Administrators in the Richland School District Two in Columbia, S.C., made the decision to pursue a 1:1 computing environment in 2011. But with a target of over 19,000 district students in grades 3-12, and a wide variety of devices on the market to choose from, putting a computing device in the hands of every student was no easy task.
"We created a 1:1 planning committee," says Donna Teuber, technology integration coordinator for the district. "The committee created a three-phase timeline for 1:1 implementation, gradually adding grades until all students in third grade through high school have a device by August 2013."
Selecting the right technology was a crucial early step. "As part of the process, we asked our teachers, principals and technology specialists what was most important to them instructionally in a device, and demonstrated a number of options," says Teuber. "We came out of that process deciding on the Google Chromebook."
A new type of laptop computer from Google, Chromebooks offer thousands of apps, integrate seamlessly with Google Apps, include built-in virus protection, automatically update and back up data in the cloud, and boot up in just eight seconds.
"We use Google Apps for Education in our district; all of our students and staff have Gmail accounts, and we use applications like Google Drive for document sharing and storage and Google Sites for website hosting," says Teuber. "Chromebooks made a lot of sense because they work so well with all of the other tools from Google that we already use. Other devices we looked at, such as tablets, didn't lend themselves to the full features of these tools."
Richland's students can write papers on their Chromebooks, upload them to Google Drive, and then use collaborative tools such as Google Chat to discuss projects in real time, for example. "We find students thrive on this sort of collaboration, and become more engaged," says Teuber. "We want our learning to be personalized, authentic and collaborative, and Chromebooks enable this type of learning."
It isn't only students who are benefiting, however; technology administrators have found Chromebooks easy to maintain, a crucial feature for such a large 1:1 implementation. "Right out of the box, the Chromebooks are ready to go; they don't need imaging or additional antivirus software, users simply open it and log in with their Google account," Teuber says. "Software updates are automatic, and through the management console, administrators can deliver applications or filter Internet content, even when students take their devices home."
Teuber has learned a lot already from the beginning of the initiative, and is quick to share advice for other districts. "Ask yourself what you want students to do, and what you want to see in the classroom. Ultimately, it's not about the device, it's about teaching and learning. For us, the security, speed and ease of use of Chromebooks meant we did not have to focus on the device. When you walk into our classrooms, no one is struggling with a device, trying to fix something or troubleshoot, or waiting for a laptop to boot up or update. Instead, students are working and learning, using their Chromebooks. And that's what you want to see."
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