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Sixth-graders from the Wayland-Cohocton Middle School in New York train on Toshiba tablets, which the school won in a 2010 Win a Wireless Lab Sweepstakes.

Tablets have come a long way since Apple launched its pioneering Newton MessagePad in 1993, the first Internet-connected flat-screen device pairing a stylus with handwriting-recognition software. Since then, computer hardware companies have been refining and experimenting with the concept of Internet-connected tablet computing devices. The personal digital assistant (PDA), convertible laptop/tablets, dual-screen booklet tablets, e-book readers and other designs have been among the many iterations of tablet computers, sometimes known as slates or media tablets.

“Ninety-one percent of teachers reported having access to computers in their classrooms, but only 22 percent said they have the right level of technology.” – Source: PBS Learning Media (2012)


Mooresville (N.C.) Graded School District

Scott Smith once led efforts for North Carolina’s technology educators, when he served as president of the N.C. Technology in Education Society (NCTIES), the state’s affiliate of the International Society for Technology in Education. Now, he is chief technology officer for the Mooresville (N.C.) Graded School District—a suburban town located 20 miles north of Charlotte. It’s one of the only public school districts in the country to issue laptops to every student in grades 3-12.

Until recently, student electronic devices, from cell phones to iPods to laptop computers, were the forbidden fruit in schools. But with technology budgets languishing and such devices becoming more powerful, affordable and omnipresent in students’ lives, district technology leaders are now eyeing a welcome educational harvest through bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs.

Netbooks Replace Smartphones
Watkins Glen (N.Y.) Central School District

Back in December 2009, Watkins Glen Central School District in Garnerville, N.Y., gave smartphones to 200 fifth- and seventh-graders and 20 teachers in three schools. Two years later, this small pilot program has transitioned away from mobile phones to a one-to-one netbook program for all 850 pupils in grades 5-12. According to Superintendent Tom Philips, the HP Pavilion netbook is more educationally appropriate for Watkins Glen than tablets or mobile phones.  

In the last few years, smartphones have moved quickly from banned to embraced in K12 schools as educators have realized that mobile learning devices engage students, enhance the teaching of 21st-century skills, and instantly check for understanding with student response applications. Districts have started upgrading their wireless networks to accommodate one-to-one technology initiatives, while others follow a “bring your own device” (BYOD) policy.


Are you an "unlearner?" If not, you need to become one—fast. Of the many important messages articulated by Duke professor Cathy Davidson in her newest book Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, that may be the one that is most relevant for educational leaders at this moment.

After billions of dollars spent, the impact on student achievement of computer use in K12 has been essentially zero. The reason is: The same textbooks, the same curriculum and the same pedagogy continue to be used, but computers have been substituted for pencil and paper. Teachers have had their students use computers to search for information instead of having them go to their school library. Direct instruction is the technical term for this teacher-centric pedagogical style, but we refer to it as "I teach."

In the 1990s, school districts invested all they could in desktop computers that had plenty of horsepower, since applications and data were all stored locally on individual machines. By the 2000s, the individual machines had become less critical as districts moved to server-based networks.