What factors hamper the success of a 1-1 laptop program?

I don’t purport to have the answer to this question. I do have the predicament of a program that simply isn’t working.

Like all other DEC schools my school is in the final year of a four-year federal government initiative where all students in Years 9-12 are given a laptop. It is because of this so-called Digital Education Revolution that I started this blog. DER is why I started using Twitter. It is why I started looking to the Internet for learning tools for my classes. It is why I started my Masters. And it is why I am still a teacher. And whilst it certainly has started pushing teachers at my school in the direction of becoming the fabled ‘21st century teacher’, it certainly isn’t the success story I imagined it would be by the final year of the 1-1 program.

Each year I see teachers becoming more and more confident with their use of technology in the classroom. The number of IWBs in classrooms has grown tremendously … I guess that’s a start. Each year I have more and more teachers ask me about registering for edmodo because they want to connect with their students online to share ideas, resources and set assignments for electronic submission. Some teachers have even purchased iPads and have started using them in the classroom. Other teachers have taken to using tools like ClassDojo to help them create a positive learning environment. Lots more teachers are finding ways for students to use video cameras to create films that demonstrate their learning. These are big wins.

What I’m not seeing is an increased use of laptops in the classroom. I am seeing students in Year 10 – who have had their laptops for less than a year – asking to keep them in my classroom because they ‘don’t need them for other subjects’. I am encountering more students requesting to not use their laptops in my class. Why? Because it takes so long to load that they feel the waiting is hampering their learning. They only use it in my class and they can share with a friend and still achieve their learning goals. And I get that. I really do.

So is the loading lag the only reason teachers aren’t using the laptops in the classroom? I can’t say that is the only reason. I think that the main issues are still related to pedagogy and the pressures of a crowded syllabus and a high stakes external examination – the HSC. These two reasons mesh to make the use of laptops really difficult for lots of teachers. Add to that a machine that is unreliable and you can understand why teachers aren’t rushing to use laptops in their classrooms.

It has always struck me as odd that the so-called ‘edutech gurus’ criticise teachers for failing to integrate technology into their students’ learning and yet a quick look at the booking sheets for computer labs invariably finds them booked out. And it’s not just the TAS teachers making the bookings. It’s all subjects – LOTE, creative arts, HSIE … the lot! I should know – recently I was kinda reprimanded (in a nice way – I wasn’t named and shamed although I’m pretty confident everyone knew I was the one being spoken about) because I’d booked every one of my lessons into a computer lab for the rest of the term. My colleagues were understandably annoyed by the fact that they couldn’t get into a lab when they needed to. So why are teachers more comfortable taking their students to the computer lab than they are having students use laptops in their classrooms? I’m keen to find out why from the teachers themselves. But I’m pretty confident they could all be categorised under the three reasons I already listed above.

I must confess that I feel responsible (almost entirely) for the semi-failure of the 1-1 program at my school. Last year I hid in my classroom. I was unwilling to spend another 12 months doing ‘show and tell’ at staff meetings and trying to run lunchtime and after-school workshops that were attended by one person or neglected entirely. I hadn’t worked out how to ‘fix’ the 1-1 problem. In my lack of persistence I have done my colleagues and our students a disservice. I need to make up for that this year and I’m still trying to work out how. Of course showcasing Project Based Learning to the staff is one thing I will be doing this year. I spent so much time last year experimenting with student-centred pedagogies that I reckon I should start sharing that at my school at some point this year. I can’t even explain why I’m so anxious about doing that.

Anyway, if your school has been successful in ensuring all students in 10-12 are using their laptops productively in their classes when they are needed, I would love to hear your story. Does your school run 1-1? What do you do to make it work? What professional learning strategies have you used to target this teacher and student resistance to laptops? I want this last roll-out of laptops to really sing – I want it to be the best year yet for 1-1 at my school!!

Re-reading this post has helped me to remember one thing about my dilemma. I haven’t actually asked the students or the teachers how often they use the laptops or why they don’t use them. I reckon that sort of information might come in handy. And maybe I’m just naively trusting the words of my students who claim that the laptops aren’t being used … perhaps they are?

And then, as a final twist to the story, I think maybe the teachers and students are just ‘voting with their feet’ so to speak. Maybe they are sending a message to all us edutech wannabes and saying ‘No, we don’t want to use laptops in the classroom. That’s not how we want to learn.’ There’s something exciting and organic about that idea. They’re not saying they don’t want to use technology, they’re just saying that the 1-1 idea is flawed. Maybe it’s that the 1-1 thing encourages a teacher-centred pedagogy and an individual-worker mentality. Maybe the love of the computer lab indicates that teachers and students thrive on a variety of learning experiences and learning spaces. Why would a kid bring a laptop to school every day if they’re not needed in every lesson every day? It’s inconvenient. Maybe this is why laptop trolleys have had more success. Perhaps variety is the key. Perhaps.



24 thoughts on “What factors hamper the success of a 1-1 laptop program?

  1. We surveyed our year 9,10 and 11 students last year as well as their parents about the DER laptops. The older grades were not using them anywhere near as much and did not find them useful (year 11 especially), but the year 9s were using them across a wide variety of subjects and were enjoying using them and felt confident in their abilities in using them. I think there were a number of factors at play. One is that over the 3 years, the laptops were better quality. Most of the year 11 laptops (the red ones) no longer worked, or if they did, they were so slow they were useless. Teachers stopped integrating using laptops into the lesson because the majority of the students didn’t bring them for the above reasons. Many of the Year 10 laptops (the blue ones) were headed this way too (although not as much). The year 9s, on the other hand, had great laptops that were working well, and were excited and happy to use them in all their subjects, so the teachers at our schools designed lessons in which they could be used.

    Another reason I think is that over the three years, we refined our process of the laptop rollout. The year 9s last year were given specific lessons on how to use OneNote effectively, for example, and so straight away they set up their subject notebooks on their laptops. Each faculty was given time for a couple of nominated staff members to design a specific unit of work for year 9 that utilised the laptops, so that further enforced the use in class. This group is now in year 10, and the majority are still bringing their laptops to every lesson and are using them in class. So far this year, I have had only one student in year 10 not bring his laptop on one day (he forgot) and that’s it. The year 10s expect to use their laptops and automatically get them out for class.

    Finally, I think the teachers have become more confident in using the laptops. They are generally happy for the students to use OneNote as their workbook, and it’s easy to have students research in class or do whatever it is they need to on their laptops. I’m so used to them now that I’m one of those annoying teachers that books out the library laptop (we bought a set of 30 last year) for her year 7s to use almost every lesson (how else can they blog? research? discuss on edmodo? 😉

    I don’t think our school is perfect. But I think we have (as a school) worked pretty hard to try and get the 1:1 thing to work.

    • Wow. I’m impressed. Our school is far, far below that vision of a 1-1 school. I’m feeling pretty much awful now cos I know I could have done more to support teachers and students with integrating the laptops. Damn. Thanks for your great comment – now I gotta actually do stuff and shut up with all my talkin’.

      • I think it’s pretty hard for one person to do everything! We have a Technology 4 Learning committee, a supportive exec who are pretty into technology and a bunch of staff pretty happy to experiment and then teach others 🙂

      • We have that too – but we also have a leader of tech integration who is egotistical and controlling. Me. I haven’t done anything to get a group of teachers working together and have tried to do it all myself for the glory. Such a failure. Silly. Will work hard this year to change it. Just so much else I’ve taken on as well. Dumb ego.

  2. Last year one of my Year 10 English students refused to use his Netbook in the classroom at all. He felt that it was a distraction rather than a useful tool. And indeed some students are very tempted to stray from set work and are occasionally ‘busted’ doing the wrong thing on the Internet. While the race to secure a computer lab booking is well and truly gone, there is rarely a lesson where one or more students experience technical difficulties and need to access the techies…
    But through it all, the research value of having Netbooks in the classroom is enormous. I am a newbie to the world of PBL but I am very keen to implement it in my classroom, and I have been busy learning how to go about it (on my Netbook!). Year 10 History will be my first guinea pigs this week. I am nervous about covering the course content and feel that the pressure of preparing students for the topic exam will curtail my grand PBL plans.

    • So all of the teachers in your school are using the laptop with their students regularly despite the tech glitches? Persistence. And do you have an executive that is supportive? Mine are but I think we need to refocus on DER this year.
      Good luck with PBL – hope it’s a great experience for you and your students!

  3. We have surveyed all our students with DER laptops for two years now and have found that over 90% of students say they use their laptops in most of their lessons or some of their lessons for nearly every subject. We ask them how they think laptops have benefited their learning and many responses were in the light of having quick access to information, allowing them to be more organised and accessing interactive resources. Their responses to how the 1:1 laptop program can be improved involved unblocking social networking sites such as YouTube at home. A lot of KLAs have put together units of work in OneNote where quizzes, videos and interactive activities are embedded so students feel like they “miss out”, even if they are provided with a hardcopy equivalent of the activity. I found a lot of students like the Students Response Network program.

    I agree with what you said – it is about the pedagogy. You can put as many IWBs, laptops and iPads in the classroom, but if the class is still about the teacher lecturing students, then there is no need for laptops.The laptop isn’t a glorified exercise book!

    • 90% of students use them? Wow. That is unbelievable. Is this a comprehensive or selective school? Just trying to picture that at my school. I think the OneNote thing is understandable … easy to replace workbooks and textbooks with OneNote and a safe pedagogy – teacher delivery of content. Not trying to sound critical – haha, I’m trying to understand what I didn’t do and why DER didn’t hum/sing as it should have at my school.
      I haven’t used SRN – is it easy to use? I gotta put it on the to-do list.

  4. I would love to use the laptops but honestly very few of our kids manage to hang on to them in working order for longer than a couple of months and I totally get why. They get very frustrated at the unreliability, the slow connection speeds and end up throwing something at it (or it at something!) in frustration! Each time I have tried to integrate them I find that not even half my class even have a laptop in class, they can’t remember their password, the system won’t let them log on, their screen is cracked, their battery (all two hours of it) is dead etc. etc.
    I know this sounds incredibly jaded and wingey, but I always find computer labs easier (though never for 1-1 because labs have a max of 20 computers and my classes have 30 kids. I am finding that computer work is best at home or through my data projector (our only IWB room had to be timetabled as a sewing room this year due to lack of space!)
    So don’t feel too bad about it! You’re doing far better than I am and you aren’t half as bitter!

    • Hey Polly 🙂
      Thanks for your honest comment! I know what you mean about how slow they are! Maybe our kids have shorter attention spans, lolz.
      That is so awful about your room with the IWB! Is your school thinking about getting more? It sounds like you’re battling some epic obstacles to get DER humming at your school!

  5. What about a Chromebook? http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=K_dd7yINXCE [specifically 1:20 – 2:12] more here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dsdxvyyPnfI

    I have one personally and love it. It’s not perfect for processor-intensive stuff, but it is great for everyday surfing, Google Docs, etc. The management side of it for education seems pretty nice, too. It boots in 8 seconds and lasts forever on battery.

    Maybe schools (I don’t know much about your specific situation nor Australia’s) tried running with the 1:1 initiative too soon — without the correct computers and without the support infrastructure (IT and PD), etc. It’s “easy” to say, “Here’s some computers; now, run with it!” However, the support (PD and IT) need to be in place. I have seen that in many cases in schools around me — they drop a SmartBoard in the teacher’s room with NO support. — it just sits there.

    Like what @ellyconnolly said, there is no way for ONE person to do it all! There needs to be a system in place… and time!!! The administration (leadership) needs to be on the same page, too. — they can’t just like shiny objects — they actually have to know how they work and why! 🙂

    • Thanks so much for your comment! I would love to try out the alternatives that you listed … but we get stuck with what the Govt gives us. This is the last year though, we will get to choose next year!
      Yup – trying to take on the challenge of successfully implement a 1-1 program single-handedly is impossible.
      PL and infrastructure needs to come first!

      • And that is the big thing with the DER laptops- they aren’t working well as a do everything machine. THey should’ve surveyed what most would use them for and then got a machine tailored for that. Loading up a netbook with processor-intensive apps is a big problem. But hindsight is 20/20 vision.

  6. Nice post. We should all evaluate DER. I think you’ve summed up the positives and negatives well. I wonder where we go from here? It’s hard to believe a new government won’t have a strategy for integrating ICT into the classroom. It’s part of daily life for students, and for that matter, many teachers.

    • Hey Ben 🙂
      Yup – the future certainly is unclear in terms of funding. I do feel that DER has done a wonderful thing by pushing heaps of us into thinking about tech in edu … I certainly wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now (writing on a blog) if it wasn’t for DER.
      I think schools will keep evolving because there is a wonderful grassroots movement of DIY teachers who will encourage that evolution. Fingers crossed!

  7. The slow loading and breakage issue is the problem at our school. In year 11 the students have given up using their laptops, and all but 3 are broken. The students and parents are not prepared to pay the money necessary to have them fixed.

    Year 9 always starts out well with working netbooks and enthusiastic students. This year we are resorting to keeping the netbooks at school and not allowing students to take them home because of the breakage problem.

    I have spoken to most of the staff at the school about their usage of netbooks and all have difficulty with a situation in which a significant proportion of the netbooks are broken or ‘in to be fixed’ etc.

    • Hi Viviene 🙂
      Thanks for your honest comment – it is a case of the machine just not being cut out for the job of being lugged around by teenagers, I think!

      I think we’ll be doing the same with Year 9 – keeping the laptops at school!

  8. Nice post Bianca – I think many schools are facing exactly the same issues you discuss – our included. It is very much a vicious circle – students don’t bring laptops – teachers don’t use the laptops. Personally I am still fighting to get the kids to bring – top Year 11 General class – about 75% had them there today – and were able to contribute to the question bank of multiple choice questions of Moodle that will form a key element of their revision processes – others were stuck doing textbook work. I agree with Alice make the learning more interesting with the technology and they will come! (Eventually!)

    I think a key element is that we all thought the students were ready to embrace this change to their learning environments and to a certain extent would drive the teacher change – however the students still needed guidance and coercing – and a majority of teachers are not ready to do that – hence the success of the program in a few schools and the lack of success in others. We now need to adapt – open up the wireless to BYO devices – let the kids use phones, the android tablet that made an appearance in Year 12 today etc. Remove the barriers for the kids (YouTube, Facebook etc) – allow students to show us how they want to use the technology to learn.

    As an example the other day a Year 11 student was preferring to use her phone to access our Moodle page to get some links to interactive games which she then posted to our class Facebook group so that it was easier to find them at home! And she had her laptop on her desk! 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment Simon – lots of helpful ideas in there!
      I agree with the BYOD idea – just not sure how keen the parents are for students to bring own devices that are expensive. Mobile phones are working great with edmodo in my class!
      I just have to keep reminding myself of how far we actually have come with all of this technology in the classroom – it is brought us right to where we need to be … talking about learning and pedagogy!! 🙂

  9. Like you, I wouldn’t be where i am today without the DER rollout. It certainly helped me pursue teaching with technology and all that it provides. And like you I have come to the realisation that it is the PEDAGOGY that is important, not the tools. Great learning experiences are great learning experiences – tech may just make it easier to manufacture them, tech is not the end in itself. I want to further investigate PBL and how tech will help me with that.

  10. Completely agree about the survey. We’re nowhere near 1:1 here (Wales) but the biggest problem we’ve had with the netbooks we have had had been logging on times and then slow network. I don’t know how practical this would be for you, but we’re looking at putting Linux on some of the older machines (boot up time you can count in seconds, not minutes), as the students can now access pretty much everything they need via the cloud.

    Something else that’s taking off in a big way over here (although is still on my to-do list) is the idea of ‘digital leaders’ – students who support the roll out of devices either by acting as on call tech support, or helping staff develop lessons that make the best use of the technology at their disposal. Again, may not work in your context, but I thought I’d mention it.

    Thanks for the open and honest posts, as ever 🙂

    • hey dave 🙂

      there has been som issues with our 1-1 roll out, mostly to do with the machines themselves having far too many programs on them than they can handle and also just a lack of professional learning and time given to teachers.

      Unfortunately ours are locked to what the DEC has put on them, in other words we don’t have any power to change the operating system. A shame really. I agree about using the cloud – all of my students use edmodo for their storage.

      I do hope your program is more successful! Spend equal amounts of $ and time on professional learning as you spend on the technology – that’s my advice!


  11. Pingback: My daughter’s possibly useless school laptop « Alasdair's musings

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