Carts, 1:1 and BYOD: The Journey Towards Personal Student Devices

Carts, 1:1 and BYOD: The Journey Towards Personal Student Devices


Learning “at any pace, in any place, at any time” will require every student to have access to her own device 24/7. Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District’s CTO Tim Goree thinks a blend of BYOD and district-provided devices will be the endgame. “From a district’s perspective, BYOD is the ideal: it costs less and students become the experts of their own devices, allowing teachers to focus on instruction,” he explained. “But we have to deal with the inequities.”

The solution in Napa Valley: BYOD + 1:1

Napa Valley Unified School District seems to have gone a long way towards providing equitable access to technology. “The District and its community partners strive to ensure that every secondary student can obtain a device” said CTO Gary Heard. It encourages students to bring their own devices to school, and those with financial needs can get assistance from NapaLearns, a local educational foundation, to buy a basic device on very reasonable terms. The BYOD program is supplemented with loaners.

The district is moving towards supplying a device to every K-5 student but intends to continue BYOD for 6-12. It does not have to fund, manage or provide maintenance for BYOD. Taking care of devices for the entire student body “just isn't sustainable,” remarked NapaLearns’ Executive Director, Peg Maddocks. “And (older) kids are getting computers anyway.”

Since the LMS and most of the instructional applications are in the cloud, students can access much of what they need from their own devices. Students can use non-web based software using classroom or lab computers, but everything is quickly moving to the cloud.

Problems with laptop carts

Many districts are taking the first step towards personal student devices by equipping laptop carts with Chromebooks or iPads. But this transition has its own issues, especially for iPad rollouts. “Apple has provided no simple stepping stone towards 1:1,” lamented Enoch Kwok, Director of Educational Technology and Information Services for the Oak Park Unified School District. He has found that the Apple management tools have been designed for individual, rather than shared, use of each device and has had to adopt workarounds to give students access to the apps they need.

Colleen Calvano, Technology Director for the Acalanes Union High School District, has been trying to find reliable management tools for the iPad since her district purchased its first batch in 2010, the year the iPad was introduced. She too has had to improvise, especially purchasing and provisioning apps, and is looking outside the Apple toolkit for Mobile Device Management (MDM) software. “We have made things work, but we have found no silver bullet,” she remarked. Fortunately, she has been able to rely on the students themselves to install updates and new apps. But she also realizes this is not a strategy that would work for all districts.

Devices alone don’t change instruction

Sure there have been technology challenges. But solving these issues has been relatively simple compared with building the capacity within the organization to use the devices effectively.

Oakland Unified School District went the “cart” route for its rollout of 8600 Chromebooks during this past school year. But contrary to the popular vision of a student carrying her device everywhere she goes, these devices will stay in the classroom for now. CTO John Krull explained that the immediate objective was to enable Common Core testing. Basic tech support was provided by teachers who were paid a $1500 stipend to look after two carts each. But Krull added, “transforming the everyday classroom will require much more instructional support”. Only six Oakland schools currently use student devices for blended learning; the district is hiring a “Personalized Learning Director” to help expand the instructional use of the Chromebooks into more schools.

Think big (but don’t go too fast)

San Francisco Unified School District also is trying to make sure the technology does not outpace its human capacity, despite benefactor and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s urging to “think bigger.” Last year, the district equipped 34 carts with iPads, and distributed them to 34 middle school math and science teachers who had shown enthusiasm for using technology to extend the classroom. These teachers were asked to analyze their usage according to the SAMR model (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) to determine how much they were redefining instruction. CTO Matt Kinsey noted that these 34 early adopters were given substantial technical and professional development support.

Even with the experience from this initial rollout, scaling up to the district’s 3000 teachers will be a challenge. Next year, the district plans to roll out carts to all elementary and middle school classrooms but still has not decided if or when students can take the devices home.

Key success factors: flexibility and people

There is no tried and proven roadmap for districts to achieve 1:1. Schools are still learning how to do it right. The Los Angeles Unified School District slowed down its iPad implementation started last fall and recently announced it is allowing certain high schools to select Windows laptops or Chromebooks instead of the iPad.

“The key success factor for a 1:1 implementation is a principal with vision,” stated Fairfield-Suisun’s Tim Goree. Other school district technology leaders have echoed this sentiment.

Perhaps this is just stating the obvious. But the adage that people, not technology, is the key to successful change management is sometimes forgotten when the change is technology--especially something as tangible and exciting as a device in the hands of every student.

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