revoked, and the iBooks remained property of the schools.
  • also-rans: there was disparity around the need for families to take out extra insurance in the case of the laptop coming home–we have a wide range of SES–this was part of the issue with the iBooks going home in some cases, not others.
  • Final reflection: I feel sad that it went as far wrong as it did. I think one of the biggest problems was ego- this was a Shiny Badge for a few people involved, the kids weren’t really the focus, Glory was. Never a sound educational motive….
  • Recommendations: were I asked (and I never was), I would suggest: Run the program for one year, then move those kids on–let the next group coming up run for a year, and so on, cycling through in much shorter rotations. Run the program in one building across all the classes in one or two grades. Pre-train the teachers, and offer appropriate, ongoing and adequate support. Don’t fly in “experts” every couple of months to deliver a pile of “stuff” that the teachers can’t use, don’t understand, can’t access, don’t “get”. Don’t expect “non techy” teachers to be instantly comfortable with the technology– they will see it as an intrusion, not a blessing.

I could go on, but it’s time to turn off Rant Mode. Comments and thoughts are, of course, always welcome.


  1. Ann Flynn says:

    You have provided a wonderful overview on the many areas that need to be addressed prior to the implememtation of a 1:1 learning project…even at the pilot stage. With the continued growth of these programs around the world, we will be offering a mini-academy during NSBA’s education technology conference, T+L, in Denver in October to look at how districts get to the next step in their 1:1 implementation. One of the most successful stratgies we’ve seen with teachers was the creation of professional learning communities where teachers of the same grade level worked together on content and lessons that the devices could support. Like you, I share the dream that all students will eventually have these tools to support their learning. With the dropping price point of netbook devices, that reality may actually be getting closer so it is even more important that school leaders identify the essential conditions for a successful project.

  2. [Blocked by CFC] readlisaread says:

    Thank you so much for the comment, Ann. I get so frustrated with the ……frustration! Implementing technology is hard enough, without fighting the bureaucracy too. Thanks for reading!

  3. […] My post entitled “The Problem with the Program” […]

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