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Sustaining a 1:1 Program - Insights From Research

Listen and learn

Listen and learn : Research paper
Lecture presentation

Sunday, November 29, 11:30 am–12:15 pm PST (Pacific Standard Time)
Presentation 1 of 2
Other presentations:
Why Creative Risk-Taking is the Key to Innovation: 10 Design Principles

Dr. Andrea Beesley  
Rebecca Griffiths  
Linda Shear  

1:1 programs bring initial excitement and, later, deeper learning opportunities. But sustaining and funding over time is a challenge. This paper shares insights on sustaining 1:1 technology programs in economically challenged K-12 settings, based on a large research study of an iPad program.

Audience: Coaches, Teachers, Principals/head teachers
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Topic: Innovative learning environments
ISTE Standards: For Coaches:
Visionary Leadership
  • Contribute to the development, communication and implementation of a shared vision for the comprehensive use of technology to support a digital age education for all students.
For Educators:
  • Shape, advance and accelerate a shared vision for empowered learning with technology by engaging with education stakeholders.
For Education Leaders:
Visionary Planner
  • Engage education stakeholders in developing and adopting a shared vision for using technology to improve student success, informed by the learning sciences.
Additional detail: Session recorded for video-on-demand
Disclosure: The submitter of this session has been supported by a company whose product is being included in the session

Proposal summary


When conceptualizing sustainability for 1:1 programs, we draw on McLaughlin and Mitra’s (2001) notion that sustainability is not merely about continued device use, but rather about deepening implementation practices, including instructional practices, over time. For programs like ConnectED, it means that using technology for teaching and learning becomes an integral component of daily practice (Coburn, 2003; McLaughlin & Mitra, 2001)—teachers’ continued and expanded use, ongoing opportunities for teachers’ professional learning associated with technology integration, and the adoption of school or district practices that support the continued and improved use of the devices for instruction.

Literature on sustaining general instructional improvement efforts suggests that teachers and schools benefit from adequate resources beyond initial implementation (Klingner et al., 1999; McLaughlin & Mitra 2001); continued professional learning opportunities (McLaughlin & Mitra, 2001) that support teachers’ implementation and growing understanding of the reform; a clear, shared purpose (Coburn, 2003; McLaughlin & Mitra, 2001); a compatible district and school context (Berends et al., 2002; Coburn, 2003); knowledgeable, stable, and supportive school leadership (Berends et al., 2002; Datnow et al., 2002; Gersten et al., 2000; Klingner et al., 1999); and a school-based professional community (Bryk et al., 2010; Coburn, 2012; Datnow et al., 2002; Hargreaves & Goodson, 2006; Klingner et al., 1999) that supports implementation and continued professional growth.

Within 1:1 contexts, establishing a clear vision for technology integration is especially key (AIR, 2015) for the success and sustainability of programs. Without such a vision, 1:1 efforts run the risk of becoming about the devices themselves, rather than about instructional growth (Dede, 2013). With a clear vision, school leaders lay the foundation for a school culture of innovation and collaboration in which the technology can play a role in supporting teaching and learning. Establishing a shared plan and purpose additionally demonstrates school leaders’ commitment to the change (Zucker & Hug, 2007; Balanskat, et al. 2013). Such an approach invites coaches and teachers to engage as innovators and partners in the work (Zucker & Hug, 2007).

Teachers’ instructional contexts are just as important to program sustainability as a clear vision. Teachers need time and professional learning to incorporate technology use within their teaching contexts (Argueta et al. 2011; Donovan et al. 2007; Keengwe et al. 2012; Vosloo 2012). Adequate infrastructure and technology support are crucial for teachers to maintain their focus on instruction (Alberta Education, 2006). Further, even when a school is fully committed to technology integration and has a thriving culture supporting 1:1 programs, school leaders still must find ways to financially support device maintenance and replacement over time.


The research described in this paper is drawn from the 6-year study about ConnectED implementation, outcomes, and sustainability conducted by an independent research organization. The full study has a mixed-methods quasi-experimental design using propensity score matching. Overall, a total of 101 schools participated in the study (72% elementary, 12% middle, 10% high schools, 6% multiple grades). These schools are geographically and demographically diverse and serve a wide range of disadvantaged communities. This study is situated in diverse community settings that range from the inner city to Native American communities to migrant populations on the Mexican border.

Data sources
Some data were collected from participants at all 101 schools, while a subset of data were collected from selected (n = 15) case study schools. In selecting specific schools for case studies, the research team sought variation on a number of dimensions, including school type (elementary, middle, and high schools), student population demographics, school size, urbanicity, and leadership capacity.

Principal and teacher surveys. The surveys asked for perceptions of the school context and insights into implementation of the ConnectED initiative. This included perceptions of student attitudes (e.g., engagement) and mastery of deeper learning skills (e.g., critical thinking, communication, collaboration), as well as about educators’ professional motivation and beliefs. Surveys also addressed school environment and culture, leadership practices, classroom practices, and participation in Connect ED professional development. A sustainability-focused 2019 principal survey asked specifically about ongoing support for teachers, program goals, future plans, and sources of funding.

Observation protocol. Classroom observations gathered information about teachers’ instructional practices, particularly their use of the ConnectED resources (technology tools, connectivity, and curriculum materials) and technology-enabled opportunities for deeper learning. The protocol addressed learning goals, how and why ConnectED resources were used, classroom configurations (individual, pair, or group work) in use, the teaching/learning interactions taking place around technology resources, and student engagement.

Principal interview. The principal protocol included leadership practices, vision for school improvement, efforts to improve teaching and learning, efforts to connect with parents/community, experience with ConnectED, and use of ConnectED resources and supports.

Teacher interview. Researchers interviewed teachers whose lessons were observed. The protocol addressed instructional practices and challenges, how teachers use ConnectED resources, formal/informal professional development experiences, ongoing support needed, and teachers’ sense of connection to the school’s ConnectED improvement plan. Questions also asked for contextual information about the observed lesson.
Student focus group protocol. The student focus groups gathered input regarding their experiences with the ConnectED resources, how they use these resources in and out of the classroom, perceived benefits of ConnectED resources, and the challenges they encountered.

Parent focus group protocol. Parent questions explored the school-family connection, including opportunities they had to engage with the school, contribute their knowledge, communicate with school faculty and staff, and otherwise involve themselves in their children’s education.

Student survey. The student survey asked about using technology in and out of school, and how the ConnectED tools influence students’ academic experiences and behaviors, as well as non-academic factors such as sense of belonging and self-efficacy.
Lesson samples. The researchers asked teachers to submit examples of assignments that best exemplified their approach to teaching with technology, which were rated for evidence of deeper learning and engagement.

In addition, the research team collected achievement test data from 2015-2018. School-level data were obtained for 40 ConnectED schools and about 320 comparison schools in 23 districts. Student-level data were collected from four districts, each with multiple schools; these were matched to 45 comparison schools.

Data analysis
Most survey data were analyzed descriptively. Some items were analyzed longitudinally to look for changes over time in teaching and leadership practices as schools moved from initiating, to implementing, and then sustaining ConnectED.

Qualitative data analysis began at the school level and then employed comparative case analysis (Yin, 2013) to discern themes across the schools. The five phases were: 1) developing “Key Takeaways” documents in which site visitors debrief their visit; 2) coding interviews for themes such as student outcomes, teacher supports, initiative sustainability, and community engagement; 3) coding observation protocols for themes related to learning opportunities and contextual features; 4) developing school summaries with warranted claims; 5) conducting cross-case analysis using school summaries to develop construct-focused data displays of relevant themes. Survey and case study data analyses were coordinated so that survey data could be used to explore trends in the wider program that may or may not correspond to issues surfaced in case studies.


In the ConnectED schools, iPads remained widely integrated into instruction after support from Apple ended; in the 2019 survey most principals (74%) reported students’ using iPads daily in all academic classes. Most (81%) also reported using them in 2018-19 more than in the first year of ConnectED. A small majority (59%) felt their schools were incorporating technology about the right amount of time, and another 23% said they were incorporating it less often than they should but were on track to the right amount. Some principals who reported that program goals had changed mentioned challenges of maintaining devices which were now out of warranty, preference of (mostly high school) teachers for devices with keyboards such as Chromebooks, or changes to district infrastructure that made continuing iPad use difficult. However, some reported changes to deepen learning opportunities by having students create rather than consume content, incorporating arts or robotics, collaborating across grades, or coding. In 2018-19, schools provided teacher support for the program primarily through coaching/mentoring or PLC meetings rather than Apple professional development. Strategies for ongoing financial support for the program (among those who had strategies—15% had no plan) were evenly split between using existing school budgets, getting district funding, and seeking grant or other outside funding sources.

In interviews, principals and teachers said that successful sustainability meant continuing to increase learning opportunities, using technology for discipline-specific goals, assigning tasks requiring thoughtful answers that cannot be simply looked up online, and focusing on student creation. They acknowledged that their schools had partially fulfilled these goals, and that faculty in their schools differed in the degree to which they used the device for deeper learning. This was borne out by our observations and lesson analysis in 2018-19, in which we found some lessons incorporating no technology, some using technology for worksheet-like activities, and a few using technology for rich tasks developing advanced skills.

Principals’ and teachers’ motives for trying to sustain the 1:1 program despite the challenges included: bringing advanced learning opportunities to students, providing students with new experiences they otherwise would not have had, preparing students for the future, and giving students more voice and choice in how they expressed themselves. In interviews, they agreed that strong leadership was necessary at the school level, and helpful but not essential at the district level, for the program to be sustained.


Implementing a 1:1 technology program is a significant investment that is often accompanied by initial excitement and engagement. Deeper changes to teaching and learning are more difficult to achieve, and even more so to sustain over time, particularly in places where financial resources are scarce. Research on 1:1 program sustainability can help these programs achieve their potential to transform teachers’ and students’ experiences and accomplish desired outcomes.


Alberta Education. (2006). One-to-one mobile computing: Literature review. Alberta, Canada: Department of Education and Training (pp. 1–65). Canada: Author.

Argueta, R., Huff, D. J., Tingen, J., & Corn, J. O. (2011). Laptop initiatives: Summary of research across six states. Raleigh, NC: Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, North Carolina State University (pp 1– 20).

Berends, M., Bodilly, S., & Kirby, S. (2002). Facing the challenges of whole-school reform: New American Schools after a decade. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

Bryk, A., Sebring, P., Allensworth, E., Leppescu, S., & Easton, J. (2010). Organizing schools for improvement: Lessons from Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Coburn, C. E. (2003). “Rethinking scale: Moving beyond numbers to deep and lasting change.” Educational Researcher, 32(6): 3–12.

Coburn, C. E., Russell, J. L., Kaufman, J. H., & Stein, M. K. (2012). Supporting sustainability: Teachers’ advice networks and ambitious instructional reform. American Journal of Education, 119(1), 137–182.

Datnow, A., Hubbard, L., & Mehan, L. (2002). Extending educational reform: From one school to many. London: Routledge/Falmer.

Donovan, L., Hartley, K., & Strudler, N. (2007). Teacher concerns during initial implementation of a one-to-one laptop initiative at the middle school level. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 39(3), 263–286.

Gersten, R., Chard, D., & Baker, S. (2000). Factors enhancing sustained use of research-based instructional practices. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 33(5), 445–56.

Hargreaves, A. & Goodson, I. (2006). Educational change over time? The sustainability and nonsustainability of three decades of secondary school change and continuity. Educational Administration Quarterly, 42(1), 3–41.

Keengwe, J., Schnellert, G., & Mills, C. (2012). Laptop initiative: Impact on instructional technology integration and student learning. Education and Information Technologies, 17(2), 137–146.

Klingner, J.K., Vaughn, S., Tejero Hughes, M., & Arguelles, M. (1999). Sustaining research-based practices in reading: A 3-year follow-up. Remedial and Special Education, 20(5), 263–74, 287.

McLaughlin, M.W. & Mitra, D. (2001). Theory-based change and change-based theory: Going deeper and going broader. Journal of Educational Change, 2(4), 301–23.

Vosloo, S. (2012). Mobile learning and policies: Key issues to consider. Working Paper Series on Mobile Learning: Paris: UNESCO.

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Linda Shear, SRI International

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