Photo Credit: rwentechaney via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: rwentechaney via Compfight cc

I read an article today titled: Why Hoboken is Throwing Away All of its Student Laptops. It only took me two seconds to figure out what the issue was here….I’ll give you a clue….it’s not the laptops.

There are some interesting quotes and lines in this article that caught my attention. Now I don’t know this school district, I give them an A+ for trying something at least. It sounds like they got caught in the netbook era of computing and just couldn’t get out. What follows are some of my thoughts around what went wrong here.

“We had the money to buy them, but maybe not the best implementation,” said Mark Toback, the current superintendent of Hoboken School District. “It became unsustainable.”

Problem #1: The funding cycle

Changing the mind set of thinking that technology is a one off capital expenditure rather than an operational cost. Technology, much like textbooks, paper, crayons, etc. need to be updated. This is issue #1 with our current system. Here the school was given stimulus money from the government…that I’m guessing…as usually….needed to be spent ASAP and on hardware. So it’s great we have this now…but thinking long term…thinking past year 2 or 3 needs to be a focus when starting a program.

None of the school administrators who initiated Hoboken’s one-to-one laptop program still work there. Toback agreed to share Hoboken’s experiences so that other schools can learn from it.

Personally I believe this is a solvable problem: Hire administrators who understand the changing nature of schools when every student is connected. Yes…you are going to have administrative turn-over. But hiring leaders who understand what giving a laptop to every student really means is on the School Board, the Superintendent and leadership. There are good administrators out there that get these changes….hire them….and then allow them to hire teachers who “get it”.

This year alone, schools are projected to spend almost $10 billion on education technology, a $240-million increase from 2013, according to the Center for Digital Education.

Problem #2: The Need to invest in PD

Students on devices
Photo Credit: Barrett.Discovery via Compfight cc

Really this is the issue of this entire program and the entire way the system is structured and goes back to a post I wrote (along with others) about professional development. The National Staff Development Council still recommends 25% of funds for any new project be earmarked for PD. Why…because that’s what it takes! Meaning in this coming school year $2.5 Billion of it should be marked for professional development. To this day I don’t know any school that does this (if yours does please let me know!). Does this mean lest technology? Absolutely! Does it mean better use of the technology we have available? Absolutely!

We also need to understand the type of PD that is required. When changing the classroom in such a dramatic way as giving every student a connected device, schools need to offer PD that goes beyond 1 sit and get institute, or a conference. You have to go beyond 1 PD day dedicated to technology. You have to think different, you have to start over….if you really want to feel the full impact of what technology can do to the classroom you have to give educators the time, space, and freedom to learn.

This is why Kim and I create the COETAIL program. Schools have come to us and asked us if we could do the whole thing in a year or even six months. No…we can’t….it takes at least 3 semesters to do the program and to change the mindset. We’re not after a quick fix, rush everyone through a process type of learning. We’re after real change…and real change takes time, support and dedication.

Screens cracked. Batteries died. Keys popped off. Viruses attacked. Crocamo found that teenagers with laptops are still… teenagers.

I love this part of the article….as I’m reading this, right away I started thinking to myself….I bet they took away all the personalization of the device. I bet they locked it down for the students…….and……

Hoboken school officials were also worried they couldn’t control which websites students would visit. Crocamo installed software to block pornography, gaming sites and Facebook. He disabled the built-in web cameras. He even installed software to block students from undoing these controls. But Crocamo says students found forums on the Internet that showed them how to access everything.

…and there it is. Let’s make this clear BLOCKING DOES NOT WORK, EDUCATING DOES!

Problem #3: Technology is Personal

Thinking that technology is not a personal thing is a trap. Technology is very personal and as soon as you put the type of over reaching controls…which don’t work….in place you force students to “not care” for the device. I’ve seen this in many schools. The more freedom you give students with their devices the better they care for them. In fact…..at my last school (ISBangkok) I would say we had more teacher issues with laptops then we had with students. You see even adults struggle with ownership. When the technology isn’t yours, isn’t personal, we have a hard time taking care of it. More coffee was split on laptops by teachers than any food damage we had by students using them in the cafeteria at lunch time. By blocking websites we force students to be rule breakers. We force them to be hackers….which I guess….is teaching computer skills in one way. 🙂

“Probably in the last few months I’ve had quite a few principals and superintendents call and say, ‘I bought these 500 iPads or 1,000 laptops because the district next to us just bought them,’ and they’re like, now what do we do?” Powell said.

Problem #4: No District Wide Plan

Setting Up Computers
Photo Credit: Barrett.Discovery via Compfight cc

 I have seen and heard of this same issue. Mostly at school districts who have decentralized the technology purchasing process. Principals get to the end of the year have money left and want to buy tech. I was at one district office recently when the phone call came in from the principal. She had money to spend and wanted to know how many iPads she could purchase with X amount of dollars. The Director of Technology told her about 12….then she asked how many Surface RTs she could purchase….he told her about 20. She decided to order those as she could get more devices. The Director of Technology looks at me with a look of sadness on his face. She just wants devices without a plan on how to use them, what she’s going to use them for, or how to train teachers on them. Because the Principals in this school district were responsible for there own budgets and the technology was decentralized the Director of Technology had no say…and was supporting every type of device across the district.

This summer, Hoboken school staff will go through the laptops one by one, writing down the serial numbers and drafting a resolution for the school board to approve their destruction.

Then they’ll seek bids from recycling companies to figure out how much it will cost Hoboken to throw them away.

Problem #5: The Exit Plan

Ah…..the exit plan. To often schools get into a mess like this not knowing how to get out of it. Of course this goes back to Problem #1. If you view these devices as a capital expenditure then you believe they’ll be around for a long time. I’m not sure where this idea ever came from, that you were going to buy a computer and have it last longer than 3 years. But it’s a mind set we need to change. We need to understand that this is a continual budget line that needs to grow with the program and devices. Textbooks continue to go up in price and we find money to buy them…..we need to start thinking of computers as textbooks. Better yet just have the computers replace the textbook line of the budget you might just come out ahead. 🙂


Again….I feel for this school….they did what they thought they were suppose to do…what everyone is doing….and it’s suppose to be easy. You give every student a laptop and BAMM! Learning changes!

If only it was that simple.


This past weekend I flew to Vietnam to spend two days with the Senior Management Team (SMT) of the British International School of Vietnam (BISVietnam). A two day retreat that focused on a future with technology and a 1:1 program. 

There are so many different ways to go 1:1 and in my opinion no one right way to do it. There are so many variables that need to be considered that 1:1 programs can look drastically different from one school to the next and still be successful.

Here are a few of the things we discussed:



It’s always the elephant in the room and the problem with dreaming of endless possibilities without considering the cost leads one to believe that the dreams can become reality and in many cases it is just not financially feasible to fulfill our wildest technology dreams. As much as we want to say money is not a factor…..at some point it always is.


In many countries in Asia this can be the most frustrating part of the whole plan. We all read, watch, and see the amazing things that are happening on the web. However, to do those amazing things you need a web connection. In developing countries like Vietnam the Internet is expensive, unreliable, and most of the time just plain frustrating. BISVietnam currently has a 2MB Internet line for 1600 students. Think about that the next time you want to complain about your Internet speed.


You can not consider going 1:1 without looking at the cost and feasibility of it from an infrastructure standpoint. Money put into your infrastructure is always well spent but it also means every dollar that goes towards infrastructural improvements is dollars taken away from learning devices. Finding the balance is important.

One thing that I stress is do not spend money on you infrastructure for the future. Support the here and now.

If a school spends money building up an infrastructure that looks to support learning years from now then you’re wasting money. You might know what you will need two or three years from now…but you don’t need that today. The chances are the infrastructure your school will need in the future will get cheaper and faster.

Example: You know you’re going to need more server space as students store more and more data on the Intranet. Calculate how much storage you’ll need this year and next year. But only purchase what you need for this year. By next year the cost of the same storage will be cheaper and faster.

In the end support what you need, not what you want.

Intranet vs The Cloud:


Really what this should say is Internal Cloud vs External Cloud. Based on the infrastructure that is available to a school, you may need to consider building your own Internal Cloud. Basically turning those old folder heavy Intranet servers into web accessible servers. By making your Intranet Servers accessible via a web browser you can essentially create your own cloud on your campus. You can install programs like WordPress, Elgg, Drupal, and a host of other open-source software that essentially creates your own Internal Cloud system. 

This is a common process in China where access to many cloud services is blocked by the government. If that’s the case, or you don’t have a fast reliable Internet connection then building your own cloud is an option. Shanghai American School is a great example of a school building an internal cloud. Check out there Online Community Portal

At ISB, my current school for 23 more days, we are slowly making the transition from an Internal Cloud to an External Cloud system. When I arrived four years ago we starting building our Internal Cloud system as it was faster and more reliable. As the infrastructure of Thailand has improved and we’ve been able to purchase more bandwidth (20MB when I arrived and 100MB now for 1800 students) we’ve slowly moving to an external cloud. 

Exchange Mail Server to Google Apps – 2011-2012

Hosted Moodle to Externally Hosted LMS – 2012-2013

Internal Hosted Blogs to External Hosted Blogs – 2014

Or something like that. By moving these services to the external cloud we trade servers for Internet speed and reliability. As our speed and reliability increases so can our reliance on the external cloud.

Learning Devices:

Of course this is where we all like to discuss our options. What devices are right for students?  Start with students

The only way to answer this question is to first identify what it is you want students to be doing with the laptops. What kind of experiences do you want them to have, what skills do you want them to gain and what creative products do you want them to produce? 

By first identifying what we want students to do at different grade levels we can then choose the device that meets those needs. 

Again…dreaming here can be dangerous. We must realized and understand that in developing countries we don’t always get the lastest and greatest technology and not every company is currently supporting devices in every country. In Vietnam’s case Apple has no support in Vietnam as of yet. Sure, you can buy Apple products, but any support needed on those products has to be sent out of the country. Coming to the realization of what’s possible and what learning devices you have access to is not always fun…but again is reality. 



Ownership is something I think we spend to much time and effort on….as basically you have two options. 

1. School Owned

2. Parent/Student Owned

This decision comes down to two points.

  • Can the school afford to own all the laptops? 
    • If the answer is no…then Parent/Student owned is your only option
    • If the answer is yes….then you need to think about and understand your community
  • Will the school community support a laptop program?
    • Have we done work with the school community in helping them understand the reasoning behind a 1:1 program?
    • How can we move our school culture forward?
    • Can our community afford it?

Administrators must know their community and be willing to hold community sessions to educate the community on the benefits of a 1:1 program. This decision is a school based one. Both options work…it’s picking the best option for your school that is important to success. 


In the end, you can look around at what other schools are doing or have done but that will only get you so far. Every school culture and situtation is different, hence there is no one way to roll out a 1:1 program that is magical and perfect. They all have their positives and negatives. At the end of the day make a decision and just do it!

ISB 1:1 Timeline

Last week our IT Director, Chad Bates, gave a presentation to the ISB School Board outlining the next phase of technology use at ISB. The phase includes a plan to go 1:1 starting next year with grade 6 students.

It’s an exciting time to be at ISB and I for one am looking forward to rolling out the 1:1 program over the next couple years.

As part of his presentation Chad went over the history of technology implementation at ISB over the past 10 years. As I sat there reflecting on how far we’ve come with technology in just the past 10 years, it amazed me how fast we’ve transitioned even if for many of us it doesn’t seem we’re transitioning fast enough.

1999: ISB has two computer labs in each division (ES, MS, HS) with technology teachers that pull kids out of class as a special. A very common practice in 1999.

2001: Under than IT Director Steve Lehmann ISB puts in a campus wide wireless network, and starts replacing computer labs with laptop carts at each division as part of the replacement cycle.

2004: ISB hires a Technology & Learning Coordinator (TLC) to help teachers implement technology in the classroom.

Summer 2005: Bandwidth is increased to 1MB

2005: The TLC from 2004 returns to the classroom and the current team starts to take shape starting with Dennis Harter who is hired to be the TLC for Middle School and High School.

Summer 2006: Bandwidth is increased to 2MB

2006: The Elementary School hires Justin Medved as the TLC and phases out computer labs in the ES and goes exclusively to laptops carts at each grade level. By 2007 ever teacher will be phased into using a laptop instead of a desktop computer in their classroom.

Summer 2007: Bandwidth is increased to 5MB

2007: One of the elementary librarians moves to take another international job and the Elementary School takes the opportunity to rethink the overlap of technology and libraries and hires Kim Cofino as the 21st Century Literacy Specialist.

Summer 2008: Internet bandwidth is increased to 10MB

2008: Justin Medved moves on to a new adventure and I’m hired as the new Elementary TLC and Chad Bates is hired as the Middle School TLC and for the first time ISB has a dedicated TLC at all three levels.

Summer 2009: The wireless infrastructure is upgraded to N protacol an a 10GB Fiber Optic Backbone is put in place and bandwidth is increased to 20MB.

2009: Chad Bates moves into the IT Director role as Steve Lehmann leaves for a new adventure and Kim Cofino moves into a 50% Middle School TLC position 50% 21st Century Literacy Specialist position.

Fall 2010: Launch phase one of 1:1 program in 6th grade. Dennis Harter moves to the High School office as Dean of Students (VP). Kim Cofino starts a new adventure in Japan at YIS. I move into the High School TLC role vacated by Dennis, and a new (soon to be announced) person is hired to take Kim’s spot as the Middle School TLC. Chrissy Hellyer moves from 5th Grade to the Elementary TLC role that I vacated.

Still with me? And Yes…this is a typical International School setting.

That’s a brief history of the progression of our school. We now have approximately 970 student computers for a school population of about 1700 students, or about one computer for every two students. Starting from 2007 the school has also provided SmartBoards, Document Cameras, and Sound Systems in every classroom.

We are now in a place that 1:1 makes sense for our school. We have teachers who want to use the laptops but can’t because the carts are signed out to another teacher. We have students who want to work on video and other projects outside of school, but can’t do to common software or platform issues. In other words…we’ve built a system that makes taking that next step to 1:1 just a logical one. Teachers want more access, students want more access, and it’s our job to figure out how to make that happen.

We have taken the time to grow the need for laptops organically. The push to go 1:1 is not coming from the admin, it’s coming from teachers and parents. During Chad’s presentation to the School Board, the questions they asked were more around why only 1 grade level? Or how do we make sure other students benefit as well? The idea of going 1:1 wasn’t shocking, because it’s the logical next step.

Exciting times ahead here at ISB. If my blog posts start to focus more on going 1:1 you now know why. 😉

A Study on how laptops hinder learning made the front page of The International Educator newspaper that comes out monthly to overseas educators and schools.

Jason Welker wrote a great article at U Tech Tips about it.

First of all, to call this a “study” of the use of laptops in
schools is inappropriate. A study with a sample size of TWO classes,
yes, but its findings should be understood as applying only two these
two particular classes, which were large lecture-style university
classes. This particular university’s laptop “program” is described as

“Students were told at the beginning of the course that
they could bring their laptops to class to take notes if they wanted
to, but that they would never need their laptops.” (italics added)

Any school thinking of implementing a laptop program should be
careful NOT to emulate this university’s particular approach. What’s
the result when students are encouraged to use laptops, but told they
would “never need them”? Here’s what one professor observed:

“‘You’d sit and watch the students, and wonder, ‘What
are they doing with their laptops?’ You’d walk by other classes and see
everybody playing solitaire. I wanted to know, ‘Is this a problem?,”‘
said Fried, a psychology professor at Winona State.

The laptop users reported in weekly surveys that they did other
things other than take notes for an average of 17 minutes out of each
75-minute class.

Checking e-mail during the lectures was the most common distraction;
81 per cent admitted to this transgression compared to 68 per cent
reporting that they used instant messaging. Forty-three per cent
reported surfing the Internet, while 25 per cent reported playing

It should be no surprise that students spent most of their time with
their laptops surfing the net, chatting and playing games, given that
professors apparently made no attempt to integrate the computers into
their instruction. Obviously this represents a failure not of “laptop
programs” in general, rather of this university’s failure to implement
a program effectively. The university’s failure lies in the simple fact
that professors view the laptop as a fancy tool for taking notes,
rather than what it is: a tool for communication, collaboration, and
innovative research.

Laptop programs do not “hinder learning”, BAD laptop programs hinder
learning. The study discussed in this article focuses on one, very bad laptop program at a university that does not understand the role technology should play in education.

Worth a read!

[tags]laptops, 1:1[/tags]

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