NY schools save paper, gain secure storage in cyberspace

Recognized by The New York Times for its national reputation for excellence,Clarkstown Central School District (CCSD), based in New City, NY, comprises 11 elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools. Its technologically-savvy student base eagerly embraces of the latest software applications and digital tools, such as Web-based "lockers," Google Applications (Apps) for Domains, wikis, blogs, VoiceThread, and more.

For John Krouskoff, CCSD's director of instructional technology, these tools represent a canvas on which the students work to achieve their academic goals.

"With such a variety of technology at their fingertips, CCSD students take pride in being digitally prolific. Yet, at the same time, we see technology as a means for increasing student learning and engagement, not as something that causes distractions or disrupts our district's goals," said Krouskoff.

After joining CCSD in 2007, it wasn't long before Krouskoff was faced with such a disruption: students were generating more and more files, but they had no easy, secure way to access and share those files between school and home. The majority used their own private email accounts, which brought with it the distractions of personal email and non-school related data.

Resigned to the idea that the district might have to resort to the inconvenience of file transfer protocol (FTP), Krouskoff was intrigued when he came across School Web Lockers. These "cloud-based" software systems, which are hosted in off-site, third-party data centers, allow users to create work on one computer, and then stash files in their personal Web locker for completion later -- either on the same computer, or on another one at home or elsewhere.

The system provides a more secure option than allowing students to use portable devices such as USB drives or compact disks, which can bring viruses, worms or spyware into the district networks.

Today, all 16 CCSD schools use the platform. Each school or school district has its own secure, password-protected Web site with user-friendly features. To begin, all students, teachers and administrators are given access to their own digital drop box, or Web locker, which is available via password from the Web site. From there, each teacher gains one-click access to student lockers, by class, to allow for nearly instantaneous distribution and collection of documents.

Going Green with School Web Lockers
For Krouskoff, the paper-saving advantages of using School Web Lockers represented an important added benefit that meshed well with CCSD's own "green" initiatives. He estimates that for every 16.7 reams of paper used, one tree is cut down, which has been a powerful incentive for CCSD teachers to upload and share more documents on School Web Lockers. From September to January, teachers uploaded 91,000 total documents, potentially saving more than five million sheets of paper, considering that each uploaded document would typically be printed and shared with up to 60 students.

Students are also playing a role in the green initiative through School Web Lockers. During that same five-month period, student usage on the system increased to an average of 13,000 logins per month and an average of 21,220 files exchanged--either uploaded, downloaded, or both--in the same five month period.

"We're pleased that so many students are uploading and downloading their documents, and that teachers are also returning grades using the School Web Lockers solution. It definitely makes a difference in our paper usage," said Krouskoff.

As Krouskoff looks ahead at what his tech-savvy district will require, he is also aware that School Web Lockers’ capabilities extend beyond what CCSD has tapped. In the event of an emergency, the system can serve as a way for students and teachers to continue to access and work on school projects, from anywhere an Internet connection exists.