by Mike Daugherty, Director of Technology, Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools
“You've got to go out on a limb sometimes because that's where the fruit is.” - Will Rogers
The idea of equipping every student in your district with a Chromebook, laptop, iPad, or tablet can be pretty unnerving. Our district spent several years evaluating outcomes before moving in this direction two years ago. The following year, we won an award for best 1:1 initiative in the state of Ohio. We now have 1,600 devices in the hands of students and can’t imagine going back to the way it was. The success of our program can be broken down into five elements.
Key 1: Choosing the Right Device
When we were selecting the device that best fit our district, our goal was to determine what outcomes we wanted from this project, then use those outcomes to drive the device selection process.
The decision was not made in isolation. We gathered input from teachers, administrators, students, parents, and community members. The question we continued to ask ourselves was: “What skills do our students need to be successful in this new digital world?” We determined we needed to increase student access to technology using a device that would promote six core technology skills, dubbed the “Great Techspectations”:
● Critical Thinking
In addition, the device needed to be cost effective, easy to centrally manage, and must comply with the requirements for the new state-sponsored web-based assessments. We decided Chromebooks were the best device to meet these outcomes.
Key 2: Taking it Home
All students in 3rd through 12th grade are issued a school-owned Chromebook and carrying case. Giving the students access to the same device they are using in the classroom creates a feeling of stability and standardization. The website they went to in 4th period is going to act the same way when they revisit it that evening.
Students learn about responsibility not just because they have to take care of their devices, but they know they need to use the device responsibly in the sites they visit and how they act in the online community.
Finally, parents with multiple students in the district appreciate this arrangement because there is no longer a fight for who is going to use the sole family computer. Every student in the house has a computer to use for homework, research, and communication.
Key 3: Assessing a Fee
In order to receive the Chromebook, students and parents are required to sign an acceptable use policy and are assessed a yearly $50 technology fee. This fee is another factor that is vital to a successful 1:1 program. The fee needs to be affordable for the majority of families in your district but not so affordable that it is dismissed. The monies collected serve several purposes. For starters, this fee gives families a sense of ownership and pride in the device.
Secondly, the funds can be used to cover the cost of repair in the event that the device is damaged. Accidents happen, and you’ll need a budget to maintain them. In our district, if a device is damaged and it is determined to be an accident, the district will pay the cost for the repair one time per year per student. However, if the damage was intentional, the student is responsible for the repair price. This system has worked out well so far in our schools.
Lastly, the cost of replacing the technology is the largest consideration when determining the sustainability of the program. No matter what device you choose, you’ll eventually need to replace it. Wear and tear, coupled with updated software releases, will inevitably make the device obsolete. The money from the yearly technology fee can be put into an account and rolled over from year to year until the time comes to begin refreshing the technology. While this will not cover the cost of the new devices, it should help offset the replacement cost.
Key 4: Meaningful Professional Development
The teaching staff is likely to have mixed reactions to the decision to implement 1:1 computing. Some teachers will be excited about the district’s innovative direction. Others, though, will ask, “How am I supposed to teach to a room full of students that all have a computer in their hands when I am not comfortable with technology myself?” Another set of folks will think, “Great, but how I am going to use it with my curriculum?” Differentiation is the key here, if both the mindset and the skill set needs are to be addressed.
Our district made the decision to employ a full-time technology integrationist. The benefit to having someone dedicated to helping teachers integrate technology cannot be overlooked. Of the five keys listed here, this is the one that will not only make your program a success but will take it to the next level. The position requires the right person, though. The recipe for a successful integrationist would consist of two parts excellent classroom teacher, one part technology enthusiast, sprinkled with a dash of leadership, innovation, and lifelong learning; all mixed together in a student-centered bowl.
Providing time together to collaborate and brainstorm strategies to those teachers who were comfortable with technology integration proved successful for us. We then used small group, direct instruction and discussion to increase the skill set of less tech savvy teachers resulting in a noticeably positive impact on their confidence with technology integration. We also utilize the technophile teachers as technology advocates to provide support as needed. It’s important that the professional development be an ongoing, regular process, with frequent check-ins to assess what is working and what is not. Another important aspect is that the staff feel that the tech support team is approachable and available on an “as needed” basis. Teachers who try something new and view it as a failure are less likely to try again. Tangible support to help avoid those moments is necessary.
Key 5: Reliability
Take a step back for a moment and think back to a time when laptop carts were all the rage in education. Mobile carts that could just be wheeled into a room to create a lab on the fly. Do you remember how amazing that was going to be? Do you remember what a disaster most of these magical carts turned out to be? In many cases, the carts were quite heavy, which made moving them less than ideal. Once in your classroom, the students had to take the laptops out and boot them up. Often times, several laptops had physical issues or struggled when connecting to the wireless network. After fifteen minutes, everyone was ready to work. This gave you around twenty minutes of instruction before everyone had to shut down and load the laptops back into the cart. It was less than ideal. After one or two bad experiences, many teachers chose not to use the carts at all.
The point of that trip down memory lane is that the district’s network must be capable of handling the increased number of devices. We upgraded our wireless network to ensure we had an access point in every classroom with multiple access points in larger areas like the cafeteria and media center. The switches in the closets were upgraded as well as our bandwidth to the outside world. It was expensive, but it was justified to ensure reliability.
The device you choose must also have that same level of reliability. Teachers and students need to be confident that when they go to use the technology, it is going to work.
On the rare occasion that there is an issue, those same stakeholders need to know there’s a path for support. Spare devices should be made available to students who need them while theirs is being repaired.
There are countless factors that make a 1:1 initiative a viable, sustainable option for your district. As we evaluated the success of our program up to this point, the five elements listed above were the underlying bonds that brought a dream to reality. Thoughtfully chosen, reliable devices on an equally reliable network in the hands of responsible students learning from well trained, well supported instructors are the keys to success.
Mike Daugherty is the Director of Technology & Information Systems at the Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools in Chagrin Falls, OH. Read more at his site, MoreThanATech.com.