Each Big Walnut High School student will be issued an identical Chromebook at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, school officials said last week.
During last Thursday’s Big Walnut Board of Education meeting, Director of Academic Achievement Jen Young made the announcement.
District officials have wanted to equip students with laptop computers for several years. Members of the school board and district administrators say they have wanted to go a one-to-one ratio with laptops at Big Walnut High School – with each student in the school having identical laptops for their four high school years.
While the concept was attractive, considering the digital world today’s students graduate into, the cost was then prohibitive.
One solution the school district did adopt was a “Bring Your Own Device” model – students could use personal tablets and smart phones to access digital content and store homework and other projects on the cloud via Google Docs. But that option was not ideal. Different devices have different operating systems, some have limited capabilities, and screen sizes are often not adequate for many projects – like typing lengthy reports and papers on smart phones.
A Chromebook is a laptop-style computer that runs on Google’s web-based Chrome OS, designed to be used with an Internet connection. Most of Chromebook’s documents and apps exist in the cloud; and Google automatically provides 100 gigabytes of cloud storage for every Chromebook.
“We currently have 421 Chromebooks at the high school,” Young said. “We have 900 students that access wireless on a daily basis, but many with their own devices. We want every kid to have the same device in hand to level the playing field. This is going to be our new norm.”
Young said the “Chromebooks for every student” model will also move to grades 5-8 during the 2017-18 school year.
A committee of teachers and administrators has been working with dozens of districts around the state that have already adopted the model, Young said, and the district is partnering with the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio to help with the transition.
“There will be an education piece with parents; they’ll be brought in during August,” Young said. “There will be talk about Internet access and safety. We’ll have teacher training about Big Walnut’s use of Google Docs, and a certification course.”
Asked how much the Chromebooks would cost for the high school’s entire student body, Assistant Superintendent Mark Cooper said a standard Chromebook is $200; a Chromebook Flip is $270 to $280.
“With all students having devices in hand, there would be less need for computer labs at the high school – many computer lab desktops would no longer need (to be) replaced when they reach the end of their life cycle,” Cooper said. “We have a good solid infrastructure for wireless access in the building already, with 25 wireless access points. We plan to double that, and that’s federal reimbursable at 50 percent.”
Young said Chromebooks would reduce textbook costs.
“We can use online textbook adoption,” Young said. “A hardback book textbook adoption is $100,000 to $200,000; and Chromebooks have advanced calculator capability that can be taken off the school district’s fees.”
Cooper said the district has examined both purchase and lease options, and is favoring a four-year lease option to match the life of the technology – and a freshman student would have the same device throughout his or her high school career.
Board member Allison Fagan expressed concerns about students using the Chromebooks inappropriately.
“Since the school district will own the devices, what about liability for cyber bullying?” Fagan asked. “Does a Chromebook have an internal history that can be accessed if there is a suspected problem?”
Cooper said that, with the high school’s 1,000 students, there would likely be some inappropriate choices made, but each device has an internal history that the district’s technology personnel can pull up and examine.
Young added that there will be teacher training about general “cyber-citizenship.”
Young also noted that student without Internet access at home would be able to store current projects on the Chromebook and complete homework assignments without logging onto Google Docs or other cloud services.
Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093.