Un-rollout to Fix Problems With Technology?

Photo Credit: Brad Flickinger
Photo Credit: Brad Flickinger

Since the rollout of a 1-to-1 laptop program in the fall of 2014 with a school I’m consulting with, there has been very little continuity between the classes. Both teachers and students are so focused on learning the technology that they get lost in the purpose of the device in front of them; to enhance what was already happening in the classroom. I thought by implementing Google Apps for Education, I could solve the problem. Bring all the teachers together. The platform isn’t the problem. The device isn’t the problem. The problem is the preparedness and speed in which the rollout took place. Teachers were given laptops to “play with” for a year before they were put in the hands of students. This experimental time didn’t come with robust professional development opportunities, dedicated mentorship sessions, or even a simple instruction manual. Teachers were expected, much like the students, to “figure it out.” Society claims that our students are “digital natives,” (my argument against that statement needs to be saved for another time) but if we hand over devices to all of the faculty without any support, we must expect them to be natives to the technology, as well. Right? And, because we hand over devices and expect teachers to run with it, naturally those teachers are going to do the same thing with their students. After all, if the teachers don’t know how to properly utilize the tools, how are they expected to turn around and “teach” the students how to use them effectively. They can’t.

A few years back I was having a conversation with one of my colleagues, she was the Educational Technology Coordinator at a private middle and high school in Los Angeles with a seemingly successful 1-to-1 program. I distinctly remember her telling me that if a rollout isn’t done properly, the program will quickly fail. I was flabbergasted by this. How could it just fail? Couldn’t the school just change course and eventually be successful? And, if all the students have computers, how is that failing? Ohhhh, how little I knew… As I write this post, I typed the word “failed” into a Google search, take a look at the very first autofill result:

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 9.33.48 AM

If that’s not telling, I don’t know what is. We all know about the very public debacle that plagued Los Angeles Unified, but they are far from the only district facing similarly frustrating challenges with the implementation of a 1-to-1 program. Mark Lawson, the school board president in Liverpool, New York, explains his rationale for phasing out the laptop program, “After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none […] It’s a distraction to the educational process” (Hu, 2007). A school district in Hoboken, New Jersey states that their program has “gone down in flames, and now administrators are looking for a contractor to destroy the machines” (Ross, 2014). A school district in Florida purchased 6,000 laptops with a $7.2 million price tag and quickly had to abandon the program (Hill, 2007).

How is it that this “miracle cure” of education is actually failing us miserably? Well, it’s not. It’s us. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Bryan Goodwin, in Educational Leadership writes that “one-to-one laptop programs are only as effective—or ineffective—as the schools that adopt them” (2011). Damian Bebell and Rachel Kay, in the Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment argue that failure often comes from a “lack of teacher knowledge and buy-in, concluding, ‘It is impossible to overstate the power of individual teachers in the success or failure of 1:1 computing'” (2010). Sadly, there have been enough cautionary tales to teach us a lesson, yet schools continue to rollout new devices in droves. Leslie Wilson, CEO of the One-to-One Institute  writes “those who have purchased mass quantities of [devices] without heeding the warning signs of how to best get a return on that investment (by that I mean increased student achievement, transformed schools, and revenue positive results), beware the fallout” (2012). What does this mean for us? Is there any hope for our future?

Time to Shift Our Priorities

I realize my post has been a dark, ominous cloud, but it’s not all bad news. For all of the schools that have been disillusioned by the implementation of a 1-to-1 program, there are a multitude of schools that are thriving as a result of their rollout.

  • The Savannah-Chatham School District in Georgia has seen higher test scores since rolling out their 1-to-1 laptop program and has since published tips for successful implementation for other districts (Marshall, 2015).
  • In one Kentucky school, they have “surpassed its first-year goals, which included training teachers to create podcasts, build Web sites, start blogs, work with wikis and mix the tools into their teaching” (Roscorla, 2010).

Mark Edwards, the superintendent of Mooresville Graded School District, the “de facto national model of the digital school” succinctly describes the overarching theme in these success stories, “This is not about the technology […] It’s about changing the culture of instruction — preparing students for their future, not our past” (Schwarz, 2012). The aforementioned, One-to-One Institute is helping to educate educators and shift their understanding in order to create a sustainable program: “[We work] passionately to support the successful implementation of 1-to-1 programs in schools. This work is not focused on or because of a tool, device, or sexy apps. This work is about teaching, learning, and authentic transformation of the education ecosystem. It’s about retooling pedagogy and teacher functionalities to create learner-centered environments where students are self-propelled through the personalization of instruction and learning activities” (Wilson, 2012).

Photo by Becky Todd
Photo Credit: Becky Todd

What Does This Mean?

At this point in my post, I should delve into the key factors that are necessary in creating a viable 1-to-1 program, but I’m not going to do that. Not yet, anyway. The purpose of this post was to flush out my own understanding of what problems my consulting school currently faces in order to formulate a plan to move forward. This reflection was certainly able to do that…

The school launched a laptop program without being fully prepared. Teachers were not properly trained. Students were given full access to devices from the start. How do I take the school backwards in order to eventually move forwards?

While the program has not “failed,” it has several areas that should be addressed. As I reflect on this newfound direction of focus, I’ll start to draft an action plan that addresses my concerns. During that process, I’ll explore the tangible steps for creating a successful program for the future.


Bebell, D., & Kay, R. (2010). One to one computing: A summary of the quantitative results from the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(2). Retrieved from http://www.mamkschools.org/www/mamkschools/site/hosting/JTLA%20-%20One-to-One%20Research.pdf

Goodwin, B. (2011). Research says… / one-to-one laptop programs are no silver bullet. Educational Leadership, 68(5), 78-79. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/feb11/vol68/num05/One-to-One_Laptop_Programs_Are_No_Silver_Bullet.aspx

Hill, B. (2007, May 5). Laptops for k-12 students fail to improve academics [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.dailytech.com/Laptops+For+K12+Students+Fail+to+Improve+Academics/article7165.htm

Hu, W. (2007, May 4). Seeing no progress, some schools drop laptops. New York Times, Education. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/04/education/04laptop.html?pagewanted=all

Marshal, W. (2015, May 26). 7 lessons learned from a successful 1-to-1 laptop program [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/articles/2015/05/26/7-lessons-learned-from-a-successful-1-to-1-laptop-program.aspx

Roscorla, T. (2010, February 17). 6 steps to building a successful school laptop program [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.centerdigitaled.com/edtech/6-Steps-to-Building-a-Successful-School-Laptop-Program.html

Ross, C. (2014, July 30). New Jersey school district’s free laptop program crashes and burns [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://dailycaller.com/2014/07/30/new-jersey-school-districts-free-laptop-program-crashes-and-burns/

Schwarz, A. (2012, February 12). Mooresville’s shining example (it’s not just about the laptops). New York Times, Education. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/13/education/mooresville-school-district-a-laptop-success-story.html

Wilson, L. (2012, November 6). Focus your 1-to-1 program ‘around learning, not the device’ [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/Articles/2012/11/06/how-to-focus-on-learning-not-the-device.aspx?Page=1


4 thoughts on “Un-rollout to Fix Problems With Technology?

  1. Becky,
    I love this post! I didn’t read it as a dark take on the current reality facing your school; I read it as a thoughtful examination regarding what was happened. One strong point you mention is that technology is introduced to enhance what is happening in a classroom. We call it amplification and try to think really strategically about schools/classrooms that are ready for that amplification and supports to get those who aren’t there yet to get there. I think that your quote from Mark Edwards hits the nail on the head with, “This work is about teaching, learning, and authentic transformation of the education ecosystem.”
    I’m wondering what this means for you in your position. In what ways can you influence the culture? Likely you can’t “unroll” devices, but how do you engage your colleagues to refine their practices? What bright spots can you identify and codify so others can replicate them? What ideas need complete revision? How will you scale and sustain these changes?
    I appreciate your unabashed examination of your current situation and your thoughts on why it isn’t the stellar success everyone had hoped. What contribution can you make to improving it?

  2. It sounds like you’ve really processed a topic that you started thinking and sharing about a few
    months ago! I love following your thought progression. This really stood out to me: “How could it just fail? Couldn’t the school just change course and eventually be successful?” I would think the same thing! I’m fascinated by why that point of no return exists. Why do you think that is? Is it teacher burnout from being the one solely responsible for figuring it out? Is it about the lack of mentoring relationships? Is it about the school not having specific goals for use? Is it lack of time when so many other demands are placed? What is the teacher? Great job Becky! I can’t wait to read what’s next.

  3. Excellent, Becky. You have reframed your topic and come at it from a perspective that you see is necessary. I am excited to see how this turns out for you. You ask an important question. What makes your situation unique is that you cannot, so to speak, put the toothpaste back in the tube; faculty already have devices, so you have to work to solidify use and potency from that position rather than from a more controlled approach. What will that look like?

    There’s lots to read on this:

    Gary Stager, from 20 years ago http://www.stager.org/articles/edleadership.html and from 25 years ago http://www.stager.org/articles/forkids.html
    Never Mind the Laptop – great history of how laptops came to be in schools and where they were successful https://books.google.com/books?id=RE6k6LA8HhoC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false (the book is $3 for full copy on Google Books)
    Audrey Watters’ dives into One Laptop Per Child (2012) http://hackeducation.com/2012/04/09/the-failure-of-olpc/

    What you end up with after all of this, to summarize, is a struggle: on one side you have devices linked to autonomy and agency and creation and collaboration and all the signifiers and verbs we like in education, and on the other you have standards and metrics and accountability and all of the things measured by formal education. Why are the two not closer together in aims or vision? That’s a good question — for now they are not, and you will need to know what your schools want from giving students computers. I’m sure they *want* both, but what is driving the conversation?

  4. Great post! I was impressed with your well thought out process of dealing with an unsuccessful 1:1 rollout and how you plan to revamp the program. I love the title! I was thinking about this statement, “failure often comes from a “lack of teacher knowledge and buy-in, concluding, ‘It is impossible to overstate the power of individual teachers in the success or failure of 1:1 computing.’” Are teachers thinking about the next steps to the rollout? What a great opportunity for you to create an implementation plan to guide teachers to the next step. I also agree with Ellen’s statement about engaging the teachers into”refining their practices.” As always, the teachers and staff need to express their concerns and the needs of students in order to move forward. The project sounds promising and I look forward to hearing about your action plan.

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