As a new term begins in a brand new decade, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on technology in our classrooms.

I have now worked in my current school for longer that I have been with any single employer; at the start of the 2010s I was Head of Computing. This gave me and pupils in our department privileged access to technology every day; access to tools which encouraged independent problem-solving, access to tools that supported richer content creation and consumption, and access to the ever broadening frontier of information that the Internet was providing. That access enhanced learning.

The rest of the school worked like most schools at the time; a few laptops which could be booked out but rarely were, and even more rarely to good effect, and three and half general purpose computer suites which could also be booked as required. For a school of around 1000 pupils, having about 80 pupil facing, general purpose computing devices was woefully inadequate. But normal in the sector.

There was money spent on tech in schools. Let us not forget the interactive whiteboard investment made in Scottish education over the last 20 years. How can we? No matter how hard we try. The money rarely resulted in tech being in the hands of the pupils.

The Problem

Despite my classroom being a hub of technological potential, the pupils then went home to a mixed selection of toys. There was undoubtedly the occasional home brew Linux proxy server in built in a bedroom to bypass the school filtering system, but that was not typical. The technology, for some classes, was available for as little as 40 minutes a week.

And I was so much better off than the Modern Studies teacher who wanted to carry out an impromptu online activity in the classroom, perhaps in response to breaking news of the day. Filling out a booking form, walking their class across the campus, and then discovering that a quarter of the machines in the computer suite would spend half of the lesson updating to the latest patch of Windows. Did I say “impromptu”?

If only pupils had their own device. In all classes, and at home.

This is old hat now - it’s widespread, although certainly not ubiquitous, for schools to either have or be investing in their own one-to-one deployments. It was a different world nine years ago. It’s also not enough just to throw devices, network connectivity, or money at the problem. There have been many one-to-one device deployments worldwide in the past decade, but what proportion of them have been successful, and by what criteria? The research is still limited in scale and scope.

Perhaps it’s not even the correct problem. But it’s the one I identified.

The Solution

Here’s the thing. The plan is that this is the first in a series of posts I write to capture my own journey through a one-to-one deployment. So the ‘solution’ will build up over time. It will include pitfalls and suggestions, and might then serve as a roadmap for others - or perhaps a series of warning signs.

There are a number of topics I have sketched out to cover, but I am open to questions and suggestions - so get in touch if you want me to cover anything in particular. Details to follow.

The Verdict

So, you might be the kind of person that likes to read the last few pages of a book first. You are keen to know whether the deployment worked? Minimising the number of spoilers…

My school still has three and a half computer suites, but they are almost never used. One-to-one devices are used in eight year groups of the school, from Primary 6 through to the end of secondary, and there is a class sets of devices for use by younger years as well as devices in the nursery. We have repeatedly invested in our infrastructure and software systems as device and network usage has grown.

Personally, I am trusted with a class far less often these days, but I can now more confidently rely on the learning experience being as rich and topical as the combined creativity of myself and my class allows, and I know the potential is more or less uniform for the pupils once the bell rings.