School one-to-one programs are hardly new, but they're far from ubiquitous. Still, some of the earliest initiatives are now close to two decades old, offering valuable best practices for those striving to put a computing device in the hands of every student.
But the financial realities of recent years, new cultural expectations of "anytime, anywhere" access to information and the rapid expansion of the mobile-device market have helped to set in motion a new revolution in educational technology: "bring your own device."
Project Tomorrow data show that increasing numbers of students across all grade levels already have Internet-enabled mobile devices. Even K–2 students own or have personal access to tablets (10 percent), smartphones (16 percent) and notebooks (37 percent).
The challenge for school leaders is to determine how they can most effectively deliver technology tools and resources to students. Budget constraints make it difficult for many schools to buy and maintain a computer for every student; so leveraging the devices that students already own makes good fiscal sense.
Yet, security, access, acceptable-use and curriculum integration concerns weigh heavily on IT leaders and educators as they watch BYOD evolve. Some believe BYOD could become the new one-to-one because, as Gartner Research Director Bill Rust explains, "the capital costs of providing every student with a computer and maintaining that device over time has proved to be unsupportable."
Paso Robles Joint Unified School District knows this all too well. Scott Knuckles, director of information technology, says equipping every second- through 12th-grade student with a computer would have cost the central California district $2.4 million a year in devices and $300,000 annually in supplemental costs.
So PRJUSD is trying a hybrid approach. It launched BYOD last fall in its middle and high schools, but it also provides more than 100 HP netbooks for student use. So far, Knuckles says, well over 200 students are bringing their own devices to class, and PRJUSD will purchase more computers as the budget allows.
Rust says BYOD also is taking off because students generally prefer to use their own devices. That proved to be the case for Edina (Minn.) Public Schools, where 52 percent of eighth-grade students participating in a one-to-one pilot said they were doing their homework on their personal devices rather than on their district-issued notebook computers (see our feature on the one-to-one transformation and edtechmag.com/k12/Edina1to1).
That discovery, and the financial unsustainability of one-to-one, led Edina to pursue BYOD, says Director of Media and Technology Steve Buettner. "It doesn't make sense that students who already own their own devices have to put them down at school and pick up a different computer," he explains. "If students use a device in their day-to-day world, we should allow them to use it in our schools. That allows us to target our limited resources more effectively."
Alex Inman, director of information services at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., says it's "fiscally irresponsible to ignore the potential savings that a school can reap by not having to purchase and support a computer for each student" (see his piece on starting a BYOD program). A one-to-one pioneer and longtime BYOD skeptic, Inman dedicated a year to studying the pros and cons. His conclusion: "A BYOD program can be just as successful as a traditional one-to-one program."