Over the past several years, a growing trend in education has been the move to put a computing device in every student’s hands. Some of this no doubt is driven by the technology industry itself. However, the initial forays and fads using technology in the classroom have been tried and sifted long enough to produce convincing evidence that, used appropriately, it does indeed enhance learning. Plus, the use of technology as an integral function of problem solving has now become a vital life skill, and we cannot ignore that.
We at Westlake have been studying and absorbing this information, considering how we might best use digital technology in our learning environment. We certainly do not endorse the use of any educational strategy as an end in itself. The academic landscape is littered with the detritus of fads and fashions, most of which were expensive, short-lived, and ineffective. As for incorporating computer technology, Westlake has not been negligent, just cautious. For many years we have maintained a computer lab with current model machines and the latest software. We have included technology courses in our secondary curriculum, and in this current year we have begun to use distributed technology, placing several computers in various elementary classrooms for student reinforcement and purchasing a class-sized supply of tablets fro portable use. We have also included professional development sessions for our teachers to help them better use technology in their classes.
Last school year, we began working with the Grayslake High School technology department to determine what practices they were pursuing in this area. We voiced our concern that technology should serve education (and not vice versa) and raised questions about adequate infrastructure. What we learned is that they have also approached this issue carefully and deliberately. At this point, they have looked into three scenarios. First, they introduced a BYOD (bring your own device) strategy, which they have found to be ineffective because of the technical confusion it brings. Concurrent with that program, they are piloting the use of tablet technology in their science labs and have assigned certain teachers to incorporate Google Chromebooks, supplying their two campuses with 50 units each. The technology director has indicated that the Chromebooks have been most successful and that their plans are now to migrate to a 1:1 program based on the Chromebooks. They will charge the students for the units, which may be paid for over time.
We are now poised to proceed down this path ourselves. We are putting together the robust infrastructure needed for roughly doubling our current use of web resources and are looking for reasonably priced hardware for our students. If we embrace this vision, we will build it on the Chromebook Google platform, using the rapidly expanding suite of Google Apps for Education. We would confine our use of the Chromebooks initially to our secondary grades (7-12).
Here are some benefits which we anticipate in this move. (1) We will adopt a learning management system (Google Classroom) which will allow paperless assignments, student collaboration, and improved communication. (2) Teachers will have at their disposal a host of research and analysis tools to lead students in higher ordered thinking. (3) Teachers will be able to differentiate both in terms of how they teach and how the students are expected to demonstrate their learning. (4) Student creativity and problem-solving skills will be enhanced. (5) We will be able to begin incorporating digital textbooks as needed. (6) Students’ executive functioning (planning and organizing) will be greatly enhanced.
Why Chromebooks? Education Week (2014): “Purchases of Chromebooks by schools have surged over the past year and are quickly becoming the device of choice over traditional laptops and tablets.” This is because the appliance is fully manageable, allowing the school to control how it is used (not as a gaming platform or a social media extension), and is supported by a wide array of education apps and professional training for teachers. It is also easily and affordably repaired.
We are researching the best Chromebook for our students, and at this juncture we are confident we can obtain very adequate, high quality new units for less that $200 each. I am suggesting they be purchased by every student in grades 7-12, a one-time investment for a unit which will last for the rest of high school. While a student is enrolled at Westlake, his Chromebook will be part of the managed technology environment of the Academy, but if he leaves early, or after he graduates, the management will be completely released to the student along with the unit.
Now . . . I would REALLY like to hear from our parents. I must say that so far, response has been totally supportive of this move. Help me with this. Like our town’s public high school, we are not in a position to bury the cost of the Chromebooks in our budget. But, how can we make this program feasible for you? Do you see the benefits of this program like we do? What suggestions would you make? Would you think it wiser to wait another year before moving forward? I welcome answers to these or any other comments you might make concerning this. PLEASE share your remarks with me via email. I will collect them and post a summary of them soon. Thank you!