Since its original introduction in the early 1990s, 1 to 1 technology in schools has increased in popularity over the years and become ubiquitous in most school districts, with 90% of high schools and middle schools going one-to-one in 2021.
So what changed?
Before one-to-one technology was the norm, textbooks and paper-based materials were the go-to, tried-and-true medium for years. Over time, districts implemented “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies, which encouraged students to bring their own laptops, smartphones, or other electronic devices to class—but those policies were flawed.
They were typically reserved for students within higher education and would phase out over time, once edtech became a more integral part of school curriculums. Schools invested in one-to-one technology to help fill in the gap for K-12 learners, and its effect on student learning has been undeniable.
One-to-one technology in schools is here to stay.
But is it really the best way to support digitally native pupils? The merits of one-to-one are highly debated, but the benefits and challenges are still the same—and they might help you make up your own mind about one-to-one.
What does 1:1 technology look like in a classroom setting?
Also known as 1:1 computing, 1:1 technology in a school district refers to the concept of schools providing every student in a school district with their own device, such as Chromebooks, iPads, and more. Rather than relying on students to bring their own devices, schools standardize what every student uses across a district in order to support the equitable distribution of technology in classrooms, and help students adapt to rapidly-changing learning environments.
That being said, the edtech needs of a student will be different depending on their grade level. Certainly, elementary school, middle school, and high school students don’t all have the same educational technology needs, right? The answer depends on the needs of your district. Luckily, there are a few ways to figure it out.
User-readiness, budget, expected merits, and cost-benefits should all be taken into account when deciding the “why” behind how your district implements one-to-one. In other words, the technology needs of a high school student taking computer science as an elective will be very different than an elementary school learner who needs a Chromebook to participate in their remote class. So it seems fair to plan accordingly.
In common practice, more flexible laptop programs are introduced as students enter high school. Not only does this scale with increased levels of student responsibility, but it also helps foster good device stewardship as students pass through each grade level. This ensures that K-12 learners handle district technology responsibly, meaning less work and future maintenance for your IT department, and a higher ROI on your district’s edtech budget.
Benefits of 1:1 technology in schools
Most educators and K-12 professionals seem to agree that having more devices available for students is a good thing. Shared device usage makes learning difficult in remote, hybrid, and even traditional classrooms. Students have less time to engage with their work, and IT admins have to spend continuous working hours on file management, configuration management, device management, and distribution.
In short, using district technology without going one-to-one is inefficient for districts and ineffective for students. But what are the benefits?
1. Increased student engagement and participation
Newer generations—like Gen Z and A—have grown up with technology. It’s all they’ve ever known, so it’s no surprise that incorporating educational technology into their lesson plans, homework, and extracurricular activities has had a positive effect on student engagement and participation. Introducing one-to-one educational technology to the classroom is a critical part of creating a dynamic and stimulating learning environment, and allows students to participate in school the same way they actively participate in their personal and social lives.
For example, The International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education states, “One overarching theme is that most of the technologies we reviewed had a positive influence on multiple indicators of student engagement, which may lead to a larger return on investment in terms of learning outcomes.”
As the data suggests, students who engage with informational technologies are more active participants in the classroom—and it’s all made possible by one-to-one technology.
2. Student responsibility and professional development
The new generation of students is incredibly tech-savvy, and their relative knowledge allows them to quickly grasp and understand new concepts related to technology. So it only makes sense to empower them with devices in the classroom, right?
There’s only one question that stands in the way: can students be trusted to handle educational technology responsibly?
The answer? Absolutely. A report done by the Center for Technology and Democracy suggests that teachers and parents are putting more trust in school districts that provide students with access to technology than ever before—and this trust means students are held accountable for their devices.
Professional development also falls well within the scope of increased student responsibility. Student familiarization with technology helps prepare young learners for a more technology-driven world and work environment—and jobs that require technical skills are on the rise. As the workforce continues to digitize, 1:1 deployments prepare students by making the use of technology in class the norm.
3. Increased savings for teachers
It’s no secret that most teachers are active participants in funding their classrooms. From decorations, to furniture, to equipment needed to support lesson plans, teachers are expected to pitch in. During the 2019/2020 school year, teachers spent an average of $745 on school supplies.
That kind of spending is unsustainable, but one-to-one technology in schools is making it easier for teachers to access free K-12 educational tools.
These tools are commonly referred to as open educational resources (OER), and they give teachers access to hundreds of thousands of digital learning assets, such as educational blogs, apps, newsletters, interactive websites, games, digital media, and more. Digital learning assets are familiar to students and help teachers ease the burden on their wallets, so it’s a win-win for everyone.
4. More equitable learning environments
In technology-driven classrooms, socioeconomic factors play a huge role.
Socioeconomic barriers can prevent students from purchasing devices and actively participating in the classroom. Not only does this affect their academic performance, but it reduces the ability of school districts to effectively guide students through a structured curriculum because a student’s performance is being capped by their inability to own and operate a device.
Additionally, when students must provide their own devices, school districts are not able to effectively track and monitor student assets. That means spare devices cannot be issued, and the responsibility is put solely on the parents and students to make sure they have the technology available to participate in class.
That’s why one-to-one technology in schools is critical to creating more equitable learning environments—it ensures that every single student in a district has the resources they need to receive an education.
Note: You can simplify device tracking and monitoring by creating a step-by-step checklist for your device audits.
Challenges of 1:1 technology
Not everyone is a fan of technology in schools. In a world where students are constantly “plugged in”, is it really beneficial to have them spending even more time behind a screen?
There’s currently not much evidence to support the long-lasting negative effects of the use of student technology in schools, but there are still challenges nonetheless, and it’s important for K-12 professionals to be familiar with them.
1. Increased screen time
Is it healthy for students to be staring at screens all day?
There aren’t many studies that connect increased screen times to negative effects on students. However, it’s important that K-12 students have methods of participating in school that don’t involve the use of technology. Using more hands-on, tactile activities gives younger learners a break from the screen and helps reinforce positive behaviors like device moderation and effective use of technology.
Parents and teachers can also research appropriate screen time by age to ensure that students are getting enough time away from their Chromebooks, iPads, tablets, and other learning devices.
2. Budget concerns
School districts aren’t made of money. Investments in edtech are done wisely, and not every school has the funds available to support a full-blown, one-to-one device program in their district.
While advancements in technology have allowed for the manufacturing of more budget-friendly school devices like Google Chromebooks, the continued upkeep, management, and maintenance of student technology should still be taken into account. In an effective one-to-one program, school districts will have to dedicate a portion of their edtech budget to maintenance costs, spare devices, costs of digital infrastructure, security software, and more.
3. Internet access
While one-to-one programs ensure that every student in a district has access to educational technology, not every student has access to reliable wifi and internet access outside of school. This is especially harmful in districts with hybrid and remote learning environments, as it causes students without consistent internet access to fall behind in class and potentially miss out on supplemental learning activities.
While public libraries can help fill in this gap, it’s crucial that districts that plan on going one-to-one are able to address these concerns and meet the needs of their student body.
4. Difficulties managing remote devices
If your district provides one-to-one educational technology, you need to thank your K-12 IT department, because they’re the ones who make it all possible.
Most one-to-one school districts oversee thousands (or tens of thousands) of district assets, and keeping up with all of them is no easy feat. Some of the responsibilities attached to running a successful one-to-one program include tracking district assets with asset labels, conducting regular audits, deploying and collecting devices, issuing spares, resolving help requests from teachers and parents, and more. The list goes on and on.
In order for large technology deployments to be a success, school districts need to have the systems and tools available to support their IT department and ensure that their district assets and technology hold up year-over-year.
Powerful tools to manage 1:1 in schools
Benefits and challenges aside, educational technology is here to stay, and schools need to be able to support one-to-one programs in their district.
At Incident IQ, we’ve built a platform that provides school districts with a solution to modernize service management and support one-to-one programs. By utilizing structured data and unique integrations with K-12 systems, Incident IQ intelligently routes each step of a service workflow to the appropriate department or technician, tracks custody of assets and inventory, and provides comprehensive insights via analytics and reporting.