A Pilot Program in Berkshire County
From 2005 - 2008, the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative (BWLI) was a pilot program being implemented in Berkshire County to test a 1:1 approach (one laptop for every student and teacher) of using laptop computers and wireless communication to transform teaching and learning. The program's goals wereto help improve student achievement and transform the way education was delivered in North Adams and Pittsfield, MA. Robust wireless communications were installed in four middle school buildings, enabling teaching to occur in many different school settings. In total, more than 2,300 laptops were distributed to middle school students and teachers over a three-year period.
As a result of the Initiative, both students and teachers became more engaged in the educational process. Students had an opportunity to improve their academic and research skills, learn to work more effectively in groups, and enhance their creativity. This pilot program was closely evaluated as the Commonwealth considered the introduction of additional funding for other similar initiatives throughout the state.
A Special Commission on Educational Technology was formed in Massachusetts in 2003 to review how technology can be best utilized to improve teaching and learning in public education. The Commission noted in their final report that they "support the capacity of 1:1 computing as a tool which can help bring meaningful change to teaching and learning." The report states that "the goal of technology is to improve student achievement through enhanced delivery of curriculum and instruction." The Commission supported the deployment of demonstration sites for 1:1 wireless laptop programs in middle schools throughout the state as an initial step in a structured roll-out.
Students continue to utilize many resources as a result of having 1:1 access to a laptop computer. They have learned how to use a variety of software packages - such as word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation programs -- that are commonly used by businesses and also have tools that allow them to incorporate music and graphics into school projects. Through the Internet, students have developed their research skills and gained access to current information from a variety of sources. Learning has been extended beyond the school day, as students will have the opportunity to use their laptops at home and at wireless hot spots in the community.
A Community Partnership
The Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative was the result of a dynamic community collaboration that brought together key partners from the education and business communities. State support and oversight of the evaluation was provided by the John Adams Innovation Institute, the economic development arm of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC). The Initiative was coordinated by Berkshire Connect, Inc., which was created in 2000 to address the need for high speed, affordable Internet access in the Berkshires and continues to work on technology-related initiatives. In addition to MTC and Berkshire Connect, partners who were actively involved in planning and implementing BWLI include four middle schools, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Apple Computer, the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, and local businesses.
The Pittsfield and North Adams middle schools - including Herberg, Reid and St. Mark in Pittsfield and Silvio O. Conte in North Adams -- were targeted as pilot sites for BWLI. Piloting a 1:1 program in these two communities engaged a significant population of the middle school students from the Berkshires. Each of the four participating middle schools made an upfront commitment to utilize technology to enhance education.
Ensuring that teachers are well prepared to help raise the level of student achievement at their school has been a critical element of the success of this Initiative. Under the oversight of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, teachers participated in professional development opportunities throughout the three years of the pilot program and continue to have ongoing training. The professional development was provided by trainers within the school and by Apple Computer. Teachers learned the basics of using the laptops and also received more in-depth training about classroom management strategies and developing effective curriculum.
Through a competitive process, Apple Computer was selected as the technology partner for the pilot program. They demonstrated a strong understanding of the education market and have considerable experience in implementing 1:1 laptop programs throughout the country. In addition to supplying and maintaining the technology, they provided their expertise in project management, engineering, and professional development for teachers and technical staff.
Comprehensive Evaluation of the Impact of 1:1 Computing on Student Achievement
As a pilot program, the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative was closely watched throughout Massachusetts and the nation. Berkshire County was very fortunate to be host to an evaluation study that provided a truly comprehensive and in depth examination of the impacts of 1:1 computing on student achievement. The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative selected Boston College's Technology and Assessment Study Collaborative, housed in the Lynch School of Education, to conduct a three year evaluation of BWLI. The study measured how successfully the program achieved the following targeted outcomes:
- Enhanced student achievement as shown through test scores, grades, and assessments;
- Increased student engagement as shown through attendance, disciplinary data, and classroom participation;
- Fundamental changes in teaching strategies, curriculum delivery methods, and classroom management;
- Enhanced capabilities among students to conduct independent research and collaborate with peers.
The Private Sector's Role
The Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative was funded through state, school, and private sector support. The state has contributed $2.5 million toward the project. To meet the state's matching fund requirements, the schools contributed $1.7 million and $1.1 million was raised from the private sector. Many key private sector leaders have stepped forward to support BWLI because they recognize the importance of improving student achievement and providing students with lifelong skills. The Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation administered the private sector funds, while MTC 's John Adams Innovation Institute administered state funds. BWLI formed a corporation, Berkshire Learning Initiative, Inc., which has tax exempt status.
The business community has been an essential partner in this effort, as their participation demonstrates to teachers, students and parents the importance of using information technology as a tool to improve student achievement in a rapidly changing economy. The Initiative has changed the way we educate our children, revolutionizing the teaching and learning environment in the Berkshires.
The BWLI schools are continuing to use 1:1 laptop technology in their middle schools and in some cases are using laptops on carts in their elementary and high schools. The schools are working to identify resources to keep the equpment up to date so that they can continue to implement this program, which has shown a positive impact on student motivation and achievement.