Lessons Learned from a Decade of One-to-One

Ellen Ullman

When your district has been one-to-one for 10 years it could be easy to sit back and let the initiative run itself. But that is not the case at River Dell Regional School District in Oradell, NJ. This innovative district continually expands, reshapes, and reinvigorates its 1:1 learning program.

River Dell’s latest refresh involved investing in new Windows-based devices and learning how to tap into the power of these touch- and pen-enabled network devices -- along with Microsoft Office 365 and its OneNote Class Notebook app – to empower teachers and students to take collaborative learning to a new level.

“Our classrooms are innovative, interactive, learner-centered and relevant,” says Marianthe Williams, director of technology. Students use a variety of cloud-based resources such as forums and polls, and collaborate on writing assignments. When it’s time to demonstrate their learning, there is an equally wide array of content they can create and then stream.

Working Together to Choose a Device

From the start of its one-to-one program, River Dell has been using Windows computers from HP. Happy with this choice but ready for an upgrade, the district chose to bring all participants to the table to select the best next-gen devices for teaching and learning.

“We put together a committee of students and a separate committee of teachers and administrators so that our stakeholders would be well represented,” says Williams. “The next step was to come to consensus on the needs of the users and to try to anticipate future needs of the classroom.” 

Both groups agreed that the devices needed to offer the following:

  • video creation for teachers and students;
  • touchscreen capability;
  • digital inking capability, especially for math and science;
  • engineering software and the Adobe Creative Suite (since the district has no computer labs);
  • collaboration capabilities;
  • 24/7 access to files;
  • the ability to submit assessments with feedback from teachers. 

All of these items, according to Williams, were non-negotiable, and both groups said they wanted the full installation of Microsoft Office but also needed the added functionality of cloud computing for collaboration purposes. Most of all, teachers wanted to be wireless and untethered in their classrooms.

As they began testing different devices, everyone found the best fit. The teachers selected the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 for its size, weight, and ease of use; the students preferred HP laptops that are touch screen and pen enabled, and run Windows 10, Microsoft Office 365, and Office 2016.  In 2015, the district’s 700 middle school students received HP ProBook 11 EEs, and the 1,200 high school students received HP Elitebook 820s. 

Game Changers for the Classrooms

In addition to the Surface Pro 3 tablets, teachers now have wireless projectors in their classrooms. The combination of the two has been terrific, and teachers are embracing the freedom that “WiDi” (wireless display) offers them – allowing them to walk around the room and write on their tablet, with the results projected on the screen. “Teachers  can create digital collaboration spaces for interactive work that are projected for all to share their voices and perspectives,” says Williams

The second pivotal addition is the use of Microsoft’s OneNote Class Notebook. It’s an add-on for the OneNote desktop that helps classrooms run more efficiently. Teachers can provide support directly in a student’s personal notebook and students can work on the same document at the same time, so writing assignments and lab reports become truly collaborative. Since it’s cloud based, participants can access their notebooks from any device, online or offline.

 “OneNote Class Notebook has presented opportunities to create curriculum in ways we could never have imagined before,” says Williams. “Each teacher develops notebooks that contain a collaboration space, a content library, and a personalized workspace for each member of the class. Because all of the devices have voice and inking capability, teachers are grading a wide variety of student work within Microsoft Class Notebook with voice and video files. This gives teachers a way to guide students through their work by clearly detailing their notes and suggestions.”

“In addition,” Williams adds, “teachers are sharing notebooks with each other and building shared textbooks with each other and students, allowing us to collaborate in powerful new ways.”  With the migration to cloud computing, all users have access to Office365 which provides everyone with the opportunity to work offline in a full version of Office and sync to the cloud providing an anytime, anywhere environment. This option enables all users to create their content and collaborate with others for a deeper experience.

Targeted Professional Learning

River Dell continues its commitment to quality professional development that is teacher developed and teacher led by providing face-to-face and on-demand models to personalize the learning. Rather than attending weekly staff meetings, River Dell teachers use that time for small-group meetings customized to their needs. On some weeks, they meet with colleagues from their own department to share best practices and strategies. On others, they are given opportunities to collaborate within their departments and with district staff.

Two teachers from each department receive intense summer training and serve as tech integrators to their colleagues during the school year. The focus, always, is on sharing best practices as well as what isn’t working, in a non-judgmental way. “Teachers have historically been private people, but that is no longer the case in our district. We’ve created a culture of sharing. We celebrate success. The more people share, the more they get excited about trying new things, supporting one another and celebrating what works.”

In addition, all teachers have access to a technology integration coach who provides an additional layer of personalized professional development. This position offers valuable support for all district staff.

1:1 for a Decade: What Works?

In closing, we asked Marianthe Williams to share some of the most important lessons she’s learned from ten years of one-to-one computing.  Here’s what she had to say:

1. You can never have enough professional development: PD has to be personalized to meet each learner’s needs, but the outcome is the transformation of the classroom. With the right PD, teachers can focus on teaching and learning and creating transformational lessons.

2. Involve your stakeholders: It’s crucial to get all of your users—including students—involved in the decision making of the device(s) to provide them with a voice. It’s a great learning experience, particularly for the students, to understand the entire process.

3. Celebrate successes: We bring staff together regularly into a large space to share something terrific they or their students tried or created. Everyone is energized and encouraged, and some of the teachers also teach during after-school training sessions because the response is so great. 

4. Leadership is important in creating an innovative culture: I tell teachers it’s ok if it doesn’t work, as long as you try. The culture of risk taking and innovation is infectious and supportive.

5. The devices and access are only the beginning: Once you have the technology and the curriculum in place, students and teachers can follow their passions. 

At A Glance

River Dell Regional School District has 1,700 students in grades 7-12.

Graduation rate: 99%; 95% of the students are college bound.

The district is in its 11th year of 1:1 with Windows computers


Teachers and staff: 175 Microsoft SurfacePro3 tablets

Middle school: 700 HP ProBook 11 EE (Education Edition) laptops

High School: 1,200 HP Elitebook G2 820 laptops

Classrooms are equipped with Intel WiDi display, Windows 10, Office 365, and Microsoft’s OneNote Class Notebook

Learn More

Microsoft Customer Story: River Dell Regional School District

Video: 10 Years of 1 to 1

Video: The Ultimate Collaboration Tools

Marianthe Williams' K-12 Blueprint blog

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