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Why Successful 1:1 Device Initiatives Rely on Professional Development

Michael Nutter

July 9, 2020

As more school districts turn their attention to 1:1 device initiatives, they must also focus on professional development.

In recent years, 1:1 device programs have transformed from a pipe dream to a tangible goal for many school districts. A 2018 survey showed that about 40 percent of responding school districts offer one device per student, a substantial jump from 23 percent in 2014. When you factor in the rise of BYOD policies on top of that, the majority of respondents said that 100 percent of their district’s middle and high school students had access to non-shared devices.

This is an encouraging sign that 1:1 device efforts are continuing to take hold in school districts across the country — a positive development for students and teachers alike. 1:1 device initiatives have been shown to promote collaboration and career readiness, improve digital access, level the playing field, and even improve student test scores. A comprehensive review of more than 400 research studies concluded that, when compared to traditional face-to-face learning, computer-aided instruction had significant positive effects on “knowledge gains, skill acquisition, students’ perceptions, group task performances, and social interactions.”

But it’s also important to note that not every school that implements 1:1 device initiatives sees such substantial benefits. Here’s why that is — and what schools can do to ensure their 1:1 device investment pays dividends.

The Missing Piece in Many 1:1 Device Initiatives

Among the studies that tout overwhelmingly positive outcomes, there are still some school districts that implement 1:1 device programs to underwhelming results. For example, the Texas Technology Immersion Pilot involved 22 schools and $14.5 million in funding. At the end of the program’s fourth year, there was no evidence that student performance or school satisfaction had increased. Similarly, a $120 million technology initiative in Maine found no substantial improvement in test scores.

Despite their large monetary investments, these programs showed little positive change because they were both missing one key element: professional development. Technology can certainly result in higher test scores and, ultimately, better student outcomes — but not if teachers aren’t trained to effectively utilize it. A 2010 study by researchers Damian Bebell and Lauren O’Dwyer showed that schools see better outcomes from their 1:1 device programs when they place greater emphasis on training and immersion than on implementation alone. In short, the results of 1:1 device initiatives appeared to be based on the strength of their implementation, not on implementation itself.

Of course, professional development is a vital determinant of the effectiveness of an initiative’s implementation. Bebell and O’Dwyer found that professional development is essential for successful 1:1 device programs, and interestingly, it should aim to address teacher beliefs about instruction itself.

How to Structure Teacher PD for 1:1 Device Initiatives

As schools begin to implement 1:1 device initiatives, many educators themselves will suddenly face a steep learning curve. Thus, it’s only natural that district leaders must prioritize professional development for 1:1 initiatives to be truly successful. Some proven methods for success include promoting a mastery of the tools among educators, teaching instructional strategies that best integrate technology, and even rethinking hiring. Here are a few ways that school districts can get started.

  • Provide 1:1 professional development to go along with 1:1 device initiatives. Teachers come from different generations and wildly varying technology backgrounds — instruction that’s necessary for one teacher may be a waste of time for another. Give educators the opportunity to tailor their PD to their needs and knowledge gaps.
  • Intentionally align PD with goals. The most effective 1:1 device initiatives have clearly stated, quantifiable goals that reflect the desired program outcomes. When goals are clear, professional development can be intentionally designed to help teachers meet them.
  • Rethink instructional strategies. Effectively integrating technology into instruction isn’t just a matter of moving from a whiteboard to Google Slides; it requires a new understanding of instruction and a new toolbox of instructional strategies. Use PD as a way to encourage educators to think outside of the box to find out what works best for their students.

Even when school districts and officials understand exactly what they would like their 1:1 device programs to look like, however, it can be hard to put the appropriate PD plans into action. To help aid the process, school districts looking to see tangible benefits from their 1:1 device initiatives should consider partnering with Vinson. Vinson’s Professional Development services were developed specifically to offer educators the flexibility and personalization that other options lack. In the face of a pandemic, our PD offerings even feature virtual Google- and Microsoft-led courses with flexible enrollment to help educators master tools like Google Classroom and Microsoft Office. To learn more, reach out to us today.

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