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One-to-One Can Be Transformative for the Whole Family, But That Means Schools Must Do More Than Simply Handing Out Devices

Student Backpack with items

Over the past decade a multitude of K-12 schools have implemented one-to-one mobile device programs. Many of these districts have carefully created structures around use, which includes the school, and sometimes home. While parents sign contracts for appropriate use of the devices, they are often left out of the “learning” portion of the program.  Meaning, there is little information shared with parents about how they can help their child learn with the mobile device. Additionally, while each student may have the same device, they often do not have equitable digital infrastructure or coaching at home. For example, in less affluent households, students are often under connected, meaning they may have access the internet but it is not equitable to what is found in higher income families (such as strong broadband vs dial up, or they have to go to the local library to get access). Furthermore, there are additional roadblocks to families, such as having a primary language other than English (most educational software offers only English language in the software). Additionally, many parents lack the skills of how to use the devices for information gathering and other academic purposes. This means they are less likely to be able to provide support to their child when the child has trouble with their school work. Thus, In order for a one-to-one program to be most effective for our neediest of students and their families, schools should provide families with more than a device. 

By each child receiving a device from their school, this can be transformative for the whole family, not just the student. It provides families access to tools that they (especially in less affluent families) would otherwise not have access to. It is estimated by the FCC that about 100 million Americans do not have broadband in their homes. In just about every school district there are families that do not have the infrastructure to support digital learning in their homes. School districts that are handing out mobile devices to students, should consider the fact that they are handing the devices to the whole family. This can be a transformative experience for the whole family, if implemented thoughtfully. Parents can use the devices to become literate, to take online classes, to learn how to help their child learn by watching online videos or other screencast tutorials. Parents can communicate better with teachers and the school via email, school websites, and other digital means.  

Schools can begin this transformative process with a survey for families about their digital infrastructure and digital literacies. Schools can use the findings to identify which families may need support. They can begin to create a more equitable learning experience for families, especially in high needs homes. All schools can take a three-pronged approach to the one-to-one rollout with families:

1. Provide access to devices and strong consistent Wifi in homes

a. Provide a “WiFi” map of the community where families without access can get online at no cost (this often includes libraries, community centers, and coffee-type shops).

b. Provide hotspot check-outs at the school, local community center or libraries. For example in New York Public Libraries families can check out a device and hotspot for up to a year!

c. Find a way to ensure that the children on free and reduced lunch have reliable Wifi at home. Provide families with low to no cost broadband resources such as Everyoneon or partner with local business to provide this access, such as in Pontiac Michigan where the schools partnered with Kajeet to provide filtered Internet access to all homes.

d. Advocate the local and state government to consider providing free WIFI for the whole community, there are currently 57 cities in the U.S. that provide this. This would provide many opportunities for all families, and potentially reduce the digital equity gap in all school systems.

2. Provide long-term training and support to families to meet them where they are at (showing them how to use the tools for higher-level academic learning and also basic computer skills such as Keyboarding or test taking skills)

a. Set up triage training centers at the school, local library or a community center to train parents in basic digital skills such as information gathering, using the deep web, creating safe online profiles, how to evaluate sources online, and how to jointly engage in digital tools with their child to maximize learning.

b. Rather than homework being drill and practice (which has been shown to not be very effective for cognitive growth), homework could focus on gaining new digital or media literacy skills in partnership with the parents.

c. Locate local nonprofits, such as TechGoesHome, that will send trainers to homes of families that need extra support on helping their children with their digital literacy skills.

d. The COSN Digital Equity Toolkit can be a useful resource for schools to help build meaningful community partnerships.

3. Provide clear and accessible communication between home and school with opportunities for families to work together on school or academic related activities so that families are collaborating and learning together.

a. Send home tutorials (paper and digital) in native languages so that parents are given explicit instructions in their common language to help their child learn.

b. Teachers can create homework assignments that are to be done with a parent/guardian so that they can jointly engage in the tool and learn the skills together. Parents can play a role in helping their children develop digital citizenship.

c. Provide text alert suggestions and ideas for each grade level. Such as a 4th grade teacher may send an alert to help parents help their child edit their writing. Since more parents have text message than email, providing text alerts can reach more families.

By schools providing parents with the tools and knowledge to help their children learn, they are also provided with the tools that give them agency for their own ability to gather resources, training and connect to the world. Parents now have access to a digital tool where they can apply for jobs, receive job training, take an online course, learn about community events, better participate in elections…etc. Thus, a one-to-one device can benefit the whole family.


 (@lkolb): Clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan in Education Technology and MACUL Board Member.