Middle Schools’ 1-to-1 Tablet Deployment to Be Studied

Associate Editor

A new project worth nearly $10 million will fund a 1-to-1 technology effort in eight U.S. middle schools, providing students with 24-7 Internet access via a data plan for their tablets—while also providing research on the effectiveness of the implementation, and the devices used.

The effort, supported through a partnership between the Verizon Foundation and Digital Promise, is meant to produce findings to guide other schools and districts trying to make large-scale digitial conversions, which have proven problematic in some K-12 systems.

More than 4,500 students and 350 educators will be given either an iPad or Samsung Galaxy tablet, with the ability to use them at home, under the two-year project funded by the Verizon Foundation. The goal is to document and measure how the schools create innovative learning environments with the technology, educator collaboration, and support of coaches.

The price tag for the project is close to $10 million, according to Karen Cator, CEO of Digital Promise, a nonprofit working to improve schools through digital innovations. The contribution is part of Verizon’s commitment to donate $100 million in cash and in-kind services to support President Obama’s ConnectEd initiative. In February, the president included Verizon’s pledge with an announcement of $750 million from businesses donating to the effort.

The funding will cover, among other things, a 5-gigabit data plan for two years, valued at $39.95 per person, said Justina Nixon-Saintil, the director of education for the Verizon Foundation. That amounts to approximately $4.8 million for the duration of the project.

The funding also provides professional development for teachers and administrators; training for parents and students; hiring a coach for each school to provide ongoing support for teachers as they learn to work with the devices in their classrooms and to share the best ideas from one class to another; an independent evaluation of the deployments’ effects, and developing “lessons learned” case studies and resources that will be shared with interested districts across the country as the project continues.

Another component involves providing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) interventions like coding projects and virtual labs, according to Nixon-Saintil.

The schools, in which at least 40 percent of the students receive free or reduced-price meals, were chosen by a number of criteria, including a requirement that they be willing to allow students to take the devices home at the end of the day, and their ability to sustain support for technology coaching after the two-year program comes to an end, Nixon-Saintil said. Two schools each were selected to participate in the communities of Vista, Calif.; Levittown, Pa.; Evanston, Ill.; and Raleigh, N.C.

Creating and maintaining a successful 1-to-1 initiative can be difficult, as many districts discovered last year. From ordering iPads preloaded with an incomplete curriculum to belatedly recognizing the need for keyboards to make the devices useful for older students, the Los Angeles district has been identified as an early adopter that stumbled on implementation.

The devices provided by Verizon do not come preloaded with a curriculum; it will be up to districts to decide what they want to load on them, and students and teachers will have Internet access at home and at school. Cator also said the Verizon Foundation-Digital Promise partners are in the process of providing keyboards to go with the tablets because they are the most common “input device.”

Cator said the initiative is significant because it is the first large grant to provide and deploy devices, along with the ability to engage students 24-7 through the data plans that are “unusual in K-12,” she said. By providing two types of tablets, Cator said they will be able to determine whether success with a 1-to-1 deployment is “device agnostic,” meaning that the results can be the same on any device. Besides that, professional development for teachers will be based on personal goals they set about what they feel they need to learn.

Educators can keep tabs on discoveries from the technology deployment in the middle schools on the Digital Promise website.

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