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If things go as planned, in the fall of 2015, freshmen entering Evanston Township High School will have one more notebook to carry: an H.P. Chromebook. In their present version, these computers weigh about two pounds, have a full-size keyboard and can operate for about six hours before the battery needs to be recharged.
ETHS officials say these Chromebooks, equipped with a Google app called Teacher Dashboard, will improve instruction and learning at a cost that will not unduly strain the high school’s budget. Teacher Dashboard allows teachers to access students’ computers, so the teacher can give feedback and offer suggestions about a student’s work and also see what changes and revisions have been made.
In each successive year, freshmen will be issued a Chromebook, so that all ETHS students will have their own personal computers by 2018.
The freshman-wide, and eventually school-wide, deployment of Chromebooks is termed “1:1,” one device for every student, said David Chan, ETHS Technology Integration Specialist. During a presentation at the Feb. 10 School Board meeting, he said Chromebooks are already used in some ETHS classes.
Chromebooks in the Classroom
Some teachers are now using Chromebooks, which remain in the classroom.
Jack Stephenson, who teaches freshman English and humanities, says he uses these computers in the classroom to communicate in a wholly different way. First, he said, “Kids can review the agenda on their computers and refer to it during class.” Second, he can provide immediate feedback after giving tests and quizzes. Third, since the students’ computers are always accessible, he said, students can make changes, review their work, etc. and teachers can see what they have done. Finally, with access to the Internet, students have access to a much larger field of information. “They can take advantage of their own learning,” said Mr. Stephenson, such as having discussions about how to use and evaluate websites.
“Having the computers has helped kids in wonderful, different, valid ways. The students collaborate and create in really wonderful ways,” Mr. Stephenson added.
“One of the things I’ve been working toward [in the classroom with Chromebooks] is ‘desynchronization,’” said ETHS history teacher Rick Cardis. He said this allows different students in a classroom to do different things at the same time. He has been working on desynchronization with retired ETHS teacher Larry Geni, he said.
“In this world there is no limit on the information now available and a classroom should reflect that,” said Mr. Cardis. He said the use of computers in the classroom allows him to work one-on-one with students. “I really appreciate that opportunity. … The Chromebooks give more options, multiple perspectives on history and it gives me the opportunity to help them develop their skills at evaluating [information],” he added.
Mr. Cardis also said the computers help assess student growth by providing a digital track record of how things are improving. … To have that easily accessible track record of what they’ve done is really good.”
“Rick can know students and their profiles and how they best learn. Learning continues outside of the school day,” said Mr. Chan.
Another asset of the Google app is that “sophomore teachers can see how the kids did freshman year. Teachers will be able to see how the writing has improved over time, said Paula Frohman, director of information technology at ETHS.
1:1 at ETHS
ETHS can have a smooth rollout of 1:1 with three things: the planned deployment of the Chromebook computers to teachers and to freshmen beginning with the 2015 class; teacher training; and cost management, said Mr. Chan. Several high schools such as Leyden Township, Niles Township, Glenbrook North, Glenbrook South, the Maine Township high schools and New Trier have 1:1 already in place, he said. Most use Chromebooks, he said.
“I could have easily been swayed to iPads a few years ago but decided to wait and see what teaches and students wanted,” Mr. Chan said. One advantage of Chromebooks over iPads is that Chromebooks have access for jump drives, so students can transfer information to their home computers, but iPads do not.
Professional Development: Since the Chromebooks are managed from one web interface, only a minimal amount of professional development and teacher training will be involved, Mr. Chan said. Teachers well-trained and comfortable with Chromebooks will help make the program successful, he said.
“There is still work to be done – a lot of preparation work and working with teachers,” said Mr. Chan.
Cost: Costs can be kept manageable in several ways, said Mr. Chan. With a Chromebook, a teacher will not need another computer, so some replacement costs will be avoided.
The cost of a Chromebook, with appropriate accoutrements, is about $300, Mr. Chan said. If student fees were increased by about $10 – so students would pay about $25 per year – then by graduation time, each student would have paid about a third of the cost of a Chromebook. For an additional fee, he or she could purchase it.
Loans will be available for students who cannot afford the cost, Mr. Chan said, and in-school tech support will be available.
The infrastructure at ETHS is practically ready, Mr. Chan said. “The campus is pretty well covered. Since the Wifi system is only two years old, “it is strong already. …We would eventually have to add an access point [router] for Wifi in every classroom. We have to be aggressive in our wiring plans,” he said.
Having the school “covered” ill open up a lot of connectivity and “create new learning spaces … Students will be able to work in the cafeteria, the student center, the hallways,” said Mr. Chan.
“It’s very doable with our budget,” said Chief Financial Officer Bill Stafford. “Just because of our infrastructure we’re set up.” He added that the reason students would have to pay for the Chromebooks is that “we don’t want to make it free. We want to have some buy-in.”
Tech, web connections, etc.: There will be on-site tech support, said Mr. Chan. Eventually, he said, there could be a tech center, where students could have internships in learning how to repair Chromebooks – in one capacity providing tech support and, in another, receiving training.
“The students will learn tech support and also customer skills,” Mr. Chan said.
The filters and user agreements ETHS has in place for its computers will be on all Chromebooks, Mr. Chan said, to prevent access to certain websites.
Loaners will be provided if a Chromebook is lost or forgotten, Mr. Chan said. “Every student has an account and students can log in from any machine; material is in the cloud so there is no access to the data without a password. If a Chromebook is lost or stolen, ETHS can reset the password, protect the information,” he said.
Students will be able to stay after school to work if they do not have a internet at home. Is this true?
Paula Frohman, director of information technology, said they do not know how many families lack internet connection but from informal surveys they believe that about 80-90 percent of ETHS families have a connection to the internet. “We put computers in various churches and community centers five year ago, and they are still there,” she said.
“We will focus on letting our families know that there is Internet access at ETHS – we want people to know these opportunities exist,” said Mr. Chan.
“It’s very exciting,” said Mark Metz. “The breadth and depth of the preparation you are doing gives me confidence this will be successful … You’re going to have some grumpy sophomores next year,” he added.
Jonathan Baum said he was “pleased to hear about desynchronization.” He said, “It sounds like differentiated instruction. Students can do different things at different times, is that right?”
Mr. Cardis, said, “That was one of the things that attracted me.
“How do we measure success?” asked Bill Geiger
“From an instructional technology side, we can work with teachers and see how that has impacted their instruction … over time. For measurables, we can look at test scores and see how students are performing in the classroom,” said Mr. Chan.
Pat Savage-Williams said, “This works in well with ETHS’s access and equity statement.”
Peter Bavis, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said, “If you can give students real-time feedback, research says that helps improve learning. I see that as a huge lever to improve writing – including that feedback … in real time has great potential.”
ETHS officials have not yet decided on a brand, so the computer notebooks may not be the HP model, but they will be Chromebooks. Also, David Chan, ETHS Technology Integration Specialist, says they have not finalized the fee amounts associated with the cost-share model. These details will be determined and then communicated to the community in the upcoming months.