Don’t Implement One-to-One Devices in the Classroom Unless…

Driving to work a few weeks ago, I listened to a completely unsurprising story on NPR. The story, titled “Students Find Ways To Hack School-Issues iPads Within A Week,” highlights the Los Angeles Unified School District’s early challenges in attempting to provide devices to 600,000 students.

Students quickly discovered ways to get around software meant to block Facebook and other sites, with some entrepreneurial students even charging classmates two dollars to hack the iPads. Think students were trying to hack their way into access for better educational apps, games, and websites?  Heck, no!

Most students employ a deeply ingrained practice of using digital devices primarily for entertainment, and this is the paradigm we must chip away at.

The alluring qualities of social media interaction, on-demand YouTube music videos, and taking instagram photos will continue to attract students.  The entertainment factor isn’t going anywhere with mobile devices. In fact, it only seems to become more individualized by the minute.

With that said, I’m still a proponent of thoughtfully integrating a healthy dose of digital devices and open internet access in as many classrooms as possible. But don’t implement one-to-one policies or open cell phone access unless…

1.  All teachers are trained and comfortable with resources, tools, and classroom strategies for using digital tools instructionally. I still have my own struggles in my classes–I have to deal with students seemingly addicted to instagram and Twitter–but I’m trying to encourage their use of cell phones to create reminders and lists, access our classroom Schoology site, and use Google Drive if computers are unavailable. The digitally connected world forces individuals to make constant choices about how to use devices, and I’m trying to provide students with an arsenal of tools.

2.  Teachers and students have meaningful conversations about mindful technology use.  If students are going to better understand how and why they use technology and the effects their own habits have on their productivity and school work, we’ve got to have honest conversations. I’ve had many students admit that extreme multitasking and constantly responding to tweets and texts does inhibit their learning and efficiency, one small step towards becoming more responsible device users.

3.  Students are held accountable if they can’t handle the freedom of being connected. There must be boundaries. If I have students who can’t handle the allure of entertainment, they place their cell phones on my desk for the class period. I also treat headphone use as a privilege, allowing students to listen to music while working on most Fridays. Even though students are often using devices other days of the week, I’ve decided that on most days, the academic tasks at hand are more pressing than being able to work, create a playlist, work a little more, browse Youtube music videos, work some more, etc.

4.  Teachers are ready to engage in constant assessment and evaluation of how effectively the technology use is promoting learning outcomes.  This is true for any lesson, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of using cell phones and tablets in the classroom and being pleasantly surprised with seeming student engagement. If you’re new to implementing technology in the classroom, you’ll soon look out into the classroom and see every student glued to the screen, no matter the task, and think wow, this is great!  I’ve been there, only to realize that a weak lesson plan can seem much better than it is when the iPhones, iPads, and Androids are out.

I expect one-to-one digital device policies to eventually become the norm in schools, and we’re all in the midst of a grand experiment and reworking of the most effective ways to encourage teachers and students to harness the power of digital communication and tools. To do this well, we all must work on helping each other shift the digital device balance a little more from the dominant entertainment paradigm towards continual exploration of the educational promise of the digital world.

What successes and failures have you had with cell phone or tablet use in your classrooms? What advice would you give a teacher or school that is about to implement one-to-one initiatives? Do you think school districts are rolling out one-to-one initiatives too quickly, or is it productive to “jump right in” and troubleshoot along the way?

  • sharonwright

    Jumping In the Deep End of the Pool

    I have been called a “Kamikaze teacher,” for my willingness to jump in and tackle a lesson or an experiment or any new tech tool with little “thinking it through.” This has been both wonderful and terrible for me and my students. However, with one-to-one device use, it’s important for teachers to understand that students will always use their devices for entertainment, as you said. I believe that teachers must be prepared for a certain amount of “frivolous” device use. I have my students use their cell phone to take pictures during class. This allows them a little bit of entertainment, but I encourage them to take a photo of themselves or their peers working on something academic. Part of teaching in the 21st century in a one-to-one classroom or a “Bring your own device” classroom is understanding that we can’t take all the entertainment out of student technology use. Perhaps it’s because of my own teaching style, the idea that jumping in the deep end of the pool is the only way to truly learn how to swim, that I am a proponent of the “Just Do It” attitude towards technology initiatives. We all know that all the education classes in the world can never prepare you for what teaching is really like in the trenches day-in and day-out. Learning as we go can be frustrating, but I believe that it is ultimately the most effective and the most fun for everyone involved.

    • PaulBarnwell

      You Can’t Be a Micromanager…

      Sharon, you’re spot on in acknowedging we can’t remove or completely curtail all of the entertainment options when we allow devices in class.   I wonder how many control-obsessed or micromanaging educators have attempting to open their classes to the digital world, only to become overwhelmed by the lack of control?  You can’t be a micromanager if you’re going to allow students to access opportunities online, that’s for sure.  

    • Luv2findx

      Swimming Along Side You

      I too dive in the deep end. I have always been a first adopter, don’t necessarily read the directions, and figure it out along the way — yes, pros and cons to this life/teaching approach. This year my middle school went 1:1 iPad. I couldn’t have been happier. I have been teaching over 20 years and it seems as though fellow team members are resistant to the change. They want a workshop to “learn how to do it” and want to master everything before implementing. Our school is providing support, mostly in terms of edcamp type workshops and online professional develpment.  It definitely surprised me as they are a bit younger than me. We had a set of iPads in our team for the last two years. It seemed like a natural progression. My teammates want to be sure all controls are in place and in my perception can only seem to see the negative side of the technology. I understand that they may need to dip-in-their-toes a little at a time, yet it seems so much a battle. The necessity to know everything about how to integrate all the technology with their classes before experimenting, trying things out, working things through, is a little frustrating.  I am in such a different place knowing that it will take time to figure out how to do things I used to do. Find a new solution. I see myself learning right along side the kids how to integrate tech more and more. I understand that the kids may/will know more than me. I see amazing opportunities. My math classes created Explain Everything tutorials for finding indirect measurements using proportions. Not only did we learn the app together, the concept was definitely mastered! For the kids, the adaption seems second nature. They have so much to teach us. I believe children learn where they are at, we can’t be stuck in our “old” school ways. Would love to connect.


  • Bill Ferriter

    Have You Read Net Smart?

    Hey Paul,

    First, great bit.  I love the list you’ve generated about making 1:1 work in schools.  They are all important points to consider.

    Have you read Net Smart by Howard Rheingold yet?  It really focuses nicely on the notion that we need to teach both our students and ourselves how to fully attend when we are working in digital spaces.  Changed a ton about my own thinking towards teaching kids to use technology efficiently and productively.

    Rock on,


    • PaulBarnwell



      Sorry for not responding ummm….several months ago!  This post has been on my mind.  Yes, I did read Netsmart a while back, and it influenced me greatly, inspiring me to teach a digital and social media literacies course at my school.  Could be argued it should be requred reading for any teacher who wants to integrate more tech. in class, in addition to expanding grasp of own tech. implementation.



  • Rob Sterner

    Only one surprise…

    My only surprise is that it took the students a week!  Actually I expect it was faster, but the students would only admit it took a week.  As an enterprising student myself(once upon a time), I recall finding ways to play games on our old DOS computers in typing class.  “Where there’s a will, there’s a way…”

    I do wonder what the consequences were for students who failed to use their iPads properly.  In our school (a BYOD district), we put in place–and more importantly enforced–rules about proper use of the devices in class.  Anyone caught violating the Acceptable Use Policy, which covers everything from porn to peer-to-peer file sharing to checking Facebook and Twitter, earns a Saturday Detention.  A harsh punishment for a first offense to be sure, but it does the trick.  The device(during class) is for school work.  Between classes, at lunch, study hall… that is the acceptable time to use the device for personal reasons.  I also work to model this by not checking my phone during class.  If as teachers, we do the things we don’t want to see in class, how can we expect the students to do differently?  Do as I say… not as I do?

    1-to-1 is great, but you have to think like a shifty, devious teenager when planning for worst-case-senarios.  If I were a lazy, apathetic, yet intelligent teenager… what kind of trouble could I get into with this device?  I’m sure some student has done far more on his/her iPad than just play games or post something on Twitter.

    • BriannaCrowley

      So True!

      Rob, It’s so good to see you stopping by and sharing about our district’s BYOD implementation! Thanks for adding to the conversation. 

      I still struggle with the balance of incorporating personal devices and asking students to just put them away. It’s hard to know if the student is taking note, Googling something I’ve just said, or being completely off task…and it’s hard to gain rapport if I’m always questioning them or calling them out. Yet, I’ve also become SO frustrated when I look up from my computer at the beginning of period 1 and see every student’s face glued to their little screens. 

      Still learning the balance…I think it’s different for each group of students too. 

      I liked what you wrote about modeling the behavior we want from our students. I use my phone all the time as a timer for student discussions, or activities…so I guess I’m modeling it as a learning tool to some extent!

  • Karen

    Device Security in the Classroom

    What no one is addressing here is the fact that school districts MUST abide by federal laws that restrict access to inappropriate materials on school owned devices.  Most districts apply for and receive federal funding for technology through the E-Rate Program.  Under the E-Rate Program districts are required to have a Technology Plan and to abide by the Child Protection Act in having webfiltering and other security measures in place.  When a one-for-one device program is in place, each of those devices that are portable need to have a program such as Computrace on them to trace them when lost or stolen, they have to have a web filtering client on them and they have to be placed in the appropriate network container to have permission to access the network with security.  If personally owned devices are allowed to be used in the classroom, there is no guarantee that the parents have set controls on the device to prevent their child from accessing inappropriate content.  Then the child can look up inappropriate content and share it with other students.  This is not only a moral issue but a legal issue as well, as schools must prevent access to inappropriate material in their schools.

    The integration of technology in the classrooms is needed and can be a good thing; however, it needs to be approached thoughtfully and a careful plan needs to be developed to assure that all ethical, moral and legal requirements are met.  Too many groups push for a mixed bag of techology and have no idea what is required by law or what the Districts must do for network security.  Some groups demonize Technology Departments and accuse them of putting up road blocks to what they want to do when in reality it is a neccessary requirement.  All sides need to engage in open communication, understand what must be in place and choose the best solution.