As technology becomes increasingly integrated into our daily lives, schools are recognizing the importance of equipping every student with a personal device to facilitate digital learning. These one-to-one initiatives aim to provide students with equal access to educational resources, fostering creativity and critical thinking while preparing them for the demands of a technology-driven world. By embracing one-to-one device programs, schools can empower students to become active participants in their own education, while educators can leverage technology to personalize instruction and cultivate 21st-century skills.
To make this learning a reality, Digital Promise has partnered with Verizon for the last 10 years to provide each student and teacher in select middle and high schools throughout the United States with a device and a data plan lasting up to four years. Alongside always available access for students in Verizon Innovative Learning Schools, teachers receive robust professional development and coaching to cultivate a culture of powerful learning with technology. The Verizon Innovative Learning Schools journey begins at the start of the school year with device rollout, a schoolwide celebration when students receive their devices.
Recently, EdSurge had the opportunity to speak with Nicole Adell, Digital Promise’s associate director of sustainability and support for Verizon Innovative Learning Schools. Adell is in the unique position of being a former principal at Newburg Middle School in Louisville, Kentucky, which she led through the four-year Verizon Innovative Learning Schools journey.
EdSurge: What was the device rollout planning process like for Newburg Middle School?
Adell: When we found out we were accepted to Cohort 5, we spread the word around neighborhood organizations, the public libraries, the community center and the Boys and Girls Club. Because of the school’s location in the Bible Belt, we visited every faith-based organization around our school to let them know what was coming. We announced, “iPads are coming! Devices are coming!” This was a new opportunity for this historically Black community, and we were excited. The approach we took before the rollout even came was spreading the word, getting the buy-in and getting people excited because when you get folks excited, they will do whatever is needed for kids in your school building. When you explain the why to people, they are all in.
What did the device rollout look like at Newburg Middle School?
It was a party! Celebrating is important. It wasn’t just about giving 1,200 kiddos and their families these devices; we had prepared for weeks leading up to our rollout to ensure the families were equipped with knowing how to care for the device, the importance of it and the primary use of it—to promote tech integration and powerful learning experiences for students. I went back to share with the community what the rollout would look like. The purpose of the devices was what I preached. That meant when the rollout came, everyone was very cognizant to be careful with the devices because they took pride in the opportunity and understood expectations.
Students are the most important stakeholders in a school technology initiative, and student tech teams are a way to involve students directly in the day-to-day management of the program. How was your student tech team chosen, and how were they involved in the device rollout?
Digital Promise is very intentional about recruiting districts and schools for Verizon Innovative Learning, where they can support families and kiddos who have historically been marginalized. At Newburg Middle School, we were intentional about selecting a core group of students for the tech team. These kids were not necessarily the stereotypical top-of-the-class students. We scouted kids who we knew represented our school population and who had room to grow in technology skills. We chose students from all grade levels because this is about passing on knowledge, pulling up others and keeping sustainable systems.
As students from the team graduated, we used a blind-copy application process that was vetted by our student tech team. By using a blind-copy application process, applicants’ names were withheld. Therefore, our current Tiger Tech Team Members did not see the names of their peers. This aided in student tech team members helping to select qualified applicants. In the last few weeks of school, the newly selected team members would shadow the graduating eighth graders, who—earlier in the year—had served as mentors during the device rollout. This gave the new kids a taste of what this special team is all about. We just need to empower kids and leverage that student tech team.
Making Students Champions: How the Student Tech Team Is Involved in the Device Rollout
- Running a Help Desk
- Leading STEM-related Activities
- Basic Troubleshooting
- Vetting Student Candidates
- Creating How-To Videos
- Helping Teachers Demonstrate Resources
One of the goals of the device rollout is for students, schools and families to connect and learn. Why is it important for families to be involved and learn about the devices?
Students are with teachers for about six hours a day, which is a small portion of their lives. Families can provide a greater influence. To help show our respect for families in this process, our school created family-oriented mini-sessions to teach about the devices. We invited our job corps partners so that families could learn about the devices and then learn about job opportunities in the community. We used these sessions to pump up families and to get their buy-in to use the devices. The family and community aspect is big for Digital Promise. If the community is aware of what is going on, you get their support and sustainable tech integration.
What is your advice for schools planning their first one-to-one device rollout?
You share the information as soon as you know that your school is doing this. You hype it up, you get your colleagues excited about it, then you get your families excited about it—then the kids are going to want to be a part of it.
I also encourage schools to look beyond the devices. Anyone can have a device. But how are we as educators using technology to transform learning? We could use them simply to transfer knowledge or transfer material. But we need to move beyond the device and help our students become collaborators and creators, not just consumers.