In perhaps as little as two years all students at Riverside-Brookfield High School could be using Chromebooks, Internet dependent laptop computers that use a Google operating system.
As last week’s District 208 school board meeting, board members were presented with a plan that envisions students using Chromebooks on a wide scale in the 2015-16 school year.
Technology Director Mike Connors and Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction Kristin Smetana explained that the plan could be rolled out gradually over the next two years in order to introduce the devices to teachers.
“We think for this to be a successful program and initiative that we need to spend the majority of this year and all of next year with the teachers, … having them tell us what they need for it to be effective, so that by 2015-16 should we be able to roll this out for the students,” said District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis.
The technology team is currently accepting applications from teachers to receive Chromebooks and serve as part of a pilot program. Next year teachers and students in a few classes will use Chromebooks.
“This year we plan to increase the professional development so that all teachers, hopefully next year if not sooner, are ready to have a Chromebook and start using that in the daily creation of their lesson plans,” Smetana said.
Chromebooks look like lightweight laptop computers. But unlike ordinary computers they do not possess storage capacity and rely on cloud computing and the Internet to access programs and work products. The main advantage of a Chromebook over a regular laptop computer is price. A Chromebook can be purchased for less than $300.
Chromebooks use a Google application suite known as Google Apps. Chromebooks are easy to manage, Connors said.
“There are a lot of applications, especially educational applications, and most of them are free,” Connors told the school board. “Everything can be managed from a single interface. No additional hardware is needed to manage these devices. We don’t have to buy servers or software or the infrastructure required to install all that stuff. It’s all-inclusive.”
Chromebooks have been gaining in popularity among schools, especially high schools, because of their low price and ease of use. Chromebooks boot up in less than 10 seconds.
Niles District 219, Glenbrook District 225, Maine District 207 and Leyden High School are all using Chromebooks in one to one initiatives.
The RBHS administration and department heads are already using Google docs.
“This year the administration and leadership have gone paperless,” Smetana said.
The costs of a one-to-one program at RBHS were not estimated in the presentation, and Skinkis said that the administration does not have cost figures yet.
RBHS has added about $50,000 to its technology budget in each of the past two years as it has been gradually updating outdated equipment.
Skinkis said that the school board and administration have not yet decided on how it would pay for giving each student a Chromebook. Possibilities include charging a course fee or leasing the devices to students.
“We have not generated any projections of going full one-to-one at this time,” Skinkis said. “We have added money to the budget the last two years … to support infrastructure upgrades and some of the pilots we discussed Tuesday.”
Skinkis said that there is just about enough money in the budget already to provide every teacher a Chromebook over the next two years.
“We think we’ve built enough into the budget under technology that we should come pretty close to if we had to provide a Chromebook for every teacher,” Skinkis said.
RBHS is behind many schools when it comes to technology. One of its feeder districts, Riverside Elementary School District 96, provides all fifth- through eighth-grade students with an Apple laptop computer.
Board member Garry Gryczan asked about the adjustment from Apple computers to Chromebooks, but Connors said that should not be a problem, because Google Apps can be run on any kind of device that can connect to the Internet, including Apple- and Windows-based computers and iPads.
“The thing with Google Apps is it’s hardware-agnostic,” Connors said. “Once you learn Google Apps, it doesn’t matter what type of hardware that you used before.”
During the past two years RBHS has upgraded its technology infrastructure.
“The whole building is now wireless,” Connors said.
Bandwidth is being upgraded and more upgrades will come in the next two years.
“As the program continues we realize that we’re going to have to put in more access points and bump up speed,” Connors said.