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One-To-One Computing:
Lessons Learned,
Pitfalls to Avoid

Just because a technology is available for students doesn't mean it has to be used all the time. Find out what the research says about the benefits of one-to-one computing, and read about educator concerns about the overuse of technology. Included: Ten Web sites offering research, concerns, and tips on one-to-one computing!

One-to-one computing means putting a computer -- a PC, laptop, handheld, or tablet PC -- into the hands of every student. While many educators say that one-to-one computing is transforming education for the better, others say it's making the classroom teacher's job harder than ever. Some even believe that the emphasis on technology actually prevents students from learning.

In this, the second of two articles on one-to-one computing (See The 411 on One-to-One Computing), we look at reasons to consider one-to-one computing in the classroom, research data on the impact of technology on student achievement, concerns about technology's overuse in the classroom, and tips to ensure that classroom computing helps, rather than hinders, the learning process.


Let's consider some of the reasons most often given for providing students with one-to-one classroom computing tools:

Increases achievement
One of the most popular rationales, yet one of the hardest to prove, is that one-to-one computing increases student achievement. In this day of standardized testing, it's more important than ever before that every expenditure improves student learning. Isolating technology's impact on achievement can be challenging, however. Further confusing the issue is the fact that most research on one-to-one computing comes from the computer industry -- making objective research difficult to find.

Increases student engagement
Many educators say that attendance and student interest improves in classrooms using one-to-one technology. Certainly, a present and engaged student is the best type of student to have!

Complements project-based learning classroom
One-to-one technology is at its best in classrooms in which learning is driven by projects requiring research, collaboration, and production of a final product (a slide show, video, or Web page).

Broadens learning beyond the classroom
Time and distance no longer create barriers when students can access the world around them in an instant. High school students can see news unfold on their laptops. Elementary students can view locations around the world on a Web cam and get real-time local data. Middle school students can e-mail a nuclear physicist to clarify questions raised during science class.

Takes advantage of the teachable moment
Many of the advantages of one-to-one classroom computing also can apply to computers in a lab or at a small classroom computer center. Capitalizing on a student's intriguing question or on an unexpected discussion is much harder, however, when a teacher has to schedule computer time. In a one-to-one computing classroom, a topic arises and teacher and students immediately are online, investigating, questioning, and extending the conversation with information and tools not available to them in other situations.

Prepares for tomorrow's workplace
When a student's only exposure to a computer is in a lab at the end of the hall, technology can be seen as a fragmented skill unrelated to daily life or a future career. As we know, however, computers are essential for almost any job -- doctors record patient notes on Tablet PCs; small businesses order supplies online; farmers check the Internet for the latest weather conditions. One-to-one computing ensures that all students have the skills and confidence to integrate technology into their future, as well as their present.


Keeping in mind the challenge of finding unbiased research on the educational impact of one-to-one computing, as well as the difficulty of isolating one variable (such as technology) in such a complex and hard-to-quantify concept as student achievement, what does the research show?

  • Increased quality and quantity in writing: Some preliminary studies suggest that students not only write more, but write better, when using laptops rather than pen and paper.
  • Greater student collaboration: The Center for Applied Research in Education Technology (CARET) provides a variety of research that suggests that students improve interpersonal abilities and teamwork skills through collaboration using laptops and handhelds.
  • Greater teacher awareness of student progress: CARET also sites research that seems to demonstrate that teachers can better monitor, or can monitor in more varied ways, student understanding and application of skills and concepts through one-to-one technology.

In addition, some empirical evidence exists that students' organizational skills improve in the one-to-one-computing classroom. Papers no longer are lost in the bottom of lockers or in cars or digested by dogs, teachers say.

Other educators have observed a shift in social dynamics in tech-ing classrooms. Students who make the fanciest PowerPoint presentations, can run a projector, or edit video are more accepted -- and even more popular -- as students in every social clique want to do the very best they can with technology.

See the links at the end of this article for more research on one-to-one computing.


Students love computers. Many districts are eager to keep up with others technologically. So why not put a computer in every student's hands?

Some critics argue that too many schools emphasize technology over learning. Being able to surf the Internet or create an elegantly designed word processing document, they say, doesn't mean that students understand math better or are better able to use critical thinking skills.

Others complain that laptops and handhelds distract from learning rather than enhance it. Rather than taking lecture notes, students are watching videos, surfing the 'Net, or instant messaging friends and strangers. For some teachers, the resulting classroom management issues outweigh the benefits of one-to-one computing.

Lack of student and teacher training also is a concern. Often, students are given laptops and teachers are told to start teaching with them, when they themselves are new to the technology. With little training and a lot of administrative pressure, many teachers have students take notes in Word or surf online and call it technology integration. Laptops are expensive typewriters, and relying on the Internet for most (or all) of one's research is risky. Without significant support for teacher training, the cost-benefit ratio of one-to-one computing rarely is justified.

The question arises, "Have studies shown unequivocally that one-to-one computing has a significantly higher impact on learning than the traditional lab or classroom center model?" For many districts, the financial commitment required to give each student a handheld, laptop, or tablet PC means looking carefully at each of the options to see if as much, or more, can be done with less. Are there ways to achieve educational goals with less risk and lower cost?


Can one-to-one computing make a difference in the classroom? Probably. As we've seen, however, there are pitfalls to avoid. The following tips can help make a laptop, handheld, or tablet PC "roll-out" at your school a seamless success:

  • Administrative commitment and vision: From district to site-based administrators, leaders should be committed to change and willing to provide both the financing and long-term dedication to the technology's success.
  • Parental support: Parents must be aware of the initiative and support it. In some independent schools, parents themselves pay for the laptops, handhelds, or tablets. In public schools, parents might not pay for the technology, but they do need to be aware of its impact on their child. That impact includes the responsibility for a laptop, handheld, or tablet PC that comes home with the child, as well as the risks of inappropriate Internet use.
  • Staff development/support: Teachers should have access to handhelds or laptops months -- or even years -- before students do. They also should be provided with substantive technical and instructional support so they can build the skills and confidence needed to use technology in their classrooms.
  • Strong backbone: What happens when your school's 50 or 60 computers grow to 300, 600, or more? As much attention needs to be paid to the technology that isn't seen -- including hubs, access points, T1 lines -- as to the technology that is seen.
  • Safety and security: Laptops need to be secured when not in use. Students need to know how to surf and e-mail safely. Tables need to be the right height for laptops...

As with many educational innovations, technology for every student sometimes can seem to be just one more bandwagon that schools jump on in fear of being left behind. Keeping up with the Joneses, however, has never been a good reason for educational choices. Particularly when it comes to this particular bandwagon, educators need to carefully consider whether purchasing, setting up, and teaching with technology really is worth the expense, time, and effort.

Most importantly, to best serve students and teachers, educators at all levels need to be clear on their goals, both in teaching and in using technology to teach and learn. Only then can the right decision be made on whether one-to-one classroom computing belongs in your school.


Do you want more information on how to best implement laptops or handhelds in the classroom? Are you interested in the latest research into one-to-one computing? Check out the following Web sites.

Article by Lorrie Jackson
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World


Links Updated 05/17/2011