Friday, November 8, 2013

CCSD's Chromebook Infusion: Thinking About the Why

Photo Courtesy of +Jay Vean-CCSD's Google+ Post
This week marks the beginning of an exciting time in Cherry Creek Schools.  We began receiving our shipment of over 18,000 Samsung Series 3 Chromebooks on November 8th. Staggered over a 3 week time frame, our 60 schools are getting machines based on student enrollment (grades 2 - 5 will be 4:1 and 6 - 12 will be 2:1).

While we couldn't pull off a 1:1 initiative due to the budget, we are infusing our schools and classrooms with more technology than has ever been available for students on a district-wide scale.  Because these will not be going home (at least at this phase), Spectrum's Cloud 32 Chromebook carts have also been delivered, and our schools received those prior to the Chromebooks.

As we've started sharing images & posts on Twitter and Google+ (thanks mostly to +Jay Vean-CCSD and +Nanci Meza-CCSD), we've naturally been getting questions about what we're doing and why. Good opportunity for me to reflect, then . . .

State of Overall School Technology
Prior to this year, budget cuts and an expired bond (which had been the source of past technology dollars) put our schools in a serious bind as any student technology purchases had to come out of building budgets, PTO donations, or grant funding.  In addition, we lost staffing that supported technology (and librarians) at many of our buildings as priorities shifted.  This, of course, led to disparity and equity gaps on a large scale.  Student-based technology was outdated in the majority of our schools, and in some cases, non-existent; instructional technology support was present in some buildings but totally absent in others.  

Spending Plan for 2012 Bond Money
We were very fortunate to pass a bond in 2012, and part of that money was designated for classroom or student technology.  Our challenge was to find a solution that would not only dramatically increase access to much-needed technology in our schools but also support our larger vision for anytime, anywhere learning that was device agnostic.  Because the bond money didn't address our staffing issues, though, we also had to explore something that could be sustained without additional staffing and IT support.  <Side note: we also determined that if we could reduce our paper & textbooks by half annually, we could go 1:1; however, we had a chicken & egg situation as we couldn't reduce paper & book costs without increasing access but we couldn't increase access without reducing paper costs.>

Leveraging Web-based Learning
Enter the Chromebook.  A GoogleApps for Education district since 2008, we had been using GoogleApps
Photo Courtesy of  +Jay Vean-CCSD 
(minus GMail), and the lack of technology funding meant that many of our teachers and technology coordinators were already using free, web-based solutions rather than fee-based, installed software.  Online solutions like GoogleDocs removed platform and location from the learning equation, and the increase of viable web-based apps made some of our software obsolete.  And, in looking at what our students spent most of their time doing in a digital learning environment, we determined that about 90% of what students do on a daily basis could be accomplished on the Internet.  For free.

Support & Set-up
The ease of set-up, maintenance, and management was also a major plus for us.  We won't need to worry about software or major OS updates, and we won't need to tax our IT staff with viruses and other issues we see on other devices.  Being able to designate school-based admins for managing Chrome settings means that schools can customize the learning experience and change them on the fly without advanced training or a significant time investment.  The lack of software and imaging also means that we could get devices into the hands of students easily & quickly (minus the 10 minute OS update, we could take a Chromebook out of the box and have it ready for a student within minutes).  

Professional Development
Finally, having a device that runs on a browser (and one that is available on any platform) made planning for staff development a bit easier.  We were able to make sure that all new images for teacher and student computers included the Chrome browser, and we encouraged teachers to use Chrome and install the Chrome Web Launcher for Windows.  The browser world is a relatively comfortable one for most people, regardless of technology background or OS preference.  We'll still provide Tier 1 training, of course, but having existing skills that easily transfer should allow us to move into the most important aspect of professional development: impacting student learning.

By Umut159 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
via Wikimedia Commons
A Continued Mixed Environment
So what about the 10% of things that require more than a browser?  What about existing technology at the building level?  In addition to the Chromebook solution, we also built lab replacement into our spending plan.  Each elementary school got 30 Dell laptops for a lab, the middle schools received 2 Dell desktop labs, and high schools received 4 PC desktop labs, specifically for those classes or learning needs that went beyond the web.  Also, some schools already had iOS devices, some had Android devices, some had PCs, some had Macs, and most had a mixture of the above.  Regardless, all of them have the web, and all of them can use Chrome and GoogleApps.  That means that anything done on a Chromebook can be accessed elsewhere (even at home).  The low cost of the Chromebook also means that schools can purchase their own more easily with an existing budget, should they choose to do so.

As we continue with our deployment of Chromebooks in CCSD, we'll be sharing how it goes (the good, the bad, and the not-so-pretty), and we'll be relying heavily on the incredible community of people who have already put Chromebooks & GoogleApps into their students' & teachers' hands.  Mostly though, we will look forward to seeing and experiencing the amazing things kids can do when they have access to the tools they need to collaborate, create, and contribute.