By JEROD CLAPP
It’s not a notebook, textbook or even a library book, but every student in 10 grade levels will have one in their backpacks in Greater Clark County Schools this year.
The district distributed Samsung Chromebooks, Google-based laptops that rely heavily on wireless Internet services, beginning last week. The district is the first in Clark and Floyd counties to have such a wide rollout of a 1:1 computing initiative.
COME AND GET ‘EM
Following an Apple-esque presentation and filling out paperwork at Monday’s distribution at Jeffersonville High School, parents and students picked up the devices they’ll use in classrooms for the entire school year.
Michelle Metzing, a cafeteria manager at Northaven Elementary School, brought her son in to pick up his computer. She said being a parent in the district and working in one of its schools makes her think the whole idea is going to benefit students, parents and teachers.
“Kids are going to love it,” Metzing said. “I can’t tell you how many times kids come up and tell me they wish [teachers would] let them do their homework on a computer.”
Brett Clark, director of technology, said by the end of Monday, he expected to have 3,500 Chromebooks in the hands of students.
He said though huge volumes of parents and students have attended the distributions, sat through the presentations and filled the school hallways, the whole process has been smooth so far.
“I had a parent stop in after a presentation at Charlestown [on Thursday] and say it was the best school presentation they’d ever seen,” Clark said. “I’ve really been proud of the people working on this. We just have asked folks to trust in the people and the process.”
Superintendent Andrew Melin said there have been few issues in getting the devices to students. He said there have been a couple of instances where the Chromebooks weren’t set up for the district properly, but they were quickly replaced and sent off for work.
While students are just getting introduced to their devices, most teachers have had their Chromebooks since school ended in May.
Melin said he hopes teachers have had a chance to familiarize themselves with the devices and figure out how to bring them into the classrooms successfully.
But he said there’s more hands-on training coming. On Thursday, teachers will attend the Greater Clark Connected Conference, which will feature seminars on how to adjust classrooms in a 1:1 environment and bring in keynote speakers from around the country.
He also said teachers have more professional development days coming up on July 29-30 for more training on how to implement effective use of the Chromebooks in a classroom.
David Kahl, a music, choir and band teacher at Parkview Middle School, said he’s already worked on getting some lessons together for his students on day one.
“I’ve already developed some concepts for it,” Kahl said. “To know we’re able to do at least some things digitally, that’s going to save on a lot of paperwork for me.”
He said he’s got some programs his students will need to use on desktops. Since the Chromebook is largely web-based and relies on cloud storage — offsite memory space that can be accessed from anywhere — some of his programs require physical hard drives to run.
He also said learning how to digitize tests would take time, but he’s hopeful it won’t be too difficult.
Melin said while teachers will have to adjust to bringing a new tool into the classroom, the district will likely put together minimum-use requirements that they’ll have to follow.
He said to make sure the initiative is successful, teachers need to use them in the classroom as much as is applicable. Those requirements, he said, would likely be issued in mid-August.
Jeff Bowen, a sixth-grade science and social studies teacher, said there are resources available for teachers in every field on the Chromebooks, but he knows they won’t dominate classtime immediately.
“There’s astronomy and biology stuff out there, but as with anything new in a classroom setting, it’s going to take some time to integrate with that,” Bowen said. “But once that happens, I think it’s going to be fabulous.”
Clark’s presentation lined out how the district planned to keep students safe online, as well as keep them from misbehaving as much as possible.
While the Chromebooks come with Google Gmail addresses for each student, not every student can sign up for Google’s social network, Google+. If a user under the age of 13 signs up, the account is locked by the company and the district has to initiate a process to get that account up and running again.
But to make sure younger students can collaborate with teachers and their classmates, the district will implement My Big Campus, a social networking site that is used strictly to help teachers and students to communicate about lessons.
He said students can post information on there, but they’ll face consequences for acting in ways they’re not allowed to act in school.
He said cursing could come up, but the post would censor the offending word, then send the original post to a school administrator. From there, they’d face punishment.
He also said students can post pictures on the site, but if a student posts a photo that’s a little too risqué, My Big Campus’ “skin recognition” program would block the image and also send it to a building administrator to consider for punishment.
Clark also said bullying wouldn’t be tolerated, nor would any other kind of threat. If cyber-bullying occurred and a student used the Chromebook to carry it out, they could be punished regardless whether they were in school or if it happened after school hours because it was committed on district property — the Chromebook.
He also said My Big Campus is designed to recognize certain phrases or words that may indicate a threat, which would also be sent to a principal if it was posted.
Harley Dodge said he thinks he’ll be more interested in doing homework on his Chromebook for a number of reasons, but he just likes computers anyway.
He said doing work on paper wasn’t something he liked anyway, but he thinks he’ll be more successful in completing assignments on his computer.
“I write really sloppy, I don’t like using paper and pencil,” Dodge said. “I think it’ll be a lot easier doing my homework on the Chromebook. It’s easier for me to type.”
Clark said today’s students are digital natives and have never lived in a world without computers or smartphones.
He said integrating technology into classrooms this way isn’t the way of the future, it’s very much the way of the present.
Robert Vales had three children picking up Chromebooks on Monday. He said though he still has a few details to learn on the setup side, he thinks they’ll ultimately be good for his children.
“I hope they’ll be more into it with it being connected all the time,” Vales said. “Sometimes, [getting them to do homework] is like pulling teeth. I think they’ll be more into learning because they’re interested in computers.”