The age-old excuse that involves a hungry dog and some missing homework will soon be harder to pull off for junior high and high school students of Avella School District. By the end of the upcoming academic year, most of their assignments will be turned in electronically using new Google Chromebooks that will be handed out to all students in seventh through 12th grades.
Avella Superintendent Dr. Janell Logue-Belden said the district’s one-to-one initiative is meant to embrace students’ close relationship to technology.
“In society right now, and especially with students, they have their handheld devices on them at all times,” Logue-Belden said. “We have to accept their way of learning so we can enhance their way of learning.”
The sleek, silver Samsung Chromebook laptops with Google Android-based interface will use cloud-based computing. Computers will access cloud-based programs through an Internet connection with all data stored remotely through a private storage service, eliminating the need to download onto a hard drive.
Logue-Belden said the cloud allows the district to create a digital campus without an army of web technicians that would normally come with a project of such a scale. It also allows educators to create software suites individually tailored to each student at a lower cost. Most of the programs, described as “apps,” are offered to educators for free.
“Teachers will be able to create their own textbooks, chapters and worksheets that look just like a traditional textbook, only on the cloud,” Logue-Belden said. “We want to make our teachers the best teachers they can be.”
Administrators hope to introduce the computers after students return from holiday vacation in January. Until then, they are busy working to make the digital transition as easy as possible for students and families.
“We want to make sure everyone – students, teachers, parents, administrators – is ready for the change,” Logue-Belden said.
During the fall semester, the district will hold informal meetings with parents to give them more information on Chromebook safety features and how the machines would be used. A number of in-service days would be used to help prepare for the rollout and teachers would take part in multiple mandatory two-hour training sessions.
The idea to wait until spring came out of a workshop held in Chicago this summer. Logue-Belden and two other administrators attended the Leyden High School Summer Symposium. That school district had recently gone through the transition to digital learning and used the symposium to share what they had learned with other educators. Logue-Belden said the three days in Chicago gave the administration a lot of ideas on how to use the new technology effectively.
“At the end of the day we were tired,” Logue-Belden said of the 12-hour lectures. “But, you know what, in 20 years of conferences, I had never been to one before where I was not bored for one second.”
Google donated the Chromebooks, which cost about $250 apiece. Students would get the computers at no cost, but would be responsible for replacing them if they were destroyed. Logue-Belden said the district would offer insurance for families to help protect individual machines.
Last year, the school district budgeted roughly $200,000 that was used to upgrade the campus’ network capability. Each room in both the elementary and high school buildings will offer wireless Internet by the January rollout. Logue-Belden said students whose families did not have Internet service would be able to store assignments on their laptops and return finished projects the following day without having to access the Web.
Logue-Belden said the whole enterprise was an important step in ensuring future graduates of Avella could become members of a digital workforce.
“We have to progress with the technology,” Logue-Belden said. “In the business world, in college, we’re using technology. Now, if you’re computer illiterate, you’re actually illiterate.”