We Can’t Afford 1:1

1:1 technology in classrooms is a much talked about topic in our Personal Learning Network.  In various schools and districts both large and small, students and teachers have their own iPads, laptops, or Smartphones, depending on the technological bent of that particular jurisdiction.  I have read numerous blog posts and articles showcasing the successes and levels of student engagement in these programs.  I also understand that there are numerous schools that are looking to move in this direction as fast as they are able to do so.

However, no matter whether I wanted to pursue 1:1 technology in our school or not, I am confronted with one big chunk of reality in our school of 1400 students.

We can’t afford 1:1.

But just because we cannot afford to do this (and nor do I see us being able to afford this in the forseeable future), I do not despair.  In fact, over the last few weeks, I have been thrilled to see our pilot project with Android tablets take off in our school.  We have chosen to start with purchasing 50 tablets and distributing them to departments in pods of 7, along with power bars and a projector connector.  We did this purposefully, so that students in multiple classes could have an access point between groups of three or four (depending on the numbers of students in the class).  So far, I am thrilled with the pilot.  There are several things that I am seeing from our students that have excited me:

  1. Collaboration – It is not uncommon to see kids ask each other things such as “Where is a good website to find out about….?” ; or, “Did you bookmark that page we saw earlier?  How do you cut and paste that so you can send it to me?”; or “Is there an easier way to send myself bookmarks or share them?”.
  2. Critical Thinking through Leveraging Different Technologies – While there may be one tablet at each quad of desks, students are also pulling out smartphones, iPod touches, and other devices that might connect them to our wi-fi network at the school and then determining which device might be best to do a specific task.
  3. Interdependence – When students have an issue (technology or curricular), they ask each other questions as much (if not more so) than they ask their teacher.
  4. Peer Teaching – It is amazing to see how happy they are to share with other students are when they find a new function on their tablets, a new website, or a new way to do something.  They will shout out “Hey, look at this!”; other students and groups will crowd around to see, and then scurry back to their quads to make the new bit work for them.
  5. Excitement – “Hey, Mrs. Y, do we have the tablets today?”  x 28.  Enough said.
  6. Sharing – Call me old fashioned, but I still get excited when I see students sharing with each other.  No one is grabbing for the tablet, rather, they use it for a minute or two, and then put it back in the middle of the group of desks and move on.

And these are just the first few quick things that I have noticed in the classes that are using the tablets!  But there is something else that has piqued my interest.

The kids need very little coaching to get going.

The first class to use a tablet-pod was a Social Studies 8 class.  The very courageous teacher had never used our tablets before (and in fact had never used a tablet, period), and the kids had never seen them before.  But within just a couple of minutes and the help of a teacher leader, the class was off and running.  And I mean running.  I walked around and asked the kids if they had used tablets before.  Some had, most had not.  I asked them if these were easy to use, and they gave me the classic “Well, DUH” look (respectfully, without the eye-roll), and nodded, all in hopes that I would quickly move on so they could get back to work.  I just shook my head and smiled.  OF COURSE they can use them.

While this may not be surprising to some, it has made me think a bit more about the way we do professional development.  Are we correctly focusing our PD?  And perhaps more importantly, are we using the resource sitting right in front of us (kids) effectively to help US become more comfortable with technology?  Are we able to give up the reins and let students lead US to where we need to go?

I am not so naive as to think that we can just toss a few tablets into a classroom with a teacher without some PD and expect kids to power a satellite or do regression analysis, but I am wondering if we can do some more basic PD with our teachers and encourage people to just TRY IT.  There will be glitches and bumps, but kids are good at finding solutions and work-arounds.  And if we can provide our teachers with some basics in terms of applications that can help them, such as Powernote for online bookmarking or subject specific sites they can access with their students while using the tablets, I think our staff will be encouraged to ‘dip their toes in the pool’ and eventually ‘dive in’ to technology integration.

We cannot afford 1:1, but we still can get technology into the hands of students.  By using the tablet pilot like we have, I am encouraged by the things I am seeing in our classrooms, and I am more closely examining the way that we in-service the adults in the building around technology integration.  In concert with students who are able to bring different technologies to schools, I am confident that we can leverage a small technology budget to create a technology-rich and skill-building environment in our school.


This post is cross-posted at The Learning Nation


  1. Anneke Radin-Snaith said:

    I’m curious to hear more details about what you are doing with the Android tablets. I am also piloting these and while in some respects it has been great to have the devices right in the classroom, in other ways it has been somewhat frustrating. The biggest frustration for us has been the lack of apps, especially those that allow for content creation, compared to the iPad.

    December 9, 2011
    • Sanjay said:

      Dunno how much my humble sgeugstion would mean to you, but having owned the Acer Iconia A500 a good week before I turned it in and got an Asus Eee Pad Transformer as a replacement, I would most definitely recommend the latter for at least two reasons: (1.) it’s much lighter. The Iconia holds the distinction of being the heaviest Android tablet in the market right now, and believe me, you would definitely FEEL it even after just a few minutes of usage; and (continued)

      January 4, 2013
  2. I’m pleased to hear that students in schools which can’t afford 1:1 are still benefiting from using this type of technology. In one respect it is better not to have 1:1 as it does encourage sharing and collaboration as you mention.

    Professional development and the integration of technology into everyday classrooms can be a tricky one, I think the main barrier is often confidence. Younger more tech savy teachers often have much more of it as they’ve grown up with technology, but older teachers are often (not always) less at easy. I think the important thing is to encourage sharing and collaboration within the staff of a school to support each other in the use of technology.

    December 9, 2011
  3. Grant Lichtman said:

    I have been deeply involved in implementation of tech at our independent school for many years, as CFO and COO and as the person that IT reports to. So I am awfully familiar with the costs associated with technology. We have not been at the pointy end of this; we have had lots of technology here but are just now looking at starting to go 1:1. And I would not be supporting this transition if I were not absolutely convinced that it would not start saving us money (finally) overall. There are a couple of main game changers now that did not exist even a year or so ago:

    1. Tablets are getting robust enough that they can do 90%+ of what we need them to do in the classroom at about half the cost of Apple laptops.
    2. Netbooks are good alternatives at an even lower cost.
    3. More and more students have these devices at home and we are stupid if we do not leverage that resource (leave it at home unused for 8 hours a day).
    4. We can start saving money on textbooks and using that to develop our own econtent and/or re-direct to buying ereader/tablet hardware.

    We have 1200+ students and will be saving up to $500 a year by going this direction. That is real money.

    December 12, 2011
    • Rick Vettraino said:

      I am hoping this is a misprint on saving $500. That would be nothing compared to enabling the students to do the other 10% of what the tablets cannot do. This is the creative part of using technology not just replacing the pen and pencil or power point presentations. What truly engages the student is not the research or word processing but the creation of work they become very proud to produce and to allow others to view.

      December 13, 2011
      • Grant Lichtman said:

        Sorry, Rick, I was not clear. We are looking at savings of $500 per student per year, more than $500K per year school wide, or about 1.5% of our total operating budget. That is real money to us. Just another reason why going 1:1 with at least some students bringing their own devices is going to make sense for us.

        December 13, 2011
  4. Scott McLeod said:

    I wonder if you could afford a full 1:1 initiative if…

    A) you employed a bring your own device (BYOD) paradigm, and only provided devices for students whose family income fell below a certain level (like schools do for lunch, graphing calculators, etc.)


    B) you went completely or nearly textbook-free (recognizing that virtually everything in all of your current textbooks is on the Web for free) and repurposed those funds for devices.


    December 12, 2011

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