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The Great K – 12 Debate: Engaging Students with 1:1 and BYOD Initiatives

5 Apr 2015 by Susie Steckner

Education leaders envision the 21st century classroom filled with students engaged in new ways of learning thanks to technology: online courses, education apps, 3D printers and more. But as the tech revolution works its way through K – 12 schools, educators remain divided on a key piece of the movement: one-to-one (1:1) computing and “bring your own device” (BYOD) initiatives.

These initiatives have each had their share of successes and failures, and their roles in the classroom will continue to evolve as the education landscape continues to change across the country.

This tech revolution — regardless of its challenges — has dramatically changed the classroom.

“1:1 and BYOD are game changers, giving students access to digital tools throughout the day, across all subject areas. This paradigm shift challenges teachers to rethink and redesign learning activities to capitalize on their school’s investment in technology,” according to the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE).

Mobile Moment

Districts began exploring the use of individual devices in the 1990s and today there are differing schools of thought about the best way to equip each student with a device. With 1:1 computing, school districts purchase devices such as iPads or Chromebooks and deploy them to individual students. With BYOD initiatives, school districts allow students to use their own devices, including smart phones, in the classroom.

In some cases, particularly with large or economically diverse districts, officials choose to implement both strategies to make sure their students have access.

The 2014 National Survey on Mobile Technology for K – 12 Education by Amplify found a growing interest in 1:1 programs. Among the findings:

  • 71% of districts surveyed reported that at least a quarter of their schools had adopted mobile technology in 2014, up from 60% in 2013.
  • 82% of districts were highly interested in implementing or expanding a district-wide 1:1 mobile device solution within the next two years, if budgets allow.
  • 20% reported that classrooms have a 1:1 ratio of mobile devices to students, up from 12% in 2013.

Meantime, school districts are largely embracing BYOD, according to the 2015 K – 12 IT Leadership Survey by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). Among the leaders surveyed:

  • Almost 14% had fully implemented BYOD as part of their 1:1 initiatives.
  • 58% were in discussions, piloting or currently working on a large-scale BYOD initiative.

Successes and failures

School districts across the country that consider their 1:1 initiatives successful report similar results: increased student achievement, more engaged learners, enhanced technology skills, better understanding of digital citizenship, and overall boost to college and career readiness.

They also point to more innovative student work with the wide-ranging apps and programs available with devices.

In districts where initiatives have faltered or failed, critics blame ballooning maintenance costs, budget cuts, security lapses, insufficient bandwidth, incomplete training and parent concerns about overuse of devices at home.

Some educators conclude that 1:1 efforts have yielded little or no results in improved learning.

Implementing 1:1 and BYOD initiatives and maintaining them comes with many challenges. Among the top considerations:

Cost of change

Cost has been a critical concern — and stumbling block — for school districts implementing 1:1 programs. Beyond the initial investment in devices, districts face ongoing costs to cover implementation, training, maintenance and more.

According to a 2012 cost comparison report by Intel-sponsored Project Red — an initiative to bring technology into classrooms — transitioning to a 1:1 program could cost a school as much as $600 per student per year. That figure included hardware, software, professional development, training and support.

This $600 cost compared with $300 per student per year for a 3:1 set up in a traditional classroom.

Upgrading and maintaining

Schools adopting 1:1 and BYOD initiatives face myriad challenges associated with devices: everything from security concerns to bandwidth challenges.

A school’s wireless network is on the front lines of any educational technology initiative, according to Insight’s white paper “Fine Tuning Critical Infrastructures in the Age of Common Core and Online Assessments.”

“The network must be reliable and efficient to ensure data travels reliably from it to the broadband network, and from there to the district data center. However, in spite of education’s increasing reliance on technology, many wireless networks are woefully unprepared to support technology deployments. Research shows that 75% of U.S. schools do not have the appropriate network bandwidth to support 1:1 computing initiatives.”

According to Insight, wireless networks and data centers have a lot to support in the digital age. “They must sustainably support all core components of modern education: increased personalization, 1:1 classrooms, Bring Your Own Device initiatives, learning management systems, collaborative learning, streaming video, and many other digital platforms and initiatives.”

Education technology requires ongoing support. “Many school districts have upgraded these key infrastructures, but they may need modifications to guarantee the most efficient and reliable operations. Others may be maintaining antiquated environments.”

Equality of access

School districts embarking on tech initiatives face a common challenge — ensuring that all students can use the same technology, regardless of their socioeconomic status. In the fast-moving tech world at K – 12 schools, equal access is critical.

Digital equity is a growing concern for K – 12 educators and technology professionals, according to the 2013 “Speak Up” survey by Project Tomorrow. A startling statistic showed the increasing concern:

  • Some 46% of district technology leaders cited digital equity as the most challenging issue they face, up from just 19% in a survey conducted in 2010.

Concerns extended beyond the classroom, to students’ Internet access at home.

To help close that gap, schools that are Title 1 — a government designation given to schools with a large population of low-income students — reported providing devices for use on campus and home, the survey said. “By using school provided tablets within their learning activities, students in Title 1 schools are experiencing changes in their expectations for academic mobile device use.”

Highs and lows

Schools across the country report wide-ranging success with their 1:1 and BYOD initiatives.

Personalized learning

At the Oakland Unified School District in California, teachers and students across 87 schools are using 11,000 Dell Chromebooks with the aim of crafting individualized curriculum through computer-based instruction, while also providing mobility for collaborative projects. The Chromebooks are used on an almost daily basis.

“Kids love learning on the computers. They feel like they’re able to navigate the learning on their own,” said Principal Claire Fisher at the district’s Urban Promise Academy. “It gives them a personalization that sometimes doesn’t come across when you don’t have the technology there. It’s meeting their needs better than any teacher could do on their own. And it’s also cutting back on the time a teacher would need to craft all those lessons at the different levels.”

The technology is also sparking new interests in students. As one Urban Promise Academy student said, “Now I want to learn as much as I can about coding and learn as much as I can about computers.”

New way forward

At the River Dell Regional School District, students using HP Notebooks are focused on a learner-centered model. This means they create content in different ways that wouldn’t be possible otherwise, both locally and online. They work anywhere, anytime, both in and out of school. Teachers post assignments, links and other information for students and parents to access from wherever they have internet access.

“The 1:1 program is not about the device, it’s about learning,” said Marianthe Williams, the district’s technology director. “Our students have engaging, empowering learning experiences both in and out of school that prepare them to be active, creative, knowledgeable and ethical participants in our globally networked society.’’

BYOD boost

At the Katy Independent School District in Texas, leaders were concerned about sustainability for a 1:1 program and instead opted for BYOD. A range of Cisco technologies support the program, and teachers use many engaging applications for students.

Government and history teacher Kay Fenn noted the ease with which students can grab their mobile devices and jump into an assignment. “We can do on-the-spot research, which has really enhanced the classroom environment. Plus, we use tools like Poll Everywhere.com (an audience response system that leverages smartphones, Twitter and the web), and kids text in their answers to questions I pose for them.”

Of course, schools have also seen problems and lackluster results — even failures — with their individualized computing initiatives, and at least one survey indicates that the shine may be off BYOD programs. In CoSN’s “IT Leadership” Survey:

  • Almost 30% of those surveyed said they currently had “no interest” in BYOD. It’s unclear what is driving the last statistic. “No interest could mean ‘no interest until all the kinks are sorted out and it’s easier to implement.’ It may also indicate that some districts have decided that BYOD is not appropriate for them, perhaps for equity or other reasons.”
  • BYOD was identified as the number one priority in the survey’s first year, 2013, but fell to number seven in 2015. That’s a statistic to watch, the survey said. “Is BYOD the latest in shiny new ed tech things to lose luster? Have affordable prices of devices like Chromebooks made BYOD a less appealing solution? Or will more districts become interested as more BYOD initiatives are successfully implemented?”

In Alabama, students and parents reported both successes and flaws with the 1:1 initiative at Hunstville City Schools, according to Al.com. Among the concerns: devices that don’t work, less face-to-face instruction, 24-hour access to students through technology.

One student offered another criticism. “It’s become harder to focus seeing as there are so many things on the Internet and on our devices to distract us, and it’s been hard to steer away from a good news article or game and pay attention to the teacher,” she said.

A stunning billion dollar 1:1 failure hit the Los Angeles United School District when it distributed iPads to students, teachers and administrators, and later discovered that hundreds of students hacked the security system and browsed blocked sites. The district’s superintendent recently revealed that the district doesn’t have the funds to sustain the technology and is struggling to cover the costs of online curriculum and maintenance for devices already purchased.

Future for Classrooms

As 1:1 initiatives across the country evolve, educators will continue to face several issues, according to Amplify’s “National Survey on Mobile Technology.”

Survey respondents offered these top challenges for schools:

  • 70% were lacking in professional development and support for teachers.
  • 60% had difficulty managing a large fleet of devices.
  • 55% struggled with bandwidth, Wi-Fi connectivity and/or technology infrastructure.
  • 45% were concerned with device breakage, damage and repair.

Regardless of these challenges, the role of technology will only continue to grow. “The U.S. education system is having its mobile moment, with devices in some form in the majority of schools and more predicted in the next 1–2 years,” the survey said. “As funding allows and at different paces using different models, districts across the country are making the digital transition and working to provide students with 21st century teaching and learning.”

Learn more about how schools and districts meet the technology demands of today’s evolving classroom at Insight ON – Education. We are here to help your school with cost-effective solutions and services to address all curriculum standards in a secure environment. Additionally, we offer the tools students need for deeper engagement with instruction and college- and career-readiness.

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