You’d think that a one-to-one programme in a school would be a sure-fire way to kill any ideas of collaboration at birth. Yet paradoxically, an initiative whereby each pupil gets a device all to themselves can often to lead to more collaboration and interaction between pupils rather than less. How come?

A key reason is that each pupil has access to whatever they need at the time they need it, which makes it more possible to carve up the tasks involved in an activity. If, for example, the activity involves interviewing someone and taking photos of them and their surroundings, having a multi-purpose personal device means that a pupil can switch very easily and very quickly from one kind of activity to another. It sounds mundane, even trivial, but it means that a member of the group can say to the others, “Look, I’ll just go and do some background research now, while you record a video interview with the subject”.

It’s harder to be that flexible if the teacher has sent everyone out in pairs or small groups armed with pocket camcorders, and has booked the computer suite or laptop trolley for the next lesson so they can edit their work.  That is not to say that flexibility and collaboration are not possible without each pupil having their own device. After all, in the dim and distant past when schools viewed as progressive had one (and sometimes even two!) computes in each classroom, work would be planned well in advance and rotas drawn up. The big difference now is that everyone can respond to situations much more quickly, you can make more spur-of-the-moment decisions. There is room for serendipity.

So what sort of activities does one device per child allow? Here is a list of possibilities, and it is by no means exhaustive.

Digital story-telling

There are several different roles involved in digital story-telling: photography, perhaps finding or even creating music, writing a script, and editing. Having a device each means that the pupils can try things out ‘on the fly’, ask the others in the group what they think, and share resources.

The idea of different roles applies to other forms of communication as well: making a class news programme, for example, or a group podcast.

Sharing work on the class whiteboard

With the right app, you can present what is on your tablet to the whole class on the interactive whiteboard. Look, for example, at ReflectorApp, which lets people ‘broadcast’ their iPad to a computer  and, from there, to the whiteboard. Another handy app is Jot, which lets people share their drawings and musings in real-time over the internet. There are similar apps for Android devices too: just do a search for “collaboration apps” or similar, and you’ll find a plethora of options to consider.

Sharing with each other and with the teacher – and with yourself

If everyone in the class has a device, sharing becomes that much easier. Imagine, for example, that you and I are working on a project together. I do some research and send you a link to a great website I just found. You pick it up immediately, and we have a chat about it. Again, this is trivial, and happens all the time with or without personal devices. But it has happened there and then. We didn’t have to go through the usual palaver of my saying to you “I’ve just sent you a link”, and your responding by saying “Thanks, I’ll pick it up when I’m back at my computer.”

Sharing can be done via apps like Dropbox, and by email. With the right set-up, pupils can share their work via the class Apple TV. In an English lesson I attended in one school, the teacher asked the pairs of students working together to share their findings with a designated pair of students, so they could comment on each other’s work.

With apps like Evernote, you can take some notes or save links on your tablet device, continue to annotate them on the way home, and then continue with it on your home computer. You don’t have to email stuff to yourself any more, just store it in the cloud.

Assessment for learning made easy

Several examples of AfL have been given already, but you can also obtain apps that will make it easy to practise. One which keeps coming up in discussions and on websites is Socrative, which enables you to set quizzes for pupils to answer using a student response or ‘voting’ system. You could set a quick test at the start of the lesson to gain a quick idea of what the students know, or what they remember from last time.


As I’ve indicated several times,  not all activities that a one-to-one device programme makes possible have to be earth-shattering. But if you think about it, it is often the trivial things going wrong, or at least being a hassle, that prevents exciting stuff from happening. When each pupil has a device, lots of barriers or hurdles simply disappear.

Like all innovations, this one is probably largely at the stage where it makes it easier to do what teachers and students already do. In the future, there are bound to be apps designed to work with several devices at once in real-time, ie ones designed for classes rather than individuals. Then I think we will see things really begin to take off!

If you are interested in adopting 1:1 devices in your school, we have partnered with Microsoft to offer a range of fantastic devices at reduced cost with this goal specifically in mind. Take a look at our Shape The Future Project page to find out more.

We will be putting up new posts on the subject of 1:1 devices every day this week in conjunction with the Microsoft UK Schools Blog so please do stop by to read more!

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