Chromebooks Help Raise Bar
For students of Leyden High School District 212, two miles from O’Hare Airport in Illinois, Aug. 14, 2012 felt more like their birthday than the first day of school. The district, comprising East and West Leyden high schools, realized its long-planned hope of providing a computing device to every student and gave out 3,500 new Google Chromebooks.
The laptops, made by Samsung, connect wirelessly to the internet, include thousands of education apps, and allow students to work from anywhere—to help support student instruction, teach students about internet collaboration, and better prepare them for their post-high school future.
At the January 2012 Florida Educational Technology Conference, Rajen Sheth—group project manager for Chromebooks—announced that Leyden (pronounced “lie-don”) was among a handful of districts in the country to commit to a 1:1 Chromebook program for 2012-2013. Because 1:1 initiatives are fairly new (only two other districts in the country are using Chromebooks), the rollout was reported across the internet on sites like HuffingtonPost and CNET. According to Superintendent Katherine Robbins, the total district cost of the Chromebooks per student is approximately $100 per year for each year they are in school, for a total district cost of $1.4 million. Robbins says Leyden spent nominal money strengthening the district’s infrastructure so 3,500 kids could hop on the network without hiccups. “I don’t think the cost of the device is a barrier,” says Robbins. “When you’re talking about that kind of return on investment, it’s a no-brainer.”
“When we started on our digital evolution path we were looking for just the right tool—one that is invisible and gets out of the way to allow students and teachers to focus on learning and collaborating,” says Bryan Weinert, Leyden’s technology director. “From my perspective, it also was important that they be easy to manage and secure.”
If a traditional laptop is lost or breaks, students must wait for a new laptop and/or lose their valuable work. With Chromebooks, everything is in the cloud, he says. “I can give a replacement device and, once the student logs in, all of their settings and work is refreshed instantly,” Weinert says. “It’s magic, and it makes my life, and the lives of students and teachers, easier.”
Educational apps are available through Google’s Chrome Web Store—apps like Google Docs, the collaborative document editor, and Picasa, the app for storing and sharing photos. All apps update automatically when the device is connected to the internet just as many smartphones do. But for Leyden, Chromebook’s key selling point is how it pushes student work to the web. By using apps that store students’ work in the cloud, students may research a project using Google’s browser, Chrome, in class Monday and save those bookmarks for later reading; open the bookmarks at home Monday night and start typing a paper’s draft using Google Docs; and open their draft in a Tuesday morning study hall to finish the paper at school. Group projects are no problem either. For example, Google Docs lets teams share one document and edit the draft in real time. And teachers can offer real-time feedback by logging into the shared paper, all from each student and teacher’s individual Chromebook that they have access to at all times.
“A [school] board vision, and we believe this so strongly, is that every student here should have equal opportunity,” says Robbins. And by using a device that embraces cloud- and web-based applications—instead of students using individual laptops with a hard drive that holds only their own work and prevents collaboration—“it opens sharing with teachers and kids,” adds Mikkel Storaasli, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Leyden. “Pushing info to the web is the new paradigm,” he says. “Once you open it up to the web, it’s open to all students.”
Improving student achievement is also part of the Chromebook’s pluses, as teachers can give feedback on a document early in the process, which allows students to submit the best possible product before grading.
And although the initiative is only two months old, teachers are already using Chromebooks. Storaasli says Leyden hired two instructional coaches to work with teachers on instruction technologies and how best to use Chromebooks in the classroom, like using blogs and websites to host materials, and using web-based presentations and videos to enhance instruction. One biology teacher at East Leyden High has been doing just that, by sharing with his students on Google Docs typed copies of his notes from classroom lessons. He then records his voice reading those same notes and posts the audio file to an online sharing space so students may listen to him while reading notes. He even emails parents to let them know these items are available on the web. “Having his notes in any medium—visually, audibly—is helping his students,” says East Leyden Principal Jason Markey. Markey says the teacher “has noticed a difference in class,” with students absorbing material better than they would if they simply heard the lesson once.
The market research firm International Data Corporation (IDC) released a study quantifying the educational and economic benefits of using Chromebooks in the classroom. Although Leyden’s program is only two months old, using Chromebooks helps to:
• Reduce the need to hire additional IT staff, requiring 69 percent less labor to install and 92 percent less labor to support than traditional PCs or netbooks.
• Increase teaching and administration time by 82 percent.
• Eliminate the need for system re-imaging and lost file recovery. Multiple respondents reported no help-desk calls.
• Reduce the per-device cost of ownership for these schools by $935 over three years compared with alternative devices.
Because the Chromebook is mainly a web browser, it doesn’t require software like a traditional laptop or netbook would, which means another plus for Chromebook: “By choosing to push learning to the web,” Weinert says, “you start reducing some of your costs, like licensing software, server storage and server refreshes.”
Chromebooks may also help the district go paperless since teachers and administrators can share handouts using Google Docs, and hand out and then grade quizzes on-the-spot using Google Forms.
Leyden (Ill.) High School District 212
- Schools: Two high schools—East Leyden and West Leyden
- Students: 3,450
- Staff and faculty: 520
- District Size: 26 square miles
- Per-child Expenditure: $17,800
- Percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches: 53%
- Ethnic breakdown: 57% Hispanic; 37% white; 2% black; 4% other minorities
- Budget: $75,087,505
- Website: www.leyden212.org