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IDEA WATCH: The 1:1 Experience--An Idea Worth Watching

By Carolyn Foote - Posted Nov 1, 2012
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A year ago, my high school rolled out 1:1 iPads to all of our teachers, juniors, and seniors. After a year of working in a 1:1 iPad environment, it’s clear that the devices have changed a lot about how our school works.

In September, we started Year 2, reissuing iPads to upperclassmen. It was fascinating to see the difference from Day 1 a year ago. Students were immediately in the library, using their iPads purposefully for assignments, updating apps they used for classes the previous year and adding new ones. Within minutes they were using the technology to learn and to aid them in learning. I saw that in many ways, for them the technology has already become, as Chris Lehmann says, an invisible part of their learning.

After spending a year observing students in the library, assisting with workshops, answering trouble-shooting questions, and helping blog about our iPad pilot, I’ve learned a great deal about the impacts of 1:1 on a school environment.

What’s it like working in a 1:1 school, particularly a tablet school? And specifically, how has it impacted our staff and students? How does it affect being a librarian?

Flexibility, Choice, and Sharing

First off, one of the most fundamental changes I’ve observed since the beginning is that teachers and students are truly collaborating on finding the best tools for their learning/teaching. Since iPads were relatively new to schools when we started a year ago, using them in the classroom and for student learning became a very collaborative effort. From students to teachers to administrative staff, everyone was learning together, sharing advice, and choosing apps. Choice became a key word. No longer did teachers or students feel compelled to use identical “software” to accomplish a task. If students wanted to take notes on a PDF file, they could do it with neu.Annotate, GoodReader, Notarize (now paperless ports), or whatever annotation app they preferred. If students wanted to produce or enhance a photograph, they could use one of hundreds of apps to customize their photograph or project. This also meant that as a librarian, I needed to either be familiar with apps or familiar with ways to find apps for a variety of subject areas and projects.

Organization, Inspiration, and Ease of Use

Secondly, because tablets are so portable, they became, for many students, their all-in-one student planner, study aid, production device, textbook, and more. And with a built-in camera and audio recording features, the tablet quickly became an inspiration for student projects. As the librarian, the built-in devices impact my services as well; I no longer need to order or service video cameras, document cameras, or audio recorders for library checkout. And the amount of time we spent walking students through video projects has diminished. With the camera and iMovie built in, students can do the whole project within the iPad. No cords to keep up with, mini-DV tapes to order, or tedious projects with Movie Maker. The ability to complete films more spontaneously has led to a lot of student creativity in terms of video creation.


Student empowerment has emerged as one of the significant impacts of going 1:1 as well. In fact, in a survey done 2 months into the pilot, students commented on the importance of that sense of trust. One of the decisions our campus made was to allow students and staff to completely personalize their devices. This led to more creativity, a sense of ownership, and fewer management issues for school tech staff as well. Teachers felt empowered to recommend new apps, to open up assignments to student-chosen apps, and to manage their own devices. Watching this sense of empowerment unfold has been fascinating. It’s how students should feel about school.

Another real change in our school is the anytime, anywhere learning aspect that becomes truly real when your students have a device in their hands. It’s somewhat of a librarian’s dream when students have easy access to information on a point-of-need basis. For students, it means that there isn’t an artificial division between their learning lives and their “computer lab” time because it can happen in the moment.

As a librarian, that has meant some changes in my thinking. How can I be involved in research support, project production, collaborations with teachers, etc., if classes aren’t using the computer labs in our libraries as frequently? When they begin the fundamental steps of research in the classroom before moving down to the library, how do I stay involved? Consequently, extending library services to classrooms both virtually and physically is important. Visiting classrooms; developing LibGuides, pathfinders, and virtual tutorials; and inviting students in via FaceTime and Skype are some ways to engage with students and be sure that I am there to support their information literacy learning. But it takes focus, planning, and appropriate staffing to make this switch.

Ebooks are another area of big change for students, teachers, and the library, given the omnipresence of tablet devices. Students and teachers can access classic classroom texts via the free Project Gutenberg site. But what about more recent titles, leisure reading, or nonfiction materials? I quickly saw the importance of providing these. We began with OverDrive and Gale Virtual Reference books, and we are experimenting with Follett Shelf as well as Brain Hive and EBSCO. I view the ebook decision-making process as an evolving one as the market and products grow and change, but the key is keeping tabs on what your students and staff need and then trying to find the best way to provide it.


Publicizing these tools is also a core activity I’ve added to my agenda so that students will know they are available and won’t have to purchase reading materials. Similarly, publicizing database apps has become even more important. I began going out to classrooms to help the students create entire library folders on their tablets—adding all the library-related apps to create a one-stop library on their iPads.

Here’s what you might typically see today in our school:

• Students in the library with iPads propped up on tables all around, clustered in groups, textbooks or papers spread about, and the iPad being consulted as well

• Students in the hallway filming skits with the tablet’s camera

• Teachers sitting in meetings pulling up documents they need or looking up data

• Teachers planning together and researching the best software for the lessons they are teaching

• Students opening and highlighting ebooks for discussion in class

• Students creating puppet shows, videos, animations, etc., with apps for student projects

• Staff and students scanning QR codes in the hallway to access the library’s databases, ebooks, or information about the latest blood drive, using a wiki or blog to collaborate

This has become normal for our campus—to work together, to collaborate, to learn together, and to use technology almost invisibly as an aid. Even trouble-shooting has become a joint effort with our repair techs, library staff, and instructional technology staff and mentor students. This isn’t to say that incorporating tablets isn’t without problems and challenges, but witnessing our implementation firsthand, I continue to be amazed at the way it is changing the culture of our school.

What’s Not to Like?

It comes naturally to many of us, staff and students alike, to use smart devices to manage our lives and information needs outside of the workday. So it seems natural to bring these devices into our workflow, whether through BYOT programs, 1:1 programs, or carts in every classroom. Should it be such a source of amazement still? After all, there have been 1:1 laptop schools for at least a decade. Sadly though, they are still few and far between, as funding or the vision for technology has lagged behind the possibilities. But now my question is—why wouldn’t we want our students to learn like this?


Contact Carolyn at

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