I highly commend Jim Klein‘s post “When Do Laptops Become School Supplies?” to you. Jim writes:

So knowing this, how do we create an environment with technology as simple, affordable, and reliable as the cell phone, yet with the power to bring truly transformative change to the classroom? I believe through the fusion of three powerful technologies: netbooks, open-source software, and web 2.0… When we combine these three, I believe we have the ingredients of transformation at our fingertips. Does it work? Absolutely yes, we’ve seen this success in the SWATTEC program. We’ve done nearly zero training on the laptops themselves, yet the students are using them for amazing things on a daily basis, and teachers have embraced them to the degree that they are regularly used all day, every day in the learning environment.

So what’s the magic? How do we make these into school supplies? My thoughts are as follows:

  1. Set up a purchase program for parents who wish to buy a computer for their students, with the incentive being that the students would own the laptops and be able to take them home, as well as carry the same laptop through grade level changes and the like. Their low cost places them well within reach of a typical family (most have expensive cell phones, after all.)
  2. Make as many laptops available at school as possible for those who are unable/unwilling to purchase one.
  3. Install all of the same programs that the laptops have on them on every machine on campus, and give the software to parents to install on their home computers. All of the software can be installed on any machine running any operating system, be they classroom computers or those in a student’s home, without restriction or expense, creating an environment of ubiquitous technology access.

Jim is proposing a hybrid BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop) and “ubiquitous computing” approach to 1:1 learning, which is remarkably innovative but more practical than ever today. I first heard of a school actually implementing (rather than just talking about) a BYOL initiative at the end of February this year, when I participated in the Learning@School09 conference in New Zealand. Fairfield Intermediate School in Hamilton, New Zealand has implemented an optional BYOL program for several years. According to the school’s website, “digital learning” is offered in designated classrooms as:

…the provision of dedicated classrooms where the students will have access to information sources at all times and that these technological tools will become the first choice for students to create, think and process ideas… There will be one computer for every two students in the class… There will be a cost incurred for the placement of a student in these rooms.

Erin Freeman and Heath Sawyer are two teachers at Fairfield, and presented the session “Collaborative Learning Using Web 2.0 Tools” at Learning@School09. My understanding from Erin is that in her classroom, students are 1:1 rather than 2:1 with parent/family provided laptops. I was intrigued to learn more from Erin and Heath at the conference about this BYOL approach to 1:1 learning. Typically we think of it as the school’s responsibility to provide technology equipment. As Jim proposes in his post, and educators at Fairfield demonstrate, however, this assumption does not need to be made in all cases today. Laptops CAN become school supplies. No, all parents in all situations are not going to be able and/or willing to provide a laptop (even if it is a less costly Netbook) for their student to attend school. The fact that a Netbook CAN be treated as a parent-provided “school supply,” however, and in some cases IS being treated as part of the school supply list which parents provide for student learning, is a major change/shift in thinking about the tools which are provided for learning and what entities / individuals are responsible for that provision.

Carl Owens, Director of Technology at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, is one of the first educational leaders I met several years ago who has helped operationalize the ideal of providing a “ubiquitous computing environment” for all students. Terms like “1 to 1” and “ubiquitous” get thrown around a lot, and it’s important to clarify exactly what people mean when they use these terms. For Carl at TTU, this has meant providing Apple laptop computers for student and faculty checkout whenever needed. Students haven’t bought their own laptops in a more “traditional” 1:1 learning initiative at TTU. Instead, they can check out laptops whenever they are needed, even overnight. This is a different approach for 1:1 learning, and while I think direct student ownership of a specific laptop is very important for 1:1 success, I also recognize this model doesn’t and won’t work everywhere. The learning revolution is differentiated and customized for different contexts. We know all students are not the same. We need to stop expecting all school settings to look the same.

I think it is very innovative that Jim is proposing essentially a combined landscape of “ubiquitous computing” for students whose parents/family either won’t provide or can’t afford a Netbook, and a more traditional 1:1 model of students actually owning and maintaining their own laptop. This is a hybrid 1:1 implementation model which has great potential traction, in my view.

Jim highlights three critical pieces to “the magic” (borrowing his parlance) for learning transformation in 1:1 contexts. I’d add two more to this list:

  1. Strong administrative vision and support for the initiative. If the leaders at the top don’t “get it” and support it, it’s not scalable and it’s not sustainable. Without scalability and sustainability, you’re just talking about doing a “pilot” initiative which is likely to have minimal impact to transform teaching and learning broadly. With those factors, you’re establishing a beachhead for the learning revolution. See the Anywhere, Anytime Learning Foundation (AALF) for more resources and ideas on both these topics.
  2. A moderated, online learning community. Jim has led the way using the open source platform Elgg at his school to provide this essential component. The SUSD Teacher Community and Student Writing Achievement Through Technology Enhanced Collaboration (SWATTEC) initiative are both Elgg-powered learning communities which play pivotal roles in orienting teachers, students, parents, and other community constituents toward web-based publication and sharing of ideas rather than closed-door teaching.

What do you think of the BYOL approach to 1:1 learning? Please read Jim’s original post and leave him feedback / comments there. Do you know of other schools implementing a 1:1 project with a BYOL approach currently? I’d love to learn about those schools, their leaders, and get links to their websites/blogs providing more info about their initiatives. I don’t think a single 1:1 model is going to work in all contexts, and I think it is very exciting to hear about this hybrid BYOL / ubiquitous computing approach. Could this work in your community?

Hat tip to Dr. Mike Muir for tweeting about Jim’s post and alerting me to it today. 🙂

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7 Responses to Transitioning to 1:1 Netbooks via BYOL

  1. Cary Harrod says:


    We began looking at this type of “program” this past Fall when we came across the Clovis Unified District in Clovis, CA. We visited Clovis and walked away with some excellent ideas of how to implement it in our district. Based on this hybrid model, we have created “Access 21”. It is not slated to begin for a couple of years as we plan for the best way to roll it out. I would be interested in having more conversations with you and others about this idea. In the meantime, here are some additional resources for you:


  2. HAMILTON, NZ ROCKS Don’t you think? Great things are happening here in our little corner of the world. We too have a bring your netbook/device to school policy. In fact this year we have gone as far as making it compulsory for all Year 7 students (140 of them/6 classes) to have their own netbook which they will take to year 8 with them -so you could say we’ve already put it on our stationary list. Led by a strong vision from all levels within the organisation and built on a strong foundation of open source software (we use Elgg as our school’s social network/eportfolio system and moodle plus a whole selection of other web2.0 tools). We have a secure wireless network which all devices can connect onto (macs, phones, xbox 360’s, PSPs and the in thing at the moment with the year 8’s ipod touches) but the real icing on the cake for us and the thing that has made 1:1 computing a reality, is our fast fibre internet connection which is part of the Hamilton urban fibre network (HUFN) with its point of presence on the country wide KAREN network that links all the Universities. When you scale up in the web2:0 World of 1:1 computing you have to have the infrastructure to support the devices because it won’t be 1:1 for very long it will be many to 1 before we know it. Even in these times of recession. Like I said HAMILTON ROCKS watch this space http://www.southwell.school.nz

  3. Tony says:

    Hi Lesley

    My school is going 1 to 1 next year in 4 grade levels. I am interested to know any problems you have encountered and how you got around those problems. Also, what types of projects or activities are being done to make use of the technology – I am not a proponent of doing the same thing with a new tool.

    By the way, I taught at HBHS many years ago and had a good number of students from Southwell – they were always better prepared than many of the 3rd formers we received from other schools.


  4. Hi Tony, you can check out my blog http://conectd.blogspot.com/ to gain some further insight. I’ll post a detailed response to your comment on my blog in a day or two which will look at the BYOL/any device/netbook scheme from a few different perspectives (including teachers and admins) – Better ask their opinion first though I suppose. If you need to know anything more specific feel free to contact me via my gmail cravenl@gmail.com

  5. Kent Chesnut says:

    Great post… I do have a couple of questions…
    * Do you see a possibility of this happening through a grass-roots up approach? If parents started buying and sending the Netbooks to school, do you think the schools would add the needed infrastructure? (As far as I know, neither of the schools my school age kids are even have wifi.) My daughter’s high school has good wired connectivity to lots of school computers… she just carries her flash stick with her (it’s a lot lighter than even a netbook 😉
    * If a school was willing to support the initiative, but was concerned about providing children with access to the internet, could the project still be worthwhile based on just intranet services? If so, what services would you consider essential?

    Lesley, I really appreciate your comment on the infrastructure planning needed. I suspect that this could easily be overlooked – and the success of a 1:1 deployment could really be hampered if the whole network slowed to a crawl just as the final money was being spent.

    Wes, keep up the great posts,

  6. Charles Sipe says:

    I think it is a great idea to have these programs as it will improve computer literacy, an increasing important competency in today’s world.

    The elementary school I went to does have school wide wifi, which I think is a great step.

    There are so many educational resources available online that can supplement classroom education and improve student achievement.

  7. Hi Tony, besides the infrastructure, wifi/ internet needs. The next main problem from the ICT managers perspective is standardisation of machines i.e to image or not to image. Power/storage/safety not really an issue but obviously need consideration. Pedagogical change and buy in from all staff is much more of a challenge and one we are in the process of working on in our syndicate. Need more info related to a specific area feel free to contact me via email cravenl@gmail.com

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