Christopher DeNoia has been with the Pascack Valley Regional High School District in New Jersey since 2006. He is currently the district assistant network administrator and oversees the technical aspects of the district’s 2500+ MacBook Air 1:1 initiative, which has recently entered its 10th year.
Let’s rewind a little. In 2004, tablets were not yet on the drawing board, Facebook was available to a handful of college students and most folks’ definition of a digital textbook was a book that came on a compact disc. Fast forward to 2013, where you can hardly have a conversation about education that does not include mention of mobile devices, online learning and social-media platforms. You get the idea.
In the Pascack Valley Regional High School District in New Jersey, 2004 was the beginning of an educational transformation that brought technology, education and the community together. In 2004, the district implemented one of the nation’s first 1:1 initiatives and has been meeting achievement and budget goals ever since.
Don’t get me wrong, we have had our fair share of scrapes and bruises along the way, so for those of you looking to implement 1:1, or in the midst of one, here are some of the most important things the last 10 years have taught us:
Leadership and community buy in
It is up to leadership at the district level to ensure that all stakeholders are engaged from the beginning, including staff and the community at large. That means establishing value for all stakeholders. From the inception of the 1:1 program in our district, leadership engaged parents, teachers, building administrators and members of the school board. Their planning and transparency led to each party joining the 1:1 push. Because of our leadership’s efforts to help the community understand the goals, the district was able to implement and support our 1:1 initiative with little resistance then or down the road.
Can you afford it?
Where is the money coming from? Need I say more? Our district was able to implement and maintain its 1:1 initiative without significantly increasing budget, during the planning phase, leadership was able to identify where funds could be reallocated. An audit was incredibly helpful here.
The right tools for the job
I bet you are thinking, I am going to talk about which device would best suit your district, budget etc. However, when I say the right tools for the job, I am talking about the right staff, with the right expertise in the right place. Typical 1:1 involves many moving parts: IT, tech departments, curriculum folks etc., each with their own areas of expertise and requirements for success, making strong communication essential. In our district, leadership evaluated what it would take to support a districtwide initiative and added both network and tech staff to each site, ensuring educators had the support they needed. We have two district-level network administrators, two IT support specialists at each of our buildings, a district data services manager, a department secretary, and even more importantly, an extremely engaged and involved director of technology.
Throughout the last 10 years, the tools available to us have evolved. At a district level, it was necessary to provide a number of universal services to our schools. One requirement was a network that can support nearly 3,000 devices connected at the same time every day. About four years ago we transitioned to a Cisco network infrastructure, increasing network capacity and available wireless bandwidth. We chose Prey as an asset management and device recovery tool, which has been invaluable. Prey allows us to keep track of each device, locate a single device should it go missing or become a victim of theft, as well as giving us more control of the recovery process with a more granular approach to asset management.
Because we chose to use the MacBook Air, we had the added challenge of implementing a device with a smaller hard drive. Rather than nixing valuable tools, we were able to provide students and faculty with the flexibility of deciding what they need on their desktop with Self Service from JAMF, which allows a user to choose applications and software from an approved district list.
A few extra tidbits of advice for your 1:1 adventure
- Engage your entire staff. Many of our “reluctant” teachers at the onset have become our most valuable sources of support and innovation. With the right professional development and support, any teacher can serve in this role.
- Make this initiative valuable to your students. The more students need their device to get through the day, the more success you will realize. Keep it simple. Give kids the tools they need to make a 1:1 environment the most comfortable learning environment they have ever known.
- And lastly, kids will be kids. They will always try to preoccupy themselves. To tackle this hurdle, we have given our students a lot of freedom, and responsibility, which has made incidents of misuse almost obsolete.
- Engage. Plan. Budget. Plan. Engage. Support. Implement and repeat.