students at and have some new tools in the classroom.
The district purchased about 100 Google Chromebooks this year. Sixty of the books, which are Google’s personal computers, are at Jefferson. Thirty are at Willow Creek and 10 more have been given to staff members to use.
The Chromebooks don’t require the district to load software for word processing or spreadsheets. Instead, users access Google Chrome apps online, which include Google Docs. The functionality of the Chromebooks are limited without Internet access.
Jefferson students have used the new technology in Social Studies and Language Arts classes, from blogging to group projects and bell work.
Google docs allow multiple students to work on a paper or other projects at the same time. They can access the document anywhere with Internet, make changes and chat with one another. Teachers can keep track of work done and students’ conversations.
Both teachers and students are excited to work collaboratively in this way, teachers told the District 68 school board Monday.
“One student told me that he feels empowered,” Jefferson Social Studies Teacher Kim Stansbury said. “A lot of these kids are very, very good at computers. It’s something they can get into. It’s opening up education for kids who in a normal classroom wouldn’t shine.”
Students are improving their typing skills, Stansbury said, and gaining real-world experience. District 68 School Board Member Patti Cash said her daughter loves using the Chromebook.
“She started a project in school and came home and pulled up the Google Doc to work on it," Cash said. "She loves collaborating in class. I love that she’s doing it like I would do it at work.”
The district doesn’t have any immediate plans to provide 1:1 computing for its students or to purchase more Chromebooks.
“The exposure hasn’t gone to 700 kids purposefully,” said Sandy Duran, director of technology at LRC’s for the district. “We wanted to leave it in pilot mode in the hands of people who were very comfortable with it to find out if the hardware was going to make it.”
A major challenge to 1:1 computing is providing wireless Internet throughout the school buildings. So far, wireless is available in the classrooms of students using the Chromebooks, but not elsewhere. A wireless consultant will access the district’s needs over spring break.
Another challenge is determining if the Chromebooks are the right hardware for classroom use. Chromebooks have a 3-year life cycle. A unit has an initial price tag of $450 with another $60 fee for years two and three.
In terms of tech support, the Chromebooks have proven easier to deal with than district laptops or iPads. The district’s IT team has spent fewer hours in the past two weeks addressing issues with the 100 Chromebooks than its almost 20 iPads, officials said.
Adding Chromebooks instead of laptops also makes “big savings in staffing,” officials said, because they are much easier to set up and use out of the box.
School Board Member Scott Coley questioned whether enough students in low-income families had Internet access at home to work on Google docs.
Greg Wolcott said according to a district survey, 90 percent of families have Internet access. Comcast has offered Internet to low-income families for $9.99 and District 68’s Diane Moser has been helping parents fill out paperwork to purchase the service.
What has been the students' reaction to the new technology?
"They're disappointed if we're not using the Chromebooks in class," Stansbury said.