Big Spring School District is not a wealthy community. In fact, it sits in the middle of sprawling farm land and mountains. While we are not a bustling metropolis, we have long felt the need to ensure that our students have the same opportunities and access to information as students in any other part of the world. So, of course, when 1:1 became the latest educational acronym several years ago, our interest was piqued. At the time, 1:1 primarily meant 1 laptop per student. Tablets, netbooks, and Chromebooks had yet to hit the market and the cost of purchasing or leasing laptops was steep. Nonetheless, we knew that equipping each student with a device was a powerful idea, one that had the potential to change the classroom learning experience. So, we devised a team – teachers, administrators, technology specialists – received quotes, invited vendors in, planned intervals of device implementation, and finally, pitched it to the Board of School Directors. And . . . our presentation crashed and burned. While we had educated ourselves on the power of technology, we had not taken the time to inform our board. Rather than give up and put our proverbial tails between our legs, we continued on. Our superintendent, continued to emphasize the importance of 21st century skills, we sent articles on the benefits of 1:1 from both national and local publications, and we kept the vision of 1:1 at the forefront and waited for the price of devices to come within our reach.
A few years later, device costs plummeted. Chromebooks and Kindles were introduced to the market and, suddenly, the path to 1:1 seemed feasible again. Having sufficiently prepped the board this time, we decided to conduct a small pilot. We purchased two class sets of each device, and gave one to an Algebra class and one to a History class for a quarter. Then asked the students to switch devices. Much to our surprise, focus groups and surveys of students and teachers showed a clear preference for the Chromebook. Students simply did not like the Kindle. They found it clunky, disliked the availability of apps, and wanted a keyboard.
From a technology director’s standpoint, the Chromebooks were a great option. They integrated directly with Google Apps for Education (GAFE). They could be centrally controlled with the Google Management Console. They were easily repaired, cheap, and our students liked them. Bingo. Time to go bigger.
This time we decided to increase the scale of the pilot so we purchased approximately 250 Chromebooks for our 9th grade students during the 2013-14 school year. This gave us an opportunity to test our “protection plan” concept, see if the Chromebooks would hold up, and determine any curricular and infrastructure needs before going “full scale.”
From this pilot, we learned many lessons. First, screen damage was our biggest issue. We had purchased an 11” Chromebook and a 16” Neoprene bag. The bigger bag, we thought, would give students the opportunity to carry their charger and maybe a folder or two. It turns out that those bags were able to carry everything you can possibly think of – soccer cleats, 3-ring binders, gym clothes, etc. Unfortunately, the “too big” bag probably contributed to the number of broken screens we encountered, which is now approaching 46%.
We also learned that our well-written, very lengthy Chromebook guide did not cover every situation. Imagine that! What happens if two students get in a fight and the Chromebook breaks? What happens when students break their Chromebooks more than once?
In the midst of our grade-level pilot, we found that the Chromebooks were only being used in classes that only had ninth graders. It became very apparent that if this were ever going to become part of the culture at Big Spring, we would have to scratch our carefully crafted implementation plan that involved adding one grade level per year until we had devices in grades 6-12. We needed to go “all-in.”
Surprisingly, we discovered that students are not as tech-savvy as we think they are. Sure, they know how to use cell phones, laptops, tablets, game consoles, social media, etc. But, they do not know how to use it for learning. Our teachers found they needed to spend time at the beginning of the year teaching file management, appropriate collaboration, digital citizenship, etc.
Similarly, our professional development model for teachers simply was not sufficient. Most of our professional development related to technology is offered in the summer or after school. Summer sessions offer no opportunity to use the information learned in context and after-school sessions are often attended only by those who need contractual “tech hours.” Many of our trainings were focused on “how to,” but it turns out that teachers want training that is related to content and instruction. Essentially, our teachers needed personalized learning, too, as did our administrators. Being uncomfortable with technology themselves, we found technology use was not coming up in conversations about lessons, walkthroughs, etc.
Fast forward to today. We are “all in.” This year, we purchased Chromebooks for students in grades 6-9 and 11-12. We have chosen a more durable Chromebook model that was not much more expensive, but we did splurge for an “always on” case. This has helped to decrease damaged Chromebooks significantly.
We charge students a $25 protection plan fee. This money goes into an account that funds repairs. Free and reduced lunch students are exempted from the fee. We also decided that “your policy covers your Chromebook.” The Tech Department does not get involved in determining fault.
Finally, we are working to redevelop our professional development model to include more in-classroom experiences, opportunities for collaborative and social learning, and are looking toward individualized online learning pathways. We have begun to train our administrators on the SAMR model so that they have a common language and framework to discuss technology use with our teachers.
As Mark Edwards (2014) says, “Digital conversion is today’s great equalizer because it includes every student, enables individualized learning, and makes extended learning outside of school hours possible for all students, not just those fortunate to have a computer at home” (pg.16). We believe that at Big Spring, and Chromebooks have been our solution.
References: Edwards. M. A. (2014). Every Child Every Day: A Digital Conversion Model for Student Achievement. Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Brandie Shatto is the Director of Educational Technology for the Big Spring School District in Southcentral Pennsylvania. Prior to that, she served as the Technology Integration Specialist for grades K – 5 and spent time as a middle school English teacher. Brandie graduated from Shippensburg University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English. She holds a Master of Science Degree in Instructional Technology from Bloomsburg University and is currently pursuing her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership through the University of New England. Brandie is passionate about helping teachers and students embrace technology for authentic, relevant, and personalized learning.
Tech Talk Live is the only conference of its kind in the region specifically designed for IT pros in education.
1020 New Holland Avenue, Lancaster, PA 17601