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One-to-One Computing:
Is Your School Ready?

by Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain


Handhelds, laptops, tablet PCs...Which is best for your school? Guest columnist Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain offers a simple rubric for administrators, teachers, and parents to use when evaluating their school's readiness for one-to-one computing. Print this rubric and share it with your entire school community.

Many studies have been done, and much information -- formal and informal -- has been shared, about how one-to-one computing can be funded, implemented, and managed in schools. Much less information is available to help a school initially decide among the options. Perhaps a self-definition rubric is the answer for schools seeking to implement some type of 1-1 computing model.

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Positive outcomes from technology investments require three things: visionary leadership, ongoing support for teacher training, and valid tools for assessing the impact of technology on student learning.

If we are to believe recent reports and the anecdotal evidence of our colleagues, less than 30 percent of school leaders (principals, superintendents) have a driving vision for the use of technology in the 21st century classroom. This is not about budget -- this is about providing dynamic leadership for learning on a day-to-day, face-to-face, authentic basis.

A growing disconnect is occurring between school leadership and the 40+ percent of teachers who are eager and/or prepared to use technology in the classroom. The gap is becoming a crisis in schools where leadership has supported or initiated purchasing initiatives (especially such high-profile technologies as tablets, laptops, Internet-connected handhelds and such high-volume technologies as handhelds and AlphaSmart) that create expectations within the school community, and then has failed to articulate or energize a vision for using those technologies.

Learn More!

Have you seen these Education World articles about choosing technology?
* Technology Planning: Closing the Communications Gap
* Embracing the Vision: One-to-One Computing in Our Classrooms
* One-to-One Computing: Lessons Learned and Pitfalls to Avoid
* The 411 on One-to-One Computing

Unfortunately for students and teachers, by and large the only tool available to leadership for measuring the value of the purchased technology is standardized testing. The fact that standardized testing is not an appropriate tool for measuring 21st century learning in general, or learning with technology in particular, has yet to be addressed in a meaningful way.


Let's suppose, however, that the dialogue about one-to-one computing choices has been ongoing -- and it is decision time. Just as they do when choosing a math text, SIS (student information system), CMS (content management system), or classroom teacher, school leadership needs to find the best "fit." In my opinion, they can use some core indicators to help make that decision. Those indicators are:
Group 1 Identifiers

  • The degree to which the mathematics and history classrooms are student-centered. (English/language arts and fine arts are not in this equation because those disciplines are, by their very nature, generally student-centered.)
  • The degree to which the science curriculum is project and problem-based.
  • The size and flexibility of the initial budget for change.
  • The robustness and flexibility of the network.
  • The size of the IT staff in relation to predicted technical needs.

Other, causally related, identifiers, which can be rated as High, Average, Low, are:
Group 2 Identifiers

  • The degree to which the school community tolerates risk-taking in the classroom.
  • The degree to which the school community tolerates change in the curriculum and schedule.
  • The soundness of the budget in a 3-5 year projection.
  • The flexibility of the IT staff (knowledge base, training, experience, curiosity).
  • The degree to which learning is differentiated.

I highly recommend that Intel's Visual Ranking tool be used to sort out and personalize the interrelationships between those identifiers. I have, however, also created a simple rubric schools can use:







Click here for a printable version of the rubric.


What do the values tell you?

Initial Values

  • If the majority of the initial values are 3, it does not matter which portable technology is adopted -- the probability of success is high. However, the best solution would probably be a combination of tablet PC's and mobile sets of Internet connected handheld devices.
  • If the sum of the initial values is 20-25, the more conservative choice of one-to-one laptops is indicated. If the low scores are identifiers 3, 4, 5, and 9, however, because of cost, handhelds would be a better solution.
  • A sum of between 14-19 would indicate that a limited number of mobile laptop carts and handheld kits would be a choice to consider as an entry-level solution, for the school might not be ready for a large-scale solution in terms of either cost or commitment.
  • A sum less than 14 should send up a red flag. If identifiers 2, 9, and 10 are strong, a limited handheld program is indicated. By and large, however, the school would do better to stick with a desktop lab solution.


  • Identifiers1, 2, 6, 7, and 10 are focused on value-added to the student experience. When the majority of those are weighted +2, even with initial values of 2, a laptop or tablet PC solution is indicated. Consideration even can be given to cellular solutions. Conversely, weighting these +1 or 0 indicates a lack of vision for instructional change, and argues against anything more than a minimal solution beyond desktop labs.
  • Identifiers 3, 4, 5, and 8, when given a +2 weight, indicate a pragmatic vision for a portable solution and, when coupled with Initial Values of 1 and 2, indicate that the school is ready for a limited solution whose accountability is measurable: laptops for writing tasks and handhelds in the science classroom (extensions to the TI 83 for example).
  • Identifier 9, when given a low initial value and a weight of 0 or +1, is another red flag. At the very least, it suggests that a school-wide solution be adopted, and that it should be a conservative solution with good outside support (e.g. not handhelds or mixed laptop platforms).

We return, then, to what is becoming a technology adage: "learning goals first, technology second." I don't agree with that. The most powerful aspect of all the one-to-one technologies is their ability to realign, redirect, and recreate learning goals. Acceptance of any of them means acceptance of the risks and discomfort inherent in educational change. The adage needs to be reworded: "Learning goals and technology go forward hand-in-hand."

A graduate of Middlebury College and Rutgers University, Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain has been a teacher and school librarian for more than 30 years. She has been a classroom teacher of English, literacy, history, health, and human sexuality; a coach; and a coordinator of PC and Mac labs. She began using computers in 1971, programming bibliographic search strategies for the Rutgers School of Library Service. Her first personal computer was an Apple IIGS, which she used to develop a groundbreaking digital grade report form and contest-winning HyperStudio multimedia classroom projects for Portledge School in Locust Valley, New York. She developed and coordinated the school's laptop program, created the school Web site, and won several awards for creative technology curriculum integration projects. Most recently, she served as technology department head and teacher at The Chapin School in New York City. Currently, Sky-McIlvain teaches an experimental course in 21st century literacy to 8th graders in laptop classrooms at Maine's Freeport Middle School, and provides teachers with training and support for integrating technology into the curriculum through Least Tern, a company she runs with her husband and fellow educator John McIlvain.

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

Updated 10/20/2009