How Putting Laptops in Student Hands is Changing Education Today

Brian Unruh is a Technology Consultant with Area Education Agency 267.

High school students using laptops

Within 1:1 schools, each student is “given” a laptop to use for the school year. Each student is able to utilize their laptop to research assignments, create projects, communicate with other students and teachers and organize their digital worlds.

It goes without saying that technology has become part of our everyday lives. The degree to which this has happened is different for everyone, but for many of us, it has reached the point where we don’t even notice—or we simply take the technology for granted. Within education, we have also seen a trend toward moving technology into teacher and student hands (e.g. iPads, Interactive White Boards, portable labs, document cameras, virtual reality, etc.)

Around the state, some districts have adopted a one-to-one (1:1) initiative to not only move technology into teacher and student hands, but also to positively impact how teaching and learning looks moving forward. 1:1 represents a ratio of one laptop to one student. Within 1:1 schools, each student is “given” a laptop to use for the school year. Each student is able to utilize their laptop to research assignments, create projects, communicate with other students and teachers and organize their digital worlds. Oftentimes, students take them home and use them outside of the school day to continue their learning.

Starting an initiative like this is not done without a considerable amount of planning and effort well before the computers touch the students’ hands. School district leaders have to consider district policies, insurance, network infrastructure, professional development, funding and sustainability. Even though it is a huge undertaking, many districts around the state are doing it well, and administrators, teachers, and students are willing to share their experiences with anyone who is interested. In 2009, there were only nine districts that had a 1:1 initiative (at least one grade level) within the state. At the end of the 2011-12 school year, that number across the state will have jumped to just over 100 districts. Most of the districts that have gone 1:1 are using a laptop as the primary tool for student use, but there are also a handful of districts that have used an iPad instead of a laptop.

This past December, over 200 educators came to a 1:1 conference hosted by Area Education Agency 267. Schools from around the area came together to share their experiences in 1:1 classrooms and learn from each other. Some of the sessions were streamed live on the Internet to a wide audience of people representing 12 states, the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces.

Adopting a 1:1 initiative within a district can eliminate the frustration of teachers and students who are not able to access technology when they need it. Seamless student access to the technology provides endless possibilities for student learning and demonstration of what they have learned. Many classrooms are connecting with experts in a variety of career fields and exposing students to cultures all over the world. The net impact is that students are gaining life skills that are hard to measure on standardized tests.

In the end, this type of quality teaching and learning doesn’t happen because of the technology, but because of supportive administrators and innovative teachers willing to create meaningful opportunities for their students to learn. The technology provides more possibilities than what was available before, but it takes quality educators to capitalize on those opportunities and create an environment where the students take more ownership in their learning. Area Education Agency 267—and all of Iowa’s AEAs—are playing a vital role in helping students and educators embrace this important new development in education.

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