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The Essential Elements for a Successful 1:1 Device Initiative for Digital Learning

The Essential Elements for a Successful 1:1 Device Initiative for Digital Learning

Today, many school districts across the nation are touting that they have become a one-to-one (1:1) device district to support such things as technology-rich classrooms, personalized or blended learning, and connected education. As I have traveled around the state of Indiana visiting with superintendents, technology directors, and other school administrators in their district offices, I have inquired with them about the essential components for a successful 1:1 device initiative to enable digital learning—and conversely, which factors may lead to an unsuccessful initiative.

In response to this question, I have gathered good insights, anecdotes, and stories, and based on these conversations, as well as a literature review on the subject, I believe the five essential elements necessary to ensure a successful 1:1 device initiative are

  • Leadership and vision – the “Why?”
  • Curriculum integration – with curricular focus being the driver of the device selection
  • Professional development – both pre-launch and throughout the initiative
  • Infrastructure – adequate bandwidth, a high-capacity Wi-Fi solution, use of content filtering and other security features and skilled technology staff to maintain the infrastructure
  • A financial-sustainability plan

Leadership and Vision

Best practice research is uniform that a successful 1:1 device initiative begins and ends with leadership tied to a vision for effective teaching and learning with measurable goals and objectives that are evaluated at regular intervals. The device is just one tool in the proverbial teacher toolbox to support effective teaching and learning. Many districts who focused first, and foremost, on the device selection have later lamented that approach.

Candice Dodson, Director of eLearning for the IDOE and a former educator and district technology leader, shares similar thoughts on leadership and vision, remarking, “It has become very clear there are a few key components that are essential for success. Most important is to know your ‘why?’ All stakeholders should understand why teaching and learning is changing and then be able to articulate the vision for what teaching and learning should look like for all students. The other most important component I have witnessed is leadership. Strong leaders who set expectations, surround those with support and resources, and then hold everyone accountable have the most success in truly transforming learning in the digital age.”

Indiana classroom with 1:1 device ratioCurriculum Integration

A school leader’s vision for personalized learning in a technology-rich classroom supported by a 1:1 device initiative must first address learning goals and objectives through the alignment of the curriculum to rigorous and relevant academic standards. Once this has been addressed in the strategic plan of a district, consideration should be given to device selection. Per Dr. Dena Cushenberry, Superintendent of MSD of Warren Township, “In the MSD of Warren Township, blended learning consists of data-driven decisions, student reflection, targeted instruction, and integrated digital content.”

Dr. Phil Downs, Superintendent of MSD of Southwest Allen County Schools (SACS), speaks to the issues of an effective curriculum as the core of their focus when using technology. He shared, “Every device SACS has purchased was the device that best matched the needs of the user, within our budget. Our curriculum was how we matched device to user. If you have not unpacked and aligned your curriculum, how will you know what tools your teachers need? If you do not know what your students are expected to demonstrate, how will you know what tools they need?”

Other considerations for effective use of technology in the classroom include creating a digital citizenship curriculum for teachers and students, and one of the best sources for model policies in this regard is the non-profit organization Common Sense Media. Furthermore, “Acceptable Use” and “Responsible Use” policies should be established to ensure technology does not become a distraction or worse: a security risk for school districts (see the Spring 2016 edition of The Journal for my column on network security that addresses these issues in more detail).                                     

Professional Development

Best-practice deployment stories always speak to an intentional approach to professional development that occurs in advance of the device deployment along with ongoing job-embedded support and training. A digital conversion is a process that is deliberate and takes time.

Don Chase, Director of Technology for MSD of SACS, emphasized the importance of professional development at a spring seminar for school business officials and technology directors, where he said, “Teachers need to know what’s expected [prior to the launch of the initiative] and not a ‘shoot, get ready, aim’ approach. It needs to be a ‘get ready [plan], aim and shoot’ approach.”

Stacy Mauser, Chief Technology Officer for the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC), agrees that professional development is an essential element, adding, “In our experience, adding technology without an intentional connection to instruction does not transform our classrooms.”

Some school districts have employed digital integration specialists or e-learning coaches to guide professional development and provide a seamless integration of technology in the classroom. Batesville Community School Corporation is one example, as they have assigned an Instructional Technology Specialist to each building to work with teachers daily.

Sufficient Infrastructure

Several technology infrastructure elements must be adequately supported to ensure the foundation of a successful 1:1 device initiative. These essential elements include adequate broadband capacity enabling high-speed bandwidth connections to the Internet, efficient internal networks (local area network and Wi-Fi system), and security features (e.g., network firewall, mobile device web filters, access and authentication policies, etc.). Additionally, technology support staff must develop expertise in how best to manage and update the inventory of student and teacher devices using centralized or automated software updates.

Financial Sustainability Plan

A long-term financial plan that is affordable for the district and the families of students is a key component when rolling out 1:1 devices. Does the district intend to buy devices, lease devices, or have students bring their own devices? Next, how long will the device be used by students and what devices will be selected? Can this device lifecycle be sustained? How will districts pay for their share of the costs? Will any portion of the costs be passed on to the families of students?

Per the IDOE Indiana’s Digital Learning Trends report, primary revenue sources include Capital Projects Fund monies, textbook rental fees, E-rate reimbursement, Common School Loan funds, and federal Title I funds, among other sources. Because breakage or damage to student devices is not uncommon, another important consideration is the repair cost and who pays. Many districts secure warranties and/or property insurance that covers repairs, charge parents repair costs, or make a third-party insurer option available to parents.


Without question, maintaining a successful 1:1 device initiative requires pre-planning, measurement and review of goals and objections, broad stakeholder involvement and ownership (including school boards), and a focus on the essential elements of success, including leadership and vision, curriculum integration, professional development, adequate infrastructure, and a financial sustainability plan. The absence of any one of these elements could diminish or lead to the demise of a program. With all elements present, the foundation will have been built for a highly-successful endeavor. Good luck!

Terry Spradlin is ENA's director of community & government relations in Indiana.
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