Imagine students accessing the breadth of information on any subject, at any time — without using a smartphone.
They can collaborate on a single shared document, record audio or video, all while experiencing a classroom that even five years ago might have seemed out of reach.
For the students at West Richland’s Leona Libby Middle School, that future is now. The district handed out 680 Google Chromebook laptops to students Monday in the first phase of a program to provide every student a netbook computer during the school year.
By December, students in Enterprise and Chief Joseph middle schools will have Chromebooks as well, and by the beginning of next school year, every student in second through 12th grade will have access to a computer in class.
This year the Richland School District will spend $1 million on Chromebooks and transition away from most classroom desktop machines.
Mike Leseberg, the district’s information technology executive director, said a usual PC would cost the district three times as much as the $245 Chromebooks.
It’s not only the activities in the class that are affected. It’s our business operations, as well. The network has become as important as lights and water to a functioning school.
Mark Garrett, Pasco School District
While Richland works to hand out its first round of Chromebooks, Pasco is forming the policies allowing a similar program with Microsoft products, said Mark Garrett, Pasco School District’s executive director of information systems.
They are in the process of transitioning to a Microsoft-based cloud, which allows students and teachers to access their work on any device.
Both districts use filter programs to stop students from accessing inappropriate sites, including social media, while using district equipment or networks.
The move to one computer, one student is wide spread nationwide, according to a metastudy in the journal American Education Research Assocation. The study, which examined the results of 10 other studies, found successful programs result in improvements in students’ English, writing, math and science knowledge.
In Kennewick, the school district uses a combination of computer labs and carts with portable computers that can be brought into classrooms. Officials were not available to provide more details about the district’s computer access plans.
While Richland schools are in their first round of wide-scale distribution, the district ran a pilot program last year. One of the results was a series of audio podcasts produced by Hanford High School students.
“Kids were podcasting their work in their history class,”said John Kelly, Richland’s technology coordinator. “So they were using an online tool that allowed them to create podcasts.”
In an elementary school, students used computers to make videos using a cloud-based video editing software during an after-school program.
Teachers also are getting trained on how to use the new devices and their software.
In Pasco, the district held a mini-conference to help teachers use the tools provided by Microsoft’s .NET cloud. More than 250 staff members attended the event, which featured more than 30 sessions with eight trainers.
Kelly and Garrett said moving to the cloud helps students work more easily together and teachers can instantly see a student’s work.
“You have a lot more flexibility to individualize education for the student,” Garrett said.
Ten years ago, we talked about coverage. Now we’re talking about saturation. Before, we just wanted to cover the building, now we want to make sure when we pull out 30 Chromebooks, it doesn’t bog down the one wifi point.
John Kelly, Richland School District
Both districts engaged in a multi-year process to bolster network access in their schools. Not having reliable internet is one of the main reasons why one-to-one programs fail, Kelly said.
For Richland, a wifi upgrade cost about $1.2 million, and served multiple purposes, including the transition to digital curricula, Leseberg said.
“Ten years ago, we talked about coverage. Now we’re talking about saturation,” Kelly said. “Before, we just wanted to cover the building, now we want to make sure when we pull out 30 Chromebooks, it doesn’t bog down the one wifi point.”
Pasco didn’t have a figure available for the cost of their improvement project, but Garrett said the district received help from the federal government to pay for it.
“It’s not only the activities in the class that are affected. It’s our business operations, as well,” he said. “The network has become as important as lights and water to a functioning school.”
Officials from both districts said the move to more computer-based education will save the district printing costs, as teachers won’t need to use as much paper.
The Richland students receiving their Chromebooks will be responsible for making sure the machine is returned at the end of the school year. Parents can buy insurance for $30. If the student receives free or reduced cost lunches, the price goes down.