AEFP 45th Annual Conference

Toward a Meaningful Impact through Research, Policy & Practice

March 19-21, 2020

Technology as Infrastructure for Change: District Leader Understandings of 1:1 Educational Technology Initiatives and Educational Change

Alex Lamb, University of Connecticut,

1:1 programs, in which every student receives a device, are a common way for districts to implement technology (Dexter, Richardson & Nash, 2016; Sauers & McLeod, 2017) and can strengthen student achievement across disciplines (see Harper & Milman, 2016 for a review). Specifically, when teachers use technology in their classrooms in a 1:1 capacity, they are more likely to innovate (Gulek & Demirtas, 2005; Sauers & McLeod, 2017) and change how they fundamentally understand teaching and learning (Bebell, 2005). However, despite these potentially positive outcomes, we know implementation is often mixed and many classrooms, schools, and districts do not feel the potential positive impacts of such initiatives (Cuban, 2018; Weston & Bain, 2010).
A crucial lever for successful 1:1 programs may be the way district leaders approach change and build district systems. Educational infrastructure offers a framework to understand the alignment between the systems, structures, policies, and practices in an organization and hence the likelihood a given intervention may be successfully implemented (Mehta & Fine, 2015; Peurach & Neumerski, 2015; Woulfin, 2015). Additionally, as this study reveals, 1:1 technology initiatives may be a form of educational infrastructure with the potential to support changes across physical, cultural, leadership, and instructional infrastructures in school systems.
This empirical qualitative study explores superintendent and district technology leaders' understandings of 1:1 technology programs and how they engage in designing and implementing 1:1 programs. My research questions are:
1) How do superintendents and district technology leaders understand educational change in the context of 1:1
technology initiatives?
2) How do these understandings move them to enact 1:1 technology initiatives?
To answer these questions, I use the concept of educational infrastructure (Peurach & Neumerski, 2015; Woulfin, 2015) and offer a framework of physical, cultural, instructional, and leadership infrastructures as elements of district infrastructure that support educational work across the district. I find that 1:1 technology may be better understood as an additional infrastructure capable of supporting educational change. Research shows that alignment of infrastructure with district mission supports stronger student outcomes (Mehta & Fine, 2015). Understanding 1:1 technology as a district-level infrastructure may allow district leaders and policymakers to leverage 1:1 technology to create alignment across infrastructures and support educational change.
In this qualitative study, I treat district implementation of 1:1 programs as a phenomenon to be explored using interviews and document analysis from multiple sites (Cresswell & Poth, 2018: Moustakas, 1994). I selected four districts in adjacent mid-size states on the East Coast which implemented 1:1 programs within the past five years. I interviewed the superintendent and the district technology leader in each of the four districts twice over the course of six months and collected aligned documentation to support my analysis (Cresswell & Poth, 2018). I analyzed the data thematically with an inductive/deductive coding scheme (Boyatzis, 1998). Deductive codes were derived from the literature on technology, district leadership, and infrastructure and inductive coding followed the process suggested by Charmaz (2014).
The technology leaders and superintendents in these four districts launched, grew, and maintained 1:1 technology programs that changed the physical, cultural, leadership, and instructional infrastructures of their districts. As the infrastructures changed, participants saw opportunities for educational change, allowing leaders, teachers, and students to envision and build new methods of teaching and learning. Superintendents and district technology leaders positioned technology as a unique tool to span the system, provide resources, and inspire change to norms and structures. In this way, 1:1 technology appeared to be integral to all elements of the district infrastructure. Thus, 1:1 technology might be better understood as a form of infrastructure that stands apart, above, and across the other infrastructures that support and dictate district work.
Understanding technology as an infrastructure can help district leaders leverage the power and potential of 1:1 programs to support change across district systems by allowing it to foster alignment in and across other infrastructures. 1:1 technology is uniquely positioned to support alignment and change because it spans other infrastructures, departments, grades, offices, and schools. 1:1 technology as an infrastructure messages that technology is a scaffold with which to see and achieve something new, not simply make old routines more engaging. This research on 1:1 technology thus offers new frameworks to further future research, district-level policy setting, and the practice of school leaders.
Bebell, D. (2005). Technology promoting student excellence: An investigation of the first year of 1: 1 computing in New Hampshire middle schools. Boston, MA: Technology and Assessment Study Collaborative, Boston College. Retrieved August, 26, 2008.
Boyatzis, R. E. (1998). Transforming qualitative information. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing grounded theory. Sage.
Creswell, J. & Poth, C. (2017). Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. Sage Publications.
Cuban, L. (2018). The Flight of a Butterfly or the Path of a Bullet? Using Technology to Transform Teaching and Learning. Harvard Education Press.
Dexter, S., Richardson, J. W., & Nash, J. B. (2016). Leadership for technology use, integration, and innovation. In M. D. Young & G.M. Crow (Eds.), Handbook of Research on the Education of School Leaders (pp. 202-228). New York, NY: Routledge.
Gulek, J. C., & Demirtas, H. (2005). Learning with technology: The impact of laptop use on student achievement. The Journal of Technology, Learning and Assessment, 3(2).
Harper, B., & Milman, N. B. (2016). One-to-one technology in k–12 classrooms: A review of the literature from 2004 through 2014. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 48(2), 129-142.
Mehta, J., & Fine, S. (2015). Bringing values back in: How purposes shape practices in coherent school designs. Journal of Educational Change, 16(4), 483-510.
Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Sage.
Peurach, D. J., & Neumerski, C. M. (2015). Mixing metaphors: Building infrastructure for large scale school turnaround. Journal of Educational Change, 16(4), 379-420.
Sauers, N. J. & McLeod, S. (2017). Teachers’ technology competency and technology integration in 1:1 schools. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 0735633117713021.
Woulfin, S. L. (2015). Highway to reform: The coupling of district reading policy and instructional practice. Journal of Educational Change, 16(4), 535-557.
Weston, M. E., & Bain, A. (2010). The end of techno-critique: The naked truth about 1: 1 laptop initiatives and educational change. The Journal of Technology, Learning and Assessment, 9(6).



This is a particularly important topic, given current events, and schools having to find ways to continue to educate students in an equitable way while everyone is home bound. School districts trying to implement 1:1 computing in this new environment could benefit greatly from learning more about the experiences of those that have done so successfully. In particular, I would like to hear more about how districts can incorporate technology into the instructional model as a way to encourage student to teacher interactions, as opposed to only as a way to turn in assignments. It may also be helpful to interview larger school districts to determine if their experiences differ, or to see if there are differences in best practices based on the student population's economic status. South Carolina implemented 1:1 computing statewide in the last 5 years or so. They conduct an annual survey and publish the results here:

If this paper hasn't been submitted yet, I strongly urge you to note somewhere in the intro that the importance of 1:1 instructional technology has suddenly increased dramatically as students have been sent home with only spotty access to laptops, internet, etc. This topic is on every current parent's mind!

Great work, Alex. Thanks for sharing!

To each Josh Goodman, it would be great to hear you speculate on how the forced move to online learning is likely to change the cultural and leadership infrastructures. Do you expect that the environments in many more districts and schools will be conducive to 1:1 computing initiatives?

Really interesting and obviously very timely work. One of the big conversations around the forced shift to online learning in some districts has been the concern that the increased reliance on online ed will increase the equity gap in schools. Obviously, a lot of the concern in the current situation is the loss of time from classroom teachers--which isn't a concern for most ed tech roll-outs!--but I'm interested to hear whether the leaders you interviewed had thoughts on the way that implementation could either promote or undermine equity.

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