Should your school have one-device-per-student?

Mike Halliday from UTC Reading tells us why they decided to adopt a 1-to-1 computing scheme.

University technical colleges (UTCs) have only been around since 2011, but there are already nearly 50 across England. They offer specialist technical and scientific education to students aged 14 to 19, and work closely with universities and industry partners to help fill skills gaps in local economies.

UTC Reading is the first such college to gain an outstanding Ofsted rating. It’s located in the M4 corridor – one of the U.K.’s technology hubs – and it therefore specialises in computer science and engineering. The college started accepting pupils in 2013, and since opening has ensured that each student has their own laptop to work on throughout their time at the college. It calls this its E-Learning Scheme. We spoke to Mike Halliday, business relations manager at the college, to understand why and how it undertook the mammoth task of implementing one-to-one computing.

Intel: What made you want to look at a 1:1 programme?

Mike Halliday: As a UTC we work very closely with our industry partners. These are the companies that will employ the students who leave our college, and the message we constantly get from them is that they need recruits who can hit the ground running. They’re looking for people who are well versed in the types of applications used in business like Microsoft Office, but also in specialist industry applications depending on the job role. If we can nurture young people who are comfortable moving right into that office environment, we avoid a huge training burden for industry.

Basically, a 1:1 scheme like ours helps our students get comfortable, competent and capable with the computing tools found in business. It also removes a barrier to entry.

As a new school with no track record offering a new flavour of education, it was important to remove barriers by giving laptops to each student, which became a big sell for us.

What did you need to do to make this happen?

It was important that we replicate as much as possible a business environment. Our “ready for work” school environment is set up to look more like the type of environment you’d find at Microsoft or Google than a traditional school, so it starts there.

One of the foundations was accessible Wi-Fi right across our campus – that was crucial. Students have to be able to get access anywhere, anytime. We needed a network policy that supported both the college-owned devices that we distribute to students and staff, and the devices that some students choose to bring in, which is also known as bring your own device or BYOD.

Next we needed the hardware. The laptops we chose to give out were Fujitsu A555 with an Intel® Core™ i3 processor, 128GB SSD, and a carry case. Fujitsu is a partner of ours, but it actually won in an open tender because of the quality of devices and the support we get, which has to be rock solid. Students and parents have to have confidence in our technology. The last thing we want is a negative environment where people have complaints about laptops not working or poor internet speeds, because it spreads very quickly.

Right now students can bring their own devices, or parents can contribute to the running of the scheme and get a school device. How is that working out?

We currently have about 300 students and 50 teachers using school devices and maybe 80 who bring their own. Some of them choose to do so because they’re very advanced users who will run different operating systems and require a more powerful machine. Others just prefer using Macs, for example.

In the first two years of existence we actually offered the laptops for free, which we were able to do by using some of our start-up capital.

Then when we introduced the current model we decided to manage this in house using web-based software, claim the Gift Aid ourselves, and use this to pay for the software. We felt that managing it in house was the best way to show that we, as a technology college, were leading the way for these types of projects.

It took about three-and-a-half hours to set up the web-based software, and another half an hour to send out a mail to all parents. Then within just three days we’d collected 30 per cent of all the contributions for that year. It was a really good move in cutting down our admin overheads.

How are teachers and pupils taking to the scheme?

We’ve learned some lessons here at UTC Reading. Last year I did quite an intensive workshop with the teachers during an INSET day at the start of the year. The idea was that they would then disseminate this to their tutor groups, but that 90-minute workshop was just too short for some people, and too long for others.

This year we drastically changed things around by having departmental champions—teachers who here happy to lead other teachers in learning about the subject. This also acted as a bit of a bonding experience and helped the slower teachers get up to speed more quickly because they didn’t feel they were being lectured by someone who knows much more than them.

That was then. Now we’re in week three of term and we have 90 per cent of our teachers using things like Microsoft Classroom where they can monitor pupil progress rather than walking round the classroom to see what’s going on. It shows you who needs one-on-one help. It’s these little things that can add up. If you can save 5 minutes in a 55-minute lesson, then you’re almost 10% more productive.

We have three pillars of IT here at UTC Reading: save time, build confidence and nurture innovation. Harnessing tools like Microsoft Classroom that allow you to monitor work-rate in real-time, will allow us to adopt 1:1 teaching models like adaptive learning and push the boundaries of education.

And here’s some feedback from two of students at the college:

George Reid, a Year 13 student who brings his own device: "Having the latest software applications for my computer science classes, and the ability to access them at any time, means I am achieving far more than would be possible if studying in class alone. I use lots of different programmes to make my projects more professional, and I am also a PowerBI advisor for staff here."

Jamoi Sill, Year 13 student with a school laptop: “Using a laptop that is set up and configured from the first day at UTC was very exciting, and I use it for all sorts of extra-curricular stuff as well as class work. My engineering project has given me lots of challenges and using AutoCAD and Revit gave me the chance to try out new techniques for product design".

How can you adopt 1:1 computing in your school?

For more information on implementing a scheme at your school or college, our edtech solutions will help you assess your environment and choose the right device for student success.