Transforming education, one-to-one

Teaching and learning can be substantially enhanced through well-implemented technologies. Leslie Wilson describes the advantages of students having access to their own computers  

ONE-TO-ONE computing emerged in the U.S. to advance educational and economic goals while personalizing teaching and learning. Originally defined as “each student having uninterrupted access to personal, portable technology, 24/7,” one-to-one programs are growing at a rate of 4% a year and gaining momentum, worldwide, as a key to transforming education and better preparing young people to succeed in a global marketplace. Programs range from small proofs of concept to state-wide deployments in the U.S. such as the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) and Freedom to Learn (FTL) in Michigan.

What we know
● Teaching and learning can be substantially enhanced with well-implemented technology.
● Effective leadership, high quality professional development, and intricate planning and evaluation are key.

Central to the concept of “one-to-one” is creating education not technology initiatives. By transforming the learning environment from teacher-centered to learner-centered, these initiatives promote:

  • Enhanced student engagement;
  • Achievement;
  • Personalized and self-directed learning; and
  • Improved access to technology for all.

Students use their computers for research, problem and project-based work, collaboration, email, and coursework. They acquire essential 21st century skills in the process.  

The authentic ‘shift’ to school reform

Technology alone is not sufficient to reform schools in ways that effectively prepare students for the future. If technology is used in traditional ways, the transformations will not occur. Ongoing, embedded professional development for teachers is an essential, non-negotiable component to ensure shifts are made in classroom teaching. “Meaningful” technology integration with curriculum and teaching provides the medium for transformation. The explicit goal is creating a learner-centric, constructivist approach where teachers and students are “producers” instead of passive users of knowledge.

One-to-One Institute: Fostering meaningful technology integration

The One-to-One Institute (OTO) was established by Michigan’s legislature to support organizations seeking these reforms. Its genesis was Michigan’s Freedom to Learn program. High quality consultancies, professional development, research, and best practices are the foundation of the Institute’s work with over 200 countries, states, and districts. Drawing from the Institute’s research and applied work with districts and schools in the U.S., we have identified several characteristics of one-to-one programs that are most successful in engendering transformations in line with the desired goals:

  • Strategic planning for implementation, including monitoring and adjusting;
  • Consistent communications with stakeholders;
  • Continuous assessment and evaluation of the program, and teacher and student behaviors;
  • Sensitivity to operations and intersection with technology integration;
  • Understanding, adaptation, and support of early adopters’ and advanced practitioners’ expertise; and
  • Cultivation of a climate of resilience and exploration, encouraging risk-taking and experimentation.

OTO’s efforts focus on ensuring successful design, development, and implementation in the following areas:

Effective leadership is a major determinant of program success. Developing a shared vision among stakeholders, communicating, and nurturing second-order change are crucial. Leaders must quickly access and analyze information to make decisions. The impact of administrators’ behaviors was demonstrated in the Texas Immersion Pilot (TIP) longitudinal evaluation by the Texas Center for Educational Research. Higher levels of administrator support for teachers’ technology immersion led to higher rates of teachers’ immersion.


  • Sustainability (e.g., school and local authority support).
  • Financial resources (e.g., infrastructure, technology updates, new student accommodations).
  • Capacity building (e.g., train the trainer, program expansion, new staff accommodation).
  • Program evaluation (e.g., formative and summative examination of quality, technology skills, and educational outcomes).
  • Infrastructure (e.g., bandwidth, home and school connections, wireless access points, server capacity).
  • Stakeholder buy-in (e.g., teachers, students, parents/caregivers, community leaders, businesses, etc).
  • Job-embedded, ongoing professional development. In a longitudinal evaluation of Freedom to Learn, researchers Deborah Lowther and Steven Ross found high agreement by teachers and principals that professional development was effectively implemented and worthwhile. In this same study, FTL teachers implemented significantly more meaningful and student-centered lessons, and more seamlessly integrated technology into interactive, dynamic lessons than did teachers in traditional environments.

Technology preparation and support (e.g., imaging, troubleshooting protocol, onsite support, loaner devices, vendor expectations, etc).

Communications (e.g., ongoing discussions, feedback regarding initiative, focus on challenges, successes, partner involvement, etc).

Policies (e.g., acceptable use, procedures, orientations, home/school usage, lease vs. purchase, storage, power, charging, etc).

Expectations management (e.g., realistic prognostications around goals, define stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities, etc).

One-to-One meets Project RED

In 2009, OTO, The Hayes Connection, and Greaves Group launched Project RED (Revolutionizing EDucation). Funding sponsors, Intel, Apple, Qwest, eChalk, Pearson, and the RED authors believed that all indicators pointed to the U.S. education system’s “perfect storm” on three fronts.

First was the demand for increased academic achievement. Although expectations have been escalating for some time, student performance has remained flat even though education spending nationally increased at twice the rate of inflation between 1980 and 2003. Second was recognition of the much faster pace of change outside education. Timely enactments of educational reforms are essential for cultivating an agile, successful, competitive population. Lastly, the economic meltdown of the past few years has shaped the U.S. Department of Education’s theme for future school funding into one of “planning on doing more with less.”

Project RED is a multi-phase, multi-year study designed to show that technology can transform learning, as it has other segments of society. Findings are intended to influence key national, state, and district policy makers. One project objective is to identify and examine implementation strategies for schools seeking sustainable student achievement gains through technology integration. Because economy and education are interrelated, Project RED’s second objective is to research a historically neglected area – the potentially positive financial impact of technology in schools.

The research study is highly comprehensive and broad in scale, encompassing:

  • 997 schools, representative of U.S. schools as a whole;
  • 11 education success measures;
  • 136 independent variables in 22 categories;
  • Comparison of findings to student:computer ratios; and
  • Comprehensive demographic data correlated to results.

Analysis techniques include multiple regression, logistic regression analysis, principal component analysis, and neural network analysis. Phase I of Project RED, conducted from June 2009 to June 2010, tested two hypotheses:

1. Properly implemented education technology can substantially improve student achievement.

2. Properly implemented education technology can be revenue-positive at the state level.

The research study used 11 education success measures to represent academic success and financial impact. The survey of principals explored the relationships between 22 independent variables and the success measures. The two major hypotheses were confirmed by the Project RED survey results. Also revealed were previously unknown relationships between education technology and academic and financial performance. Specifically, key findings were:

  • One-to-one programs work when well implemented.
  • Schools are facing a technology implementation crisis. Few schools demonstrated a majority or all of the necessary elements for success.
  • Education technology is an investment not an expense.
  • Leadership and vision are essential to produce desired results.
  • Technology-infused intervention classes (ELL, special education, Title 1, and reading) were the strongest predictors of improved high-stakes test scores, drop-out rate reduction, and improved discipline.
  • Collaboration and social media are significant to learning.
  • Frequency of technology use is important to developing industry expertise.


The OTO and Project RED experiences and research findings show that teaching and learning can be substantially enhanced through well-implemented technologies. Key factors include effective leadership, high quality professional development, and intricate planning and evaluation. The measure of achieving successful transformations is how well each of the vital factors is addressed. The good news is that we know what to do to be successful. It is now time to do this important work in ways that improve the quality of teaching and learning, while preparing students for the challenges of the 21st century.

About the author 

Leslie Wilson is President of the One-to-One Institute, a co-author of Project RED, an Education Policy/Program Fellow with the Institute for Educational Leadership, and former co-director of Michigan’s 1:1 project, Freedom to Learn. She has extensively written and presented on 21st century teaching/ learning/leadership, and also has 31 years previous experience working in schools.

Further reading 

Bebell D, & Kay R (2010), One to One Computing: A Summary of the Quantitative Results from the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative, The Journal of Technology, Learning and Assessment, 9(2).

Hayes TW, & Greaves J (2006–8), America’s Digital Schools.

Lowther DL, Strahl JD, Inan F, & Bates J (2007), Freedom to Learn Program Evaluation 2005–2006.

Franceschini L, Allen L, Lowther DL, & Strahl JD (2008), Freedom to Learn Program Evaluation 2007–2008.


October 2010