About Curt Lieneck

Director of Information Technology at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools since 1998. Career educator with 16 years teaching experience at different elementary grade levels.

A Thoughtful Post on Planning for 1:1

I’ve not met Bill Stites in person yet, but he and I have talked online for a while about our mutual frustration with vague Terms of Service and unclear practices in the field for complying with federal privacy statutes as a K-12 school. We’ve also been on the same consulting team for a recent project.

This post on his blog sheds some light on planning for 1:1. I’m glad to say that our plans for the readiness assessment cover much of the ground he has laid out.


Identifying and addressing the professional development needs associated with 1:1 is one of the trickiest parts, since solving it usually puts one in the Bermuda Triangle of school change, with time, money, and school priorities are all in play.

Possible Timeline?

Working on the assumption that if someone sends me a question, it’s likely that someone else might have the same one, too, I’ll be sharing questions that come in.

Today’s question: is there a timeline for a potential beginning of 1:1 if a decision is made to do so?

A fair question, but do be clear that a tentative launch date at this point is only a stake in the ground to anchor the planning process. That said, a launch in Fall of 2013 gives us enough lead time to prepare properly if the decision to go to 1:1 in one or both divisions is made in early fall of this calendar year, following the summer delivery of the completed Readiness Assessment.

The 2013 academic year is also one in which we would need to replace most of our fleet of shared laptops, which represents a significant investment. If it turns out we are not going to go 1:1 in one or both divisions, knowing well in advance would help me plan effectively for that refresh and any additional measures we may need to take in light of that decision.



Current Ratio Question

I had a good question come in from a parent, who asked about the current ratio of computers to students.

We are currently just over 1.8 students per computer for Middle and High School combined. That includes all school-owned desktop and laptop computers that could conceivably be available for use at any given time during the school day for those two divisions. Obviously, the way the schedule is built precludes their all being used simultaneously by either or both groups, but it is at least a place to start in making a comparison.

Some surveys live

Whew. It took a lot of work to build and proofread the surveys, but they are done (about a month later than I had planned, but that’s another story). This close to the end of school is not an ideal time to capture people’s attention, but in a large project like this one, even my very best efforts to keep all the moving pieces on schedule were not enough in this instance.

The High School and Middle School faculty surveys went live yesterday, the MS student survey today. The Assistant Principal is working with the High School advisors to grease the wheels to get a decent response rate starting today as well.

The Parent surveys are being timed to avoid overlap with an all-school survey going out. One will go out next week, the other the week after.

Curriculum Data Assimilated

I’ve completed the task of assimilating the curricular information departments provided. Now it’s time to define a set of tasks and functions a computing device would need to perform to be a viable option for 1:1 adoption.

A preliminary look at the data suggested that writing in class is high priority task, both in the Middle School and High School.  Students in HS and MS focus groups also expressed strong reservations about iPads as a productivity tool, leaving one to wonder whether iPads would be a legitimate contender for a 1:1 implementation here at either or both divisions if, in fact, that’s where we end up going. So let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet.

Surveys nearly complete

As noted author Seth Godin has so aptly pointed out,  ”A decision without tradeoffs isn’t a decision. The art of good decision making is looking forward to and celebrating the tradeoffs, not pretending they don’t exist.”

Surveys will be coming out to each of our stakeholder groups shortly. The goal of these surveys is to identify what stakeholder groups perceive as potential benefits and concerns in moving to a 1:1 computing model, along with a sense of how important they believe it is to incorporate technology into instruction.

I’m trying to gauge how ready our stakeholders might be to make a change like this (or not) and learn more about what tradeoffs they see if we were to move forward on 1:1. And make no mistake: there are tradeoffs. The better we are at identifying them, the more able we will be to weigh them in reaching a decision point.

It has taken me much longer than I would have liked to get surveys rolling — trying to get people’s attention in May is always tricky. The delay in getting these out stems from a combination of things: difficulty recruiting participants for two of the focus groups, unexpected additions to my workload, being sick for a week, and all the tasks associated with moving (I’ve sold my house an am preparing to move).

It is always a challenge, too, to create a survey that returns rich data yet is brief enough that people will actually complete it, particularly when considering a change with so many implications for instruction, school operations, and school culture. Tailoring the surveys to constituent groups while maintaining an appropriate level of coherence in the data across surveys only adds to the difficulty.




Rockin’ and Rollin’

Despite my missing a few days due to illness, the Readiness Assessment is rockin’ and rollin’. Louis Coronel, the LIbrary Technology Coordinator, pinch-hit for me in moderating the HS faculty focus group. In a thoughtful, engaging discussion, teachers shared some of their concerns and aspirations for a 1:1 implementation.

Some of the concerns voiced included issues of student distraction, classroom management challenges, overreliance on tech tools when traditional methods were better suited to an instructional goal, battery life, the lack of pervasive student knowledge of basic technology tools in learning, and the level of standardization for devices.

Among many other thoughts, the ability to take advantage of spontaneous “teachable moments” available with ubiquitous computing was mentioned as a plus, along with students’ ability to organize themselves better on their own machines.  The creation of e-portfolios as an assessment strategy also becomes much easier when producing electronic artifacts  that can be curated, annotated, and readily shared.

Thanks to the teachers who volunteered their time to participate.

The MS student focus group took place on April 13. I led a a vigorous group of lads (sorry, no girls signed up for the Activity Period) through a lively discussion.  The advantages they saw included fewer books to carry around, easier saving of files (their disdain for flash drives was made clear), and using the more stable CNet ID for network access, which we can’t do from shared laptops.

They were also clear about the down sides of 1:1. They realized it would put a lot more responsibility on them, which some were fine with, while others were less enthusiastic.The potential for theft, they felt, would be less if everyone had one. They also grasped the nuances of the difference between the school providing the computer vs. their bringing one and many of the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, especially privacy issues.

They also had a lot to say about how their classes would and wouldn’t be different in a one to one environment. They wondered if teachers were ready to give up the control they had in distributing laptops at certain times on certain days; they understood that some teachers would be unlikely to use computers much, either because their class didn’t really need them or because they were “technophobes.” Their best guess was that “75% of their teachers would do OK with it.”

They were sharp, enthusiastic participants and grasped a lot of subtleties that surprised this old teacher. They represented their school and their families well. Great kids.

279 MS students completed the computer access survey, which will close this afternoon.  Well done, MS teachers and students!

MS Teacher focus group meets this afternoon.

With all this information coming in, certain IT Directors have a lot of work to do. Better get to it!



More Focus Groups Set

As of today, I have dates and times for MS teacher, MS student, and HS teacher focus groups. Middle School parents and High School student participants are proving a little tougher to find, but I’m close on the parent group (thanks to those who have said they would participate!).

Tomorrow, I continue work on assimilating the curricular information gathered from the faculty, and also start building the survey for HS parents.

I also met with senior IS staff and set them to work on developing possible options for a loaner pool of devices and how it would operate. I’ve also asked them to work with Facilities to identify possible locations for charging stations in common areas along with options for the type of charging station that might work well.

I’ve also registered for the Lausanne Laptop Institute, a July conference in which many independent school technology leaders typically participate, especially those who’ve initiated and/or operated 1:1 implementations of various types. It is a fertile ground for innovation and offers lots of nuts and bolts, in-the-trenches experience with the details of getting 1:1 right.



A Mea Culpa and a Lengthy Status Update

Holy cow. I had no idea so much time had passed since my last post. Part of the delay was vacation time, part of it was just being astonishingly busy. I promise we won’t have another gap like that. There’s a lot to catch up on, too much for one post, so I’ll just lay out current status and use subsequent posts to add more detail about each of the segments.

Remember that general information about the 1:1 Readiness Assessment process and its different project threads can be found here.

Administrative Thread: Surveys

The results of the HS student survey about tech ownership and their experience in using school computers are in. Just about 50% of our students responded, which I thought was pretty good. Thanks to the many teachers and administrators who encouraged students to participate. It made a big difference. More on the results in the next post.

The MS version of this survey will go out next week for grades 6-8 . Allison Jones is helping me coordinate this with the Humanities teachers. I did meet with the 5th grade chair about being included, and we agreed their imminent transition to the Lower School and their homeroom structure doesn’t fit well with the survey’s goals — I just wanted to make sure they did not feel excluded from the survey when it came out.

Focus Groups

The focus groups are meant to identify concerns, opportunities, and the perceived impact of 1:1 from each stakeholder group’s perspective. The information gathered in the focus groups will drive development of online surveys so each stakeholder group will have the chance to make their voices heard.

The HS parent focus group took place last Friday, March 30. Thanks to those parents who participated. It was a lively discussion and some clear themes emerged. Again, more later.

I’m still recruiting for the MS Parent focus group. My initial overtures got a couple of responses, but most invitees have not responded.

Teacher focus groups are coming together. I have enough MS teachers to schedule the group right now, and may have to add the “personal touch” to fill out the HS group.

I’m working with the Academic Dean in the HS to recruit HS students with a grand total of one response so far. I met today with the MS administration and we will do the MS student focus group in an Activity Period a week from tomorrow.

Curricular Thread

All but one department has submitted a full or “full enough” response to my questions about how teachers are using technology with students in their classes. I’ve started assimilating all that information into a spreadsheet format so we can get an all-at-once look at what everyone is doing.

Technical Thread

The IS team worked through a number of configuration questions with Google Apps for Education with help from a colleague here in the Chicago area. We’ve registered a “throwaway” or sandbox domain so we can examine the setup and management process with as little pressure as possible.

After consulting with UC Legal and some peers at other institutions, I’ve come up with a process and format for obtaining parental permission for online sites that collect students’ personal information so we will be fully COPPA compliant. After consulting the Principals group, it was determined that these permissions should be collected in August as part of the Back to Lab process which now takes place completely online. This will delay the planned launch of Google Apps for Education to the fall.

I am behind schedule on some of the other technical tasks, but am confident my team and I can catch up on them. I also decided to defer a couple of them after realizing that they would easier to do after surveys are complete.

More soon – promise.

All the Plates Are Now Spinning

As of this week, we are now deeply into all the areas of the 1:1 Readiness Assesment project. I will admit to feeling like this guy. The major activities of the last few days include these:

A HS parent focus group is scheduled to meet just after the break in an early morning time slot, and I am working on the same for MS parents. Student and teacher focus groups will have to take place after the break, too, though I had hoped to get them done by now. These focus groups are meant to identify concerns and opportunities different stakeholder groups see from their perspective when pondering a potential move to a 1:1 computing environment.

About 200 HS students have completed the online survey currently open, which seeks to learn more about the level of laptop and tablet ownership, how and why they do and don’t use them at school, and their opinion about availability of and experience with school-owned computers. The information to date shows some interesting trends, and our students have made many constructive comments. I’m hoping to get that number up over 300 with more of a balance among grade levels, and the teachers and administrators have been great about encouraging students to do the very brief survey. My thanks to all who have helped in this way.  A similar MS survey is ready to go but will be out after the break.

The IS Group had something of a mini-retreat Monday to make sure we were all on the same page about moving forward with a Google Apps for Education domain. Adopting platform-agnostic, web-based services like GAE increases some of our platform options when thinking about 1:1 devices. In this particular case, some welcome, added functions are part of the deal, too, like better sharing of documents and a more robust calendaring solution. We spent 90 minutes going over concerns and opportunities this suite of online tools presents to the school and making some basic decisions about what we wanted from it and what we didn’t. We outlined next steps and added the project to the our project management portal. I also agreed to send Webmaster Joe Kallo and Library Technology Coordinator to a five-day intensive Google Apps “immersion” experience in Milwaukee this July.

A majority of departments have now submitted responses to my inquiries about what specific technologies are used by students in High School courses. There’s a big task ahead in aggregating this data into a digestible format for sharing, but it’s always more work up front the first time you go through gathering comprehensive data like this.