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Top 12 priorities for implementing a one-to-one program

By August 4, 2011June 14th, 201618 Comments

It’s one thing for school to have technology and a very different thing to implement it—and do so effectively. As McREL’s Howard Pitler wrote recently in THE Journal, data gathered from observations in 60,000 schools showed that, even in classrooms with numerous technology devices available, 63 percent of teachers used no technology at all.

So, before you embark on a one-to-one laptop initiative, here are some tips for getting the most out of your school’s program.

    1. Do your homework. Read up on lessons learned from Maine’s one-to-one initiative, for example, and what the NSF-funded study of Henrico County Public School’s one-to-one program found.
    2. Decide if the school has the funding to purchase all of the computing devices or will allow a mixture of school- and student-owned computers. Student-owned computers will save you some money but will require a technical services department with the capacity and skill to support multiple devices.
    3. Decide upon a nucleus of cloud computing services and software tools that will be consistent across the school. This will help teachers spend their time teaching content not software applications. Look for free, high-quality services such as Google Apps for Education.
    4. Integrate the school’s curriculum with instructional technology applications and 21st century pedagogy. Identify research-based software/applications/games that can support learning in core content areas. They need to be compatible with the operating system on the computing devices and supported by technical staff.
    5. Plan for regular, specific, mandatory professional development. Integrating instructional technology is an ongoing learning curve that never ends. Teachers need help in learning how to use and integrate effective technology tools into the curriculum.
    6. Monitor and evaluate progress. Teachers will pay attention to what their leaders pay attention to. If leaders keep a close eye on the types and frequencies of instructional techniques, data-driven decisions can be made that will focus the school, teams, and individuals on what is working and what needs to change.
    7. Decide how much access students will have to the network. Internet filters are essential, but they should not inhibit real-time learning. Trust the teachers to block/unblock resources under the oversight of the school/district technical staff/leadership. Sanction misbehaving individuals rather than taking access away from the masses.
    8. Plan for obsolescence of software and hardware. It is critical to have a plan to replace or update computers and software as they age. This plan should include the development of a way to assign financial and technical resources. Sometimes long-term leases are more cost effective than hardware purchases.
    9. Develop a plan to repair and replace broken equipment, batteries, and printers. A good insurance plan goes a long way.
    10. Provide other technology to supplement the core devices. These include presentation devices and peripherals such as headsets, microphones, etc.
    11. Plan for a robust wifi network. You must assume that all devices will be on the network at the same time. When you think you have a good estimate of the bandwidth needed, double it so it will last into the future.
    12. Last but certainly not least, have on-site technical support. A lack of support will be the biggest complaint of teachers and will negatively impact the learning program. This can include a mix of school staff and student volunteers.

What priorities have we missed? Do you have lessons to share from your one-to-one experience?

Matt Kuhn is an instructional technologist with McREL.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Cecilia Resweber says:

    My son’s high school has just implemented a 1:1 tablet program this year. Your article highlights some of the considerations I’m sure the school administration reflected upon before formulating their plan.
    Iberia Parish, on the other hand, would have done well to pay close attention to #11.
    #7 is so amazing! As a former journalism student, I am a major proponent of free speech, which I believe extends to internet use. I love the idea of a filter that protects students from porn but does not exclude sites because a network administrator decides what’s best for everybody. Trust the teachers! And, if my son is Facebooking during class, there are natural consequences: fail the test! (in addition to other school-imposed sanctions).

  • Matt Kuhn says:

    So true Cecilia. Also, if the students are on facebook when they are not supposed to be, the problem could be more about the quality of the lesson and the lack of student monitoring of the students by the teacher.

  • I agree with your #7 above. Many times I have wanted to use a site to teach in the class and have not been able to access it because it has been “blocked” by our school’s technology department. I wish we, the teachers, had the ability access sites without all of those student controls.

  • Dory Thomassie says:

    Students are blocked from internet sites to the point of frustration. So many good sites are inaccessible and often they give up or use their cellphones as modems. We often go beyond what we should in regulating their internet usage and we don’t allow them the opportunity to learn to make good choices.

  • Jackie Shirley says:

    An ongoing frustration for us is that we lack the technical support in our school. We are given the technology to use, but when it has a blooper, we don’t have immediate support.

  • Cathy says:

    One of our biggest issue is funds for technology or the teachers available to use technology with students – even the basics in the classroom. We are rural, funds cut to the bone, every second in the classroom is scheduled for standards and testing prep, to the point that teachers are too frustrated to implement any new technology based on the limited funds to use with our students.

  • Matt Kuhn says:

    Wow Cathy, that is a tough situation you are in. I am betting many districts in your state are also suffering. Hopefully things will change over the next few years and funding will start to come back into the schools. I suggest taking a look at my grants tag on my page.

  • Derek says:

    As a learning technology coordinator for my school I have considered many of the above points. One of the many obstacles I confront when implementing technology in the classroom is the notion that children are unable to use technology for anything other than their own social enjoyment.
    While I think school aged children may be some of our most prolific users of social media, I think the challenge lies in taking these skills and utilising them in an educational setting.

  • Doug says:

    Matt –
    Your second point about students bringing their own devices is a pathway that many of our schools that struggle with funding are exploring. One of the challenges that is unmentioned is developing a policy for BYOD. Different considerations are needed for elementary, middle school, and sr. high. It is a great opportunity, but considerations toward a policy for students and family to understand is necessary.

  • Matt Kuhn says:

    Hi Doug, I could not agree more. Planning out the right policy for your school should come way before a BYOD program begins. I think state DOE’s could help a lot with this. I recomend as a great resourse for planning and implementing a BYOD.

  • Marcia says:

    It is nice for teachers to be able to block and unblock sites that are being used in their classrooms. What are your thoughts on students using their own electronics?

  • Matt Kuhn says:

    Hello Marcia, I am all for BYOD programs. I think they are a smart way for schools to save some money and for students to have stronger buy-in or pride of ownership of their technology. As long as the school plans well with increased tech support and back-up computers for check-out, it is a great option to go one-to-one. Take a look at for some good advice.

  • Ryan Miles says:

    Number 3 & 4 within your Top 12 hit home within our school district.
    “Decide upon a nucleus of cloud computing services and software tools that will be consistent across the school.”
    “Integrate the school’s curriculum with instructional technology applications and 21st century pedagogy.”
    I see these two, of the top 12, as our largest gap between our technology department and our curriculum powers that be.
    Analysis of legacy software that is used on a daily basis and infrequently is a huge challenge. Not to mention the forward thinking it will take to supplement those legacy applications with consistent software tools used across the school and the adoption of those tools.
    Also, working lock-step with the curriculum folks and inserting technology where applicable is very tough in our environment due to the fact that very few of our curriculum leaders have had the opportunity to work with our tech department in the past to formulate a “Common Vision.”
    Ryan Miles
    Tech Director
    District 117

  • Hello Ryan, forming a common vision for the use of instructional technology is very important. If you would like McREL’s assistance, contact me at and we can work on some ideas together.

  • Kristy Fletcher says:

    At our school, points 4 and 5 require the most attention. Teachers are hesitant to implement technology as many don’t know how to with very little PD thus far. it I also the case that technology, on the whole, isn’t integrated into the curriculum and teachers struggle to get through this as it is. Much work is needed in these two areas. As an avid user of technology within the classroom, I believe both are essential to get everyone on board and thus benefit the learning experience of the students.

  • Christine Tipping says:

    I agree with #5 – PD. As teachers, we need to be able to keep up with the students as they are often willing to take more risks with no fear of consequence. Having a whole school focus will allow teachers to support each other and share resources and experiences.

  • Leanne Wright says:

    The twelve top tips for implementing the 1 to 1 program are great. As part of my role the need to have great Tech support is imperative. These programs work so well with the right support and development of teaching staff.
    I think that allowing students to be involved in this program is so beneficial and can lead to great opportunities in learning.
    Maybe another dot point could be Communication with parents. They also need to understand why the school is using this program. Understanding should help them to support the program and their students use of this technology.

  • Candice Smith says:

    I support Number 5 – Plan for regular, specific, mandatory professional development.
    As educators we need constant professional development to ensure that we are using the resources and technology we have readily available to maximise student learning and engagement in our classrooms.
    Professional development also provides opportunities for teachers to collaborate and share ideas and resources.

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