Sunday, August 14, 2011

One-to-one laptop programs: the essential ingredients

Continuing this series of posts about using laptops in the mathematics classroom, we go back to basics and look at the essential elements of what makes a one-to-one laptop program.

So what makes a one-to-one laptop program?

Three key elements are the hallmarks of a one-to-one program:

  1. Each student has their own computing device - and it's portable.
    It's this ratio of one-device-per-student that gives us the name one-to-one (1:1). I say 'computing device' because the technology changes fast - usually we mean a laptop, but there are variations. Will the iPad or some other tablet device be the new device? Possibly - although we want students creating content not just consuming it - so it seems to me they are going to need a good input device - a stylus or a keyboard.  From a teacher's perspective, 1:1 means they can assume every student in their class has a computing device ready to work on (or most of them). No need to book the school computer labs in advance - assuming they are available - or move the class to another room. Don't underestimate how painful, time-consuming and annoying this can be for a busy teacher on a tightly scheduled program - enough to put you off using the computer labs all together.

  2. The students are connected to the internet - usually via WiFi.
    Connected to the internet means students are connected to external social and knowledge networks. Students and teachers also have options to create and participate in social and knowledge networks specific to their learning activities. Two immediate flow on effects: the teacher is no longer the source of all knowledge - the network has arrived into the classroom - and a whole new range of possibilities for collaborative learning are now available.

  3. Students can take their computing device home Learning with digital tools and being connected to social and knowledge networks can continue at home - the student has their own device and does not need to compete for computing and network access with other family members. Many of my students tell me that when their parents or their elder siblings come home, they take over the family computer. And for some students, their school issued laptop is the only computer in the house.
It's easy to under-estimate the potential impact on the teaching and learning environment resulting from of each of these elements. However as we consider 1:1 programs, there is something we must never forget ..

Arguably, the most essential ingredient of a 1:1 program is the pedagogy.

There is no silver bullet.  Giving laptops to students and leaving it at that will not make a difference. It's what students and teachers do with them that may make a difference.  As Bebell and O'Dwyer (2010) remind us - in most high profile programs, how we use the laptops, how we learn with them, is often not the key focus. Much research looks at implementation and outcomes, with little focus on what is done with the laptops. Most program evaluations take a black-box approach: put laptops into the system, come back one, two, four years later and take measurements to see if standardised test results have improved. While this is a perfectly valid approach, it doesn't necessarily tell us that much about what teachers and students are doing with the laptops, or how to get the most value from the programs.

If this is a topic that interests you (the effect of technology on learning outcomes), stop reading this post now and read this incredible paper by Weston & Bain (2010):

Weston & Bain (2010)
IMHO, the most insightful article written on the subject in the last
ten years - and I've read at least a hundred papers on the subject for my
thesis. It is an opinion piece, but draws heavily on quality research.
"The Naked Truth" is a well reasoned, rational and articulate summary of current one-to-one research which then goes on to ask the 'why' and 'how' questions, in the context of a century of 'education reform' programs. Whether you are skeptic or fanboy when it comes to technology in the classroom, you will find this article challenging reading. So am I skeptic or a fanboy? A bit of both - let's say a fanboy with skeptical eye.

In the next post in the series, I will look at what the research says about 1:1 programs in relation to mathematics classroom. You may be surprised...

Bebell, D., & O’Dwyer, L.M. (2010). Educational outcomes and research from 1:1 computing settings. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(1), 5-26.

Weston, M.E., & Bain, A. (2010). The end of techno-critique: The naked truth about 1:1 laptop initiatives and educational change. Journal of Technology, Learning and Assessment, 9(6), 5-25. Retrieved Aug 14, 2011 from


    1. Hi,

      You may be interested to read the DERNSW Literature Review which outline and focusses on the importance of Professional Learning, teacher belief in basic pedagogy and leadership as a key component in the implementation of any successful 1:1 program. It ay help to inform further posts.


    2. Hi there
      Just stumbled across your blog whilst researching some stuff about 1:1 laptop programs in maths classrooms.
      I'm head of Maths at a state secondary school in Melbourne which is implementing 1:1 at Yr 9 and 10 next year.
      Just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed reading some of your findings. Really interesting stuff about Maths traditionally using laptops a lot less than other subject areas. Look forward to reading some of the links you have posted and sharing some of your findings with my colleagues.

    3. Really Nice Information,Thank You Very Much For Sharing.Wordpress Development Company