Why a District 1:1 Rollout Is About More Than Devices and Software

Why a District 1:1 Rollout Is About More Than Devices and Software

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Like many districts, Onslow County Schools in North Carolina had a vision for itself: become a 21st-century school district before the nationwide work towards making that shift began. We wanted to transform the entire way that our district was teaching and learning, and we wanted to achieve it through a 1:1 rollout.

Because our team's dream for Onslow County Schools was to shift from a 20th century learning environment to a 21st century learning environment, we decided to go “micro” with a 1:1 pilot. When we did begin our digital transition, it happened in small pockets, through a classroom-driven initiative. We launched a device grant program and invited teachers to submit proposals. Selected teachers’ classrooms were then outfitted with laptops, effectively kicking off our 1:1 initiative and Onslow County Schools’ digital transformation.

But once the pilot devices were distributed, we realized that so much of the literature out there focuses solely on two components of 1:1 rollouts--the devices and the software. And that is not enough. We wanted more information, such as around infrastructure, data tracking and professional development. It’s the stuff that isn’t as flashy as devices, but ensures that the devices are getting used, and used in a productive way.

And that’s why we’re going to share with you the three things that could make-or-break a district 1:1 rollout once you’ve decided to move beyond a pilot.

1. Have a (or Create Your Own) Robust Collaboration System

From the onset, our vision focused on the how behind technology, rather than technology for technology’s sake. To support 1:1, we wanted a way in which teachers and students could learn from and connect to resources and experts easily--those very resources and experts that we knew were either down the road, on the other side of the district or in another state. So, we maximized our talent by connecting classrooms to share how they are successful.

To do so, we introduced a robust teleconferencing collaboration system, called OnslowView. OnslowView provides opportunities for students and teachers to collaborate with other students and teachers they wouldn't normally see, and opens up communication in a visual way--rather than just text on the screen. Here’s a prime example of how it’s being used: teachers and students collaborated on a Poetry Slam, achieved via teleconferencing through devices. Students shared original poetry and performances with one another, all without leaving their home schools.

Where the students are concerned, with a few pushes of button, students are engaged in another school, grade level, classroom, subject, etc. It provides the spark to "meet" virtually and to expand that relationship through the use of the 1:1 devices. And best of all, we didn't want to students to rely on their "devices" to learn about the world, and OnslowView provides that need for human interaction.

And for educators, this collaboration tool is used for 1:1 implementation team meetings, where monthly, we have principals join in on a conference call to discuss what is working and what needs to be tweaked in their 1:1 programs. It's quick, it's convenient, and principals don't have to leave campuses to attend a meeting.

Check one for collaboration, as the infrastructure is in place. What’s next?

2. Track District Readiness

Around this time, we began to realize that before we implemented a full, districtwide plan, we needed a better understanding of our district’s technology readiness. To get a clear picture, we partnered with a research organization, BrightBytes, to help us gather information from parents, students, educators, and administrators on our technology and learning readiness.

BrightBytes’ Technology and Learning module played an integral role in our planning and helped us understand where we were by showing us our strengths and gaps, as well as actionable, research-based next steps. For example, data collected with BrightBytes showed that we had put the necessary infrastructure in place, but that we needed additional professional development for our teachers. This led to the “how” piece mentioned earlier. Our educators needed direct support on how to effectively integrate our amazing new infrastructure into instruction to transform teaching and learning.

The BrightBytes module became the “GPS device” for our digital transformation--engaging stakeholders and allowing them to have a voice in the process led to overwhelming support for our 1:1 vision. After all, without a tool to help us measure that, how would we know if we were being successful or making a difference in the way our teachers taught and students learned?

3. Outline a Distribution Plan

With the data in tow, we began to plan a five-year rollout of The Learning Advantage, our 1:1 initiative’s longterm plan. We knew we were going to be fully equipped in 1:1, but we wanted to do it on a manageable scale. And so, we spread out our device distribution.

We decided to roll out three grade levels each year until all grade levels were fully equipped. Year 1, we did 7th, 8th, and 9th Grade. Year 2 (currently) we rolled out 5th, some 6th, and 10th.

We did this staggered deployment for one reason: funding, and not just because of funding for the laptops. We wanted to make sure we had enough manpower to help support the program with professional development, technical management, and instructional support, and fully equipping our district all at once with 1:1 devices would have been challenging on a number of fronts.

Sometimes when you try to do too much, you end up doing too little, and we wanted to be able to adequately address needs--doing so on a focused scale would allow for that. So, to ensure the long-term success of this transformation, the combination of OnslowView, the Learning Advantage 1:1 plan, and BrightBytes’ Technology and Learning module fully equipped us to make this transformation possible, effective, and successful. Onslow County Schools is proud to say that each of our students will graduate a 21st-century learner well equipped to take on the challenges the future holds.

And it’s not just because of devices.


This post is part of the EdSurge Fifty States Project (representing the state of North Carolina). The project is supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributors alone and do not reflect the views of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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