Monday, August 16, 2010

One-To-One Programs in Schools: The Hype verses The Evidence

In trying to understand what happens in schools that adopt one-to-one programs, it is important to examine some of the hype surrounding these programs in the light of recent research. For this purpose, use is made of statements made by Saul Rockman (2007) about the perceived benefits of one-to-one programs:

Programs have evolved and expanded to the point where they have influenced the nature of schooling.
Considering laptops to be a “game changer” in terms teaching and learning ignores factors identified by Gaffney (2010) such as, appropriateness and perceived value of the digital curriculum resources employed, the capability and desire of teachers to use laptops in their teaching, motivation and interest of students to use them as learning tools and school culture. Cuban (quoted in Weston & Bain 2010) also argues the view that equipping students and teachers with computers will revolutionise teaching and learning and increase test scores is largely unsubstantiated and that improved outcomes  are more likely the result of sound or innovative teaching rather than the deployment of laptop computers. He also (Cuban 1986) drew similar parallels with the introduction of television in classrooms in the 1950s. Weston & Bain (2010) offer support for Cuban's views that in the last ten years, there has been little evidence of effect of one-to-one computing on teaching, learning, and student achievement. Studies of large scale one-to-one programs support these views. According to Silvernail and Buffington, commenting on the Maine Learning and Technology Initiative [MLTI] (quoted in Weston & Bain 2010, p.7), “providing teachers and students abundant access to laptop technology is only the first step toward using the technology as an effective instructional and learning tool”. Stager (2007, p.1 ) goes further by stating that “ Sadly, as the technology has become cheaper and more ubiquitous, its use in schools has become more cautious and pedestrian.”

Having a personal computer changes students' attitude toward school.
Some large scale research projects support this view. The Irving Report(2006) on the Texas one-to-one program [TIPS] , reported, a positive effect overall of the laptop program on students attitudes. The Becta (2009) report states that in general, young people hold positive attitudes towards technology. According to Shapley et al. (quoted in Weston & Bain 2010, p. 7) however, across four evaluation years, there was no evidence linking technology immersion with students' general satisfaction with school work.  How teachers view the roles and responsibilities of students in learning, their willingness to enhance their students’ interest and motivation to learning and how they align these views with use of laptops important than one-to-one programs themselves.

Students take great care of their device and make it their own personal learning environment.
In an evaluation of a large scale One Laptop Per Child Program, Bebell and O'Dwyer (2008) found there was much less damage to the devices than expected. Also according to Quimby (2007, p.1): “Maine's repair costs have been relatively low. Jeff Mao, coordinator of educational technology at the Department of Education, estimated that no more than 2 percent of the computers were lost or damaged during the first four years, and this year less than 1 percent have been damaged or lost.” According to Stager (2007), students do personalise their laptops but more clarification of the term "personal learning environment" is required.

Students are participating more in collaborative projects.

The Irving Report (2006, p.4) noted that during 2006, and consistent with 2005 data, teachers reported that students typically work in groups more when they have laptops. Is this because computers allow more opportunities for collaborative projects or is it that teachers are changing their pedagogy in incorporate more group work? Having the means to more easily collaborate is a given with networked laptops, but this does not mean that the opportunity is taken up. The Irving report (2006) mentions however, that the number of teachers who said they never have their students present as part of a group on projects or presentations decreased from 51.7% in 2005 to 35.9% in 2006. More research needs to be done here.

Students display a greater level of autonomy, independence, and responsibility than they have ever before.
This appears to be a very lofty claim and both the Becta (2009) and Irving (2006) reports noted that levels of independent learning vary greatly between schools and that there are vast differences in the amount of independent learning in primary and high schools, with far less happening in high schools. This pattern of variation between primary and high schools was also evident in levels of daily use of laptops. According to Shapley et al. (quoted in Weston & Bain 2010, p. 7) , in Technology Immersion schools, students experience somewhat more intellectually demanding work” (p. 81–82) but that, “Across four evaluation years, there was no evidence linking Technology Immersion with student self-directed learning.” Levels of student self-directed learning, it may be argued, are more likely a reflection of pedagogy than technology.

Students are more organised about their school responsibilities and are more likely to get their work done on time.
The Irving Report (2006) noted that the nature of disruptive behaviours appeared to have decreased in form and frequency compared to one year earlier. More long-term studies of this view are required but again, as Gaffney (2010) states,  the crucial element of any technological innovation is the development of the human being, not the implementation. And Victory (2008, p. 24) in his case study of Luther College, Croydon, Victoria explains that:
“The school has allowed every student to be an administrator on their own computer. This is an approach that many school leaders, parents and politicians would find frightening but the most valuable thing that a school can do is provide students with a moral compass and, in doing so, encourage students to make good decisions about what they access and what they do with their computer.”
It is this guidance, rather than the device alone, that is important in levels of student autonomy.

Laptops better cater for students' varying abilities.

The Becta report (Cox 2009) states “ Over 80 per cent of teachers in both primary and secondary schools either agreed or strongly agreed that technology is particularly useful in helping to support the diverse learning needs of learners. Furthermore, around 90 per cent of teachers in primary, secondary and special schools agreed that technology can have a positive impact on learners with special educational needs. More teachers felt that technology had an impact on these learners than any other group. (Teeman et al 2009 quoted in Becta 2009, p.27 ). In supporting this, Weston and Bain (2010, p.6), commenting on Silvernail's MLTI report, stated that “less than 40% teachers strongly agreed that they can individualise curriculum to fit student needs with a laptop”. This does not mean that all students abilities are better catered for by laptops and more research is required.

Laptops improve the quality of student work.
The Becta Report (2009) found evidence of the benefits computer and Internet access at home is important in explaining achievement gaps and some behaviour outcomes. Computers at home were found to be positively associated with Key Stage 4 test scores, while losing access to a computer was associated with a reduction of 20 GCSE points, even after controlling for prior attainment. The work of Cox (2004, p.1) supports this view in the classroom also:
“The evidence from the literature shows the positive effects of specific uses of ICT on pupils’ attainment in almost all the National Curriculum subjects. The most substantial evidence is in the core subjects of English, mathematics and science at all key stages. Other subjects require further independent studies in order to substantiate the findings currently available. There is a strong relationship between the ways in which ICT has been used and pupils’ attainment. This suggests that the crucial component in the appropriate selection and use of ICT within education is the teacher and his or her pedagogical approaches. Specific uses of ICT have a positive effect on pupils’ learning where the use is closely related to learning objectives.”

Teachers set higher standards for challenging work and the work products that students have to provide.

It is difficult to prove this without some evidence of higher standards being achieved. Ofsted (quoted in Cox 2009) judged that assessment was the weakest aspect of ICT teaching and was inadequate in one fifth of schools inspected. Although the use of ICT in other subjects was increasing in secondary schools, the skills were rarely assessed.  If this statement of higher standards is referring to a change in teacher pedagogy, there is little evidence of this also.

According to Weston and Bain (2010, p.7) one-to-one programs are the latest attempt to bring about more innovative teaching,  and innovation in schools seems to be always problematic. The complex nature of managing change and specifically, the large number of variables associated with the success of technology innovations in schools appears to mean many practices in schools seem to impede such programs. Lee and Winzenried (quoted in Gaffney 2010, p.6) highlight this point in noting “Successive trends associated with the ‘discovery’ and promotion of various examples of instructional technologies, from radio, television, overhead projectors and videos to personal computers – all of which at some point were predicted to revolutionise teaching, and subsequently did not.” Factors identified as responsible for successful use of the technology in schools were, appropriate choice of technology, a critical mass of IWBs; school leadership which is focused on the teaching rather than the technology; and a comprehensive and integrated implementation strategy. Essential to this strategy was teachers’ acceptance of the importance of their practice in relation to the new technology. Encouraging teachers to do this involves more than developing their technical skills or offering them opportunities for reflective practice’. Teachers have to deal with complex issues, be creative and autonomous learners and given support that meets them at their level (Gaffney 2010).

Cuban's (1986) view of teachers as gatekeepers, who independently determine how technology is used and to what degree, despite school or government policy, seems to be strongly supported by research findings. Weston and Bain (2010, p. 8) explain that, “researchers have demonstrated the possibility and promise of all sorts of changes, innovations, and reforms, few have shown a symptomatic pathway to improvements in routine practices of teachers and students at scale. Sparse evidence in the educational literature and in sustained practice shows the existence of innovative, individualized, problem-based instruction or for that matter any other reform or innovation at significant scale across schools, districts, and states.”
One-to-one programs face the same barriers as any innovation or reform and according to Weston and Bain (2010), such programs should not be singled out in this context. They do add however that: “ Quite possibly, one-to-one initiatives collectively represent heretofore-unattained scale and disturbance in the equilibrium of classrooms and schools and disruption in the educational paradigm." This is an interesting argument but it is unsubstantiated. Their argument (2010 p.12) that, “previously there were replacements: books replaced by web pages, paper report cards with student information systems, chalkboards with interactive whiteboards, and filing cabinets with electronic databases and that none of these equivalents addresses the core activity of teaching and learning”, could equally apply to laptops.

There is little evidence that replacing one technology with another does little to change what happens in classrooms. Laptops may be viewed as cognitive tools that support constructivist pedagogy but the focus should be on the changing pedagogy, not the technology.  In this context,  one-to-one programs do not create opportunities for cooperative learning, differentiated instruction, and problem or project-based learning by themselves. It is the way learning experiences are structured that enables laptops to be used to their full potential.

This movement towards more constructivist pedagogy is dependent on school culture and leadership. School culture is strongly resistant to innovation (Fullan 2005), particularly when changes call for people to think, act and organise their work differently. No teacher can be expected to change without the support of their peers. Schools that have a strong and shared vision embedded in policies and processes that make use laptops as a constructivist tool can create an environment conducive to change. The focus should be on change management rather than technological change. Leaders must recognise and address the range of human, educational, organisational and technological factors influencing the change process (Gaffney 2010). They must also address the individual needs and intrinsic motivations of teachers, their ability to use technology as well as extrinsic factors such as levels of technical support. Research by Mumtaz (2000) reports that “teachers who successfully used digital technologies have a positive attitude towards ICT, emphasise student choice rather than teacher direction, and encourage students’ empowerment as learners rather than as recipients of instruction." Teachers who adopt this approach are not only more likely to use digital technologies creatively, but also to encourage higher levels of student interest and motivation (Gaffney 2010, p.8). Levin & Wadmany (quoted in Gaffney 2010, p.9) link the intrinsic and extrinsic dimensions of teacher capability in terms of a developmental continuum as follows:
“At one end … lie the external influences on the teacher, and at the other end … are the teacher’s internal behaviours, in other words, her self-regulated, reflective behaviours. Between the two extremes lies the teacher’s dialogue with colleagues and students, which the teacher perceived as an important factor in helping them to implement the considerable innovation required by the project.”
Gaffney (2010, p.14) categorises teachers as Techno-phobe, Techno-sceptic, Techno-opportunist, Techno-phile . While such frameworks may be useful in identifying trends and setting goals for one-to-one programs, again it must be stressed that the focus should be on change management rather than technology management.

The review of the research undertaken for this report has revealed that much of the hype surrounding one-to-one programs is unsubstantiated and that focusing on the perceived benefits of technology rather than on pedagogy will do little to improve learning outcomes or to bring about change in schools. The weight of change is carried by the teachers who are the gatekeepers: deciding if, how and when they will use laptops as cognitive tools in student-centred classrooms or as digital exercise books. Guiding teachers to the point, where they see the educational benefits of constructivism is a key endeavour in successful one-to-one deployments. It requires deconstructing traditional classroom power relationships and focusing on lifting levels of student engagement and achievement.


Bebell, D., & O’Dwyer, L. (2008). Educational Outcomes and Research from 1: 1 Computing Settings. Assessment, 9, 6.
Cuban. (1986). Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920.pdf. Stanford University Press. Retrieved from
Fullan, M. (2005), Leadership & Sustainability: System Thinkers in Action , Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.
Irving ISD - Irving, Texas. (n.d.). . Retrieved July 21, 2010, from
M Gaffney. (2010). Enhancing Teachers’ Take-up of Digital Content: Factors and Design Principles in Technology Adoption.
QUIMBY, B., & Writer, S. (2007). Loving the laptops. Portland Press Herald.
Rockman, S. (2007). It's my laptop. Threshold, 4(4), 21–25.
Weston. M,E and Bain, A. (2010). The End of Techno-Critique: The Naked Truth about 1:1 Laptop Initiatives and Educational Change.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant post Charlie. It is great to see you unpacking all the issues in this way.. your heading structure is great and hones in on the topical issues, tackling the hype head on! But best of all I like where your exploration leads you - back to constructivism and relationships. Things seem to be falling into place for your argument for positioning your thesis topic :-)

    Looking forward to talking next Monday.