Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, K-12 schools were experimenting with purchasing and allocating 1-to-1 devices across their student populations. Districts used the devices as an attractive differentiator for students and parents seeking to improve academic performance. However, as remote learning took hold during the spring of 2020 and beyond, countless other schools followed suit.
The result? A wave of device purchases swept the nation.
Around 9 in 10 education professionals said their middle and high schoolers had been issued at least one school-provided device, according to Education Week survey findings from March 2021. For elementary school students, the figure dropped only slightly to 84 percent.
The benefits of all students having equal access to the same devices are easy to see. When everyone has the same tools at their fingertips, they’re less likely to fall behind local, state, and national standards. Consequently, districts can increase student achievement independent of a student population’s socioeconomic spectrum.
Because they have their devices at all times, students can also learn beyond the classroom and connect to the world around them. Digital learning is a familiar learning path for Generation Z and beyond, and providing advanced devices to promote collaboration and critical thinking makes the most of their penchant for virtual communication and community.
Overcoming 1-to-1 Rollout Obstacles
Despite the benefits, investing in 1-to-1 devices isn’t without its challenges — especially for school district leadership. As many districts and schools discovered, closing the digital divide comes with some growing pains. Yet for each challenge, there is a solid workaround that makes diving into education technology less rocky and more rewarding.
Challenge No. 1: Supporting and Maintaining 1-to-1 Devices
Devices will inevitably experience problems or stop working altogether, and these malfunctions don’t just disrupt teaching and learning. They also consume school and school district support resources.
Two methods can lessen the impact of this problem. The first is to engage with a provider that can implement a break-fix program good for the life of the device. Popular contracted vendors such as CDW-G offer warranty repair for no extra cost, as well as additional years of warranty coverage beyond the original equipment manufacturer’s limitations. Building this type of protection into the upfront cost of the device reduces the need to come up with extra dollars to pay for repairs.
Another way to keep inoperable or unusable devices from becoming major headaches for students and educators is to implement a hot-swap program. If a school has spare configured devices on hand that are ready to be reassigned, no user will ever be without an operational device.
Challenge No. 2: Keeping 1-to-1 Devices Up to Date
Technology develops at a rapid rate, and device models and software quickly become outdated. Unfortunately, too many school initiatives only provide one-time funding for devices; they don’t always factor in the additional cost of future replacements or upgrades.
The easiest strategy to alleviate this issue is to budget in order to refresh devices on a recurring cycle. That way, leadership can know when to release funding to replace some or all of its devices. Having advanced knowledge provides a cushioned runway to make these costs less surprising and more predictable.
Challenge No. 3: Overcoming Home-Based Barriers
Providing 1-to-1 devices to K-12 students is one thing. Making sure they can use their devices to the fullest at home is another. For example, some students frequently fall into what’s being called the “homework gap.” In other words, they can’t use their technology at home because of roadblocks such as lack of Wi-Fi access or an unstable Internet connection.
The homework gap is most prevalent among students from underserved or low-income neighborhoods, as Pew Research explains. Nevertheless, it can affect any student at any time. On average, 34 percent of moms and dads admit to their families facing tech concerns when trying to get their children up and running with remote learning.
The initial answer to this challenge involves enhanced professional development for educators and training for students so users are better equipped to find answers. Teachers who know how to effectively troubleshoot — and can assist their students as well — are better equipped to help mitigate technical problems. Another solution involves upgrading network infrastructures to be certain that school networks won’t be overwhelmed. Finally, some districts might want to consider setting aside funds to subsidize hot spot access for select students.
Financing Widespread 1-to-1 Device Purchases
Only a few years ago, many schools and school districts thought it would be impossible to acquire devices for nearly every learner. The pandemic has proven that assumption to be a myth. Everyone has seen that it’s possible to bridge the digital divide — it just takes some upfront planning.
Of course, cost is always a consideration when it comes to any kind of mass technology integration. At the Association of Educational Purchasing Agencies (or AEPA), a purchasing cooperative helps school districts of all sizes source and purchase high-quality products and services through a competitive bid process that districts do not have to conduct themselves. Its streamlined purchasing model allows schools and school districts to take major steps toward closing the achievement gap by investing in 1-to-1 devices bought through reputable vendors already awarded contracts under a competitive bid process.
At the end of the day, it’s possible to have the best of all tech worlds for both educators and their students. Districts looking for ways to spend less on powerful 1-to-1 devices might find working with AEPA is a cost-effective, time-saving strategy. The cooperative gives schools the advantage of national clout on pricing without forcing them to lose their local touch.