Arlington Public Schools Digital Learning Device Project: Phase II Study Findings

Executive Summary

In the Arlington Public Schools (APS) 2011-17 Strategic Plan, the community set a goal to ensure that every student from grade 2 through 12 has a personal digital learning device (1:1) to support instruction. The aim of transitioning to 1:1 is to support technology-rich learning environments that create engaging, relevant and personalized learning experiences for all learners regardless of background, language or disabilities. In order to better understand the current state of the project, APS partnered with the Friday Institute Research and Evaluation (FIRE) team at North Carolina State University to conduct a small-scale study. The purpose of the study was to identify implementation successes and challenges and to signal opportunities for program growth moving forward. The following is a summary of study findings for research questions developed in collaboration with APS, as well as recommendations and next steps for the APS 1:1 project.

Study Findings

Q1. How, and to what extent, are devices used to support teaching and learning?

  • Students use digital devices approximately half of the school day. Classroom observations and reports by teachers and students indicate that devices are used on average for roughly half of the school day across APS, with time utilizing devices more extensive in the upper grades. Student use of devices was observed in 37% of elementary classrooms visited, compared to 47% middle school and 62% of high school classrooms.
  • Devices are most frequently used for assessment, digital resources, and productivity. Commonly reported and observed use of devices to support teaching and learning included: monitoring and assessing student understanding, finding or accessing online content and resources for assignments, and creating written pieces or products to demonstrate learning. Some students and teachers, however, did describe cases of misuse of the devices at school and raised concerns that devices are a distraction from academic activities.
  • Other commonly reported uses included home access and non-academic activities. Students, teachers, and parents reported that students take their devices home and that this is generally beneficial to students. Students and parents highlighted the value of being able to track assignments and grades in real-time. Many parents expressed concerns, however, that students spend too much time using devices for non-educational activities.

Q2. What are the impacts on students as a result of transitioning to personal digital learning devices?

  • Use of technology has helped promote engaging, personalized learning environments. The majority of teachers, students, and parents agreed that using technology in school has: 1) made learning more interesting for students, 2) made it easier for students to collaborate with other students, and 3) enabled students to learn about things they are personally interested in.
  • Perceived areas of greatest student impact include technology, collaboration, and self-directed learning skills. With respect to student learning, surveyed teachers identified that devices had the greatest impact on student learning with regard to technology skills, self-directed learning skills, and collaboration skills. Some teachers, however, expressed doubts about the value of the 1:1 for student learning, highlighting the loss of instructional time due to distraction and device issues, as well as the additional planning time required.
  • Many parents expressed ambivalence or doubts about the value of the 1:1 device project. When asked if 1:1 student device access is important to their child(ren)’s success in school, 51% of parents agreed, 34% “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed,” and 15% were undecided. Concerns were highest among parents of elementary children and focused primarily on screen time and lack of interaction with physical learning resources.

Q3. What factors are facilitating or impeding efforts to promote learning using student devices?

  • School-based supports have been critical for facilitating effective and appropriate use of digital devices. Principals and teachers reported that Instructional Technology Coordinators (ITCs) have been essential in supporting effective device use, particularly efforts focused on supporting classroom instruction and providing professional development (PD) opportunities. Teachers also expressed that they gained valuable instructional and technical support from their peers.
  • Lack of time, shared vision, and professional development are significant barriers to effective use of the digital devices. The majority of teachers reported the following conditions as significant obstacles to their efforts to promote learning with the devices: excessive time needed to develop content for technology-based instruction (58%); inadequate opportunities for teacher input on how technology is used (54%); and lack of a shared vision for the use of student devices in support of teaching and learning (52%).
  • Teachers would most benefit from PD on using devices to support creativity and learner-centered strategies, as well as app and subject specific supports. When asked about specific professional development support, the following three topics were identified as areas of greatest need: use of technology to model and facilitate learning experiences that advance creativity and innovation; personalize learning activities that address students’ diverse learning styles, working strategies; and support learner-centered teaching strategies.

Recommendations & Program Modifications

The following recommendations are intended to support program improvement moving forward. These recommendations are informed by explicit suggestions put forth by study participants, as well as a holistic synthesis of the findings:

  • Develop and communicate a shared vision and plan for promoting learning with devices.
  • Offer more professional development opportunities on both technical skills and pedagogical skills.
  • Provide teachers more unrestricted time to create, practice, and experiment with technology.
  • Support students, teachers, and parents to achieve safe, flexible, and appropriate use of devices.
  • Create a plan for monitoring and improving technical support and materials.

Informed in part by preliminary findings shared during Phase I of the study, APS has implemented several modifications to the Digital Learning Device Project in the 2019-20 school year. Specifically, APS has:

  • Increased the number of technicians to provide more immediate technical support at the school level;
  • Created a loaner device program to create an environment of zero downtime for students;
  • Initiated pilot of iPad keyboards in the middle school to address productivity concerns;
  • Deployed Apple Classroom to support teachers in management of devices;
  • Developed a website that communicates alignment of available digital resources with instructional goals.

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Authors and Contributors