20 reasons not to use a one to one laptop program in your school (and some solutions)

We have a 1 to 1 program right now at the school I’m at, and there are a lot of problems with it.  Initially I was for the program, but I am becoming more and more against it, especially with the current way our program is run.  Let me list the problems I’ve discovered so far:

  1. Classroom management while students are "taking notes with their computers" is an issue.  I think installing a gigantic mirror at the back of the classroom would be ideal.
  2. Classroom management issues while the students are supposed to be working on exercises using the CD version of their textbook, or a calculator emulator, when in fact they are searching the internet deciding what shoes they are going to buy on the weekend.
  3. MSN Messenger, Skype, Google Chat, etc… name your poison here.
  4. Transition times between activities increase as you wait for the students to reboot/boot their computer, plug in their power cord, comb their hair etc…
  5. Exceptionally slow internet at our school since every student is actively connected to the internet all the time.
  6. Our wireless hotspots only support 15 active connections.  We have as many as 26 students in a class.  You do the math.
  7. Students don’t maintain their computers properly, leading to the spreading of malware, viruses, etc… through USB sticks.
  8. Since some students have malware installed, our network takes a hit as it has to defend itself against internal intruder programs searching the local network for active ports.  Every day I have 10-12 port scans that my firewall blocks.
  9. Students don’t keep their software up to date.
  10. Students don’t even keep the right software on their computer.  Equation editor is SUPPOSED to be standard in M$ Word, but hey some students have got it uninstalled… heck some students don’t even have a word processor on their computer.
  11. Students don’t have the same software on their computers.  For example, I have seen Firefox 2, Firefox 3, Safari 2, Safari 3, Internet Explorer 6, Internet Explorer 7, Google Chrome, Opera in action, all at the same time, in the same class.
  12. Students don’t know how to do "fill in the blank" on their computer, so class time is spent trouble-shooting rather than on instruction.
  13. Laptops are stolen, about 3% of them each semester.  Combination of laisse-faire attitude by students and poor security at the school.
  14. Students forget their laptops/power cords/brains at home/in locker/in canteen
  15. Three different operating systems in use.  Yes, some students are using Linux.
  16. Of the three distinctly different operating systems in use there are 3 flavours of Windows, 2 of Linux, and 3 of MAC currently in use.  Now I’m supposed to be an expert on all 8 of these flavours and plan my lessons for minor incompatibilities between them because why?
  17. "I just need to print out X for my Y class.  Can I go do it now during your [unimportant] lesson?"
  18. Students forget passwords, even for their own computers at times.  The most common one for the students to forget is the one for the wireless or for my classroom blog.
  19. The laptops are heavy.  Textbooks are heavy.  Some of my students have back problems already at an early age from carrying too much to and from school.
  20. Most teachers lack training on how to use the 1 to 1 program effectively.  We need time to be trained in optimal pedagogical techniques involving the use of technology, provided with classroom management strategies, and shown with some proof that the technology is worth using.

There are some simple solutions to these problems.

  1. Don’t let the students buy their own computers.  Either buy all of the computers for the students or require them to buy a specific model.  They need to be using exactly the same software, hardware, etc… 

    This is less important now that more applications are on the web or cross platform.
  2. Make the school in charge of installing software on the student computers.  This works better if they are actually the school’s computers and you are renting them out to the students for the year.  This way you can ensure that no games, chat programs, peer to peer file sharing programs, http proxy tunnel clients, etc… get installed on their computers. 

    This approach is too top-heavy. Recommendation instead is to make sure that teachers are aware of these issues, and then have them focus on effective teaching; which means helping students learn about appropriate timing.
  3. Have a way for the teacher to turn off access to the internet when they need.  Could be as simple as a light switch which turns off the nearest wireless box (have one wireless box per room, configure it to a minimum radius, maximum number of active connections).

    This seems kind of crazy now. So many of the applications we use are online. 

  4. Don’t use Windows until they can prove that it is as secure as the other Unix based systems.  Go with Linux and a bunch of open source software, or go for Mac and pay through the nose, either way works.

    We’ve had many less problems with viruses here at my current school, so I think that either virus protection software has gotten better, or Windows 7 is much more secure than Windows XP.

  5. Have some common sense when planning the layout of your classrooms.  Install electricity outlets in convenient locations, either right in the tables the students are using or on the floor.  Make sure there are enough outlets to go around.  Heck, put an ethernet cable port right next to each outlet and forget about wireless all together.

    I still agree with this one. Plan ahead. I think robust wireless networks have gotten easier to set up, and so the ethernet cables are less necessary. Still, it took us almost 6 months to get our wireless network stable.

  6. Make sure students are all given training on how to most effectively use their computers.  It is the job of a school to help students learn how to use these powerful devices, but to be honest, the typical classroom teacher isn’t up to the job, and they’ll be the first to admit it.  This training should happen in an information technology course taught as a core subject.  Each student should take this course each year they are in school.

    We integrate technology at my current school without too many issues. We are focusing on teacher training on how to use the technology which seems to be making a difference.

  7. Have a specialist who’s job it is to trouble shoot the computers and make sure they are all running smoothly.  Have students see this specialist outside of class time if possible.

    I agree with having a specialist around, but wonder, if a student’s paper wasn’t working, would we let them suffer until the end of the day to get it working again? If it’s a critical tool for learning, it needs to be working.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a strong supporter of technology in the classroom.  I think there are some very powerful, very useful ways it can be used.  However I don’t think it is being used effectively at our school, and I often wish I had the power to can the whole program and start over again, implementing some of my suggestions above. Update: At my current school, I think we are working on improving our use of technology, and for quite a lot of people, it is being used effectively. Obviously, there is always room for improvement.

Update: I wrote this post nearly 4 years ago, when I worked in a very different school, and my own pedagogical approach was different. I think that battery life of computers has improved a lot since I wrote this, mitigating some of the issues, and that I see these more as learning experiences for students and teachers. With more applications being web based (and more applications supporting a wide variety of users), standardization of device and browser is a lot less important as well. Further, students will have these same issues after they leave school, so it is somewhat better for them to have them in school, where they can get some support for later in life.



  • David,

    Great post – the voice of wisdom!

    I think most of the issues are surmountable with the right combination of software and hardware … but without that, it’s a tough go. These are exactly the type of issues that we’re working to solve at EasyBits … and I’d love to come meet you in your class and experience them firsthand.

  • David Wees wrote:

    Yeah technology can definitely help some of these. There are some useful technologies, but pretty much all of them require the school to be in charge of the software installed on the computers of the students. This I think is pretty crucial.

    Anyone is welcome to visit my classroom if they like, but I’m currently based in Thailand. Starting September, I’ll be in British Columbia, and it might be easier to wait until I’ve got myself set up in BC.

    Alternatively, you could check out my portfolio, linked above, and see what I am doing with my students.


  • An interesting post, obviously based on experience. I agree with John in that most of these are issues that can be resolved.

    I’d love to see a post showing all the benefits of 1 to 1 based on your experience.


  • David Wees wrote:

    Actually I have posted about using a 1 to 1 laptop program before. See http://davidwees.com/content/working-1-1-laptop-program

  • What I find really interesting is that some issues that face educators have always been around and technology doesn’t address that. For example, kids just simply goofing off with the computers. I’m hoping to tie in productivity with their mark in the fall when we start a 1:1 program at our school.

  • David Wees wrote:

    You know, I actually don’t completely agree with all of my solutions anymore, but I certainly still see some of the problems. We spend a lot of time talking about student motivation & talking to individual students about how to use the devices. The increase in battery life since I wrote this post has actually mitigated a few of these problems, and happily my current school still has a very small computer lab (six computers in a row outside one of our classrooms) so some of the other issues are resolved as well.

    Happily, I think that teachers at my school are working fairly well with the technology and coping with the switch to a 1 to 1 program well. One of my students said to another student recently, "How could you forget your laptop at home? It’s like one of our most important learning devices!"

  • Well, we all know that our world today is on a verge of transferring all possibilities interactively. We are very fortunate because we have advance methods than the way they do it 10 years ago technologically speaking. There is also a downside for all of this because people tend to absorb laziness due to it. We should act now to prevent this from getting worst!

  • I hear your pain, as we introduced a 1:1 program 6 years ago, and have been through many problems along the way. We are still no there yet, but every year is better. The first cars sold were slower than pedestrians and by law needed a guy with a flag walking in front of them. They were not worth it, but i think now we are all glad that people worked throguh that until a time when they really are a useful. I see the first 1:1 programs in the same way

    Sounds to me that you list is not really 20 reasons not to use a 1:1 computer program but more like 20 things not to do when you set up a 1:1 program. We have 1 here, and luckliy school buys all and installs all software (which is then set to auto-update). it takes a lot of pain away.

    Classroom management will always be an issue, but it always was – the lines have just moved. Caught playing games: Take away the computer and give a kid a pencil and unlined paper (for the whole day) and most dont want the ridicule they got from their friends, or having to then input all their work that night. Also, for repeat offenders I have some cheap mirror lensed sunglasses (living in Hanoi, less than a dollar). Class loves it when someone (else) has to wear them and just having them sitting there is a good disincentive…

  • David Wees wrote:

    You’re right, this post is mostly about some of the pitfalls to avoid when setting up your 1 to 1 environment. Some of these have actually gotten a bit easier for me, especially since the battery lives of laptops have improved so much. It’s much easier now that you can just wait for students to "wake up" their laptops and that not all of them need to plug in every single class.

  • Dave,

    Yes, you are correct the implementation of the program is the problem. It is important that as a school community that parents, students, teachers, and administrators look at the real source of the problem — a lack of vision on the part of the school and not blame the students or technology. Your school has many things to consider about how to address and fix this issue for the rest of the school year and how to plan ahead to ensure that the same mistakes aren’t made again next year. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater — 1:1 education can be very engaging and rewarding. Our first class to do all four years of high school 1:1 graduated last spring and have gone on to success in college (at least that is what they tell us on Facebook and Twitter). A program take time to develop and vision to implement. Computer can’t be simply given to students and viola — better learning will occur. I know you are aware of this fact, but when people are frustrated and see problems, they are too quick to blame and shut down instead of look for solutions to overcome. Your list is a good start to thinking of practical ways to solve the problems.
    Cheers and good luck. If you ever want to talk shop or brainstorm, the Ed Tech Team at Korea International School will gladly help out.

  • David Wees wrote:

    This implementation problem was actually at my previous school, as I wrote this article a few years ago. I took these lessons to heart when we implemented a 1 to 1 program at my current school, and it has been much more successful.

  • Laptops are heavy and workbooks are heavy. I think the solution here is turn the workbook to e-workbooks and store them in the laptop. That way, they would just be carrying their laptops to and from school. That’s a good solution…turn off the internet access and just turn it on when needed.

  • I agree with Tim’s comments. I am a strong proponent of developing e-readiness before the introduction of technology. However, we can’t do everything for the learner and all the “why nots” listed above are teachable moments and come with consequence that they will soon discover and quickly learn from. Oh you forgot you password/power cord? You have a paper notebook don’t you? 😉

  • David Wees wrote:

    Teachable moments are a good point. I hate having my activity derailed by a student, but perhaps a good "teachable moment" is more important in the long run.

  • Ed Robinson wrote:

    I’ve got 8 chromebooks that I use, which is usually enough because I work in an alternative school with small class sizes.  There is a “management console” for an additional charge where you can control which websites the students can visit  and which apps they are able to use.  I hear cries of “he’s even blocking google!”, but unfortunately  some of the students get so angry that they can’t do what they want they refuse to even try to do the lesson, and hand the chromebook back to me (did I mention I work at an alternative school?).

  • I’ve been at my school for 13 years, and it was a laptop school for about 4 years before that. most of these problems got resolved before i got there, thank goodness. i’m having more fun with m students each year on the laptop, particularly sine I’ve found manghigh and powermylearning. the only issue is not being on task, but I close them down if it happens and they hate that, so they’re pretty good…most of the time. I love ’em.

  • Viateknologi NET wrote:

    An interesting post, obviously based on experience. I agree with John in that most of these are issues that can be resolved.

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