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Clear Creek Amana school board approves 1:1 computer purchase for middle school in 2014-15

Technology advanced

OXFORD– Starting this fall, every student in the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) middle school will have their own Chromebook personal computer to use in class and at home. The district’s school board approved spending $157,739.50 to purchase 500 devices at its regular meeting Wednesday, April 16, at Clear Creek Elementary in Oxford.
Issuing a computer to each student, or “1:1,” is increasingly common among school districts, and has been a topic of discussion at CCA as well. Last December three members of the Creek Squad, a corps of technologically-savvy eighth graders, made a formal presentation and plea to the board for implementation of a 1:1 program. In January, the board gave tentative approval to go to 1:1 at the middle school in the 2014-2015 school year, with likely expansion to the high school in the 2015-2016 school year, and redistributing computers to the elementaries.
The Creek Squad’s work was not done, however, as they were tasked with helping the district’s technology director, Joe Francis, decide which type of device– laptop, tablet or Chromebook– to purchase, and which model.
Through discussions between Francis and the Squad, Chromebooks were determined to be the most cost-effective and practical. A Chromebook resembles a laptop computer; however, programs and files are not stored on them, but rather the devices access the Cloud, a remote server connected via the Internet and utilizing Google-based programs similar to Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, for example.
To determine which computer to buy, seven different machines were issued to the Squad for field-testing. During the field testing, students submitted hundreds of comments to an online survey form and reported weekly to the Squad and Francis. At various intervals, the machines were swapped between the squad members as well.
“After the pilot (program), the machines were ranked,” Francis said. His and his staff’s number choices matched the Creek Squad’s choices across the board, all preferring the Acer C720 Chromebook. Francis noted it had the best processor and more RAM (Random Access Memory) than the other devices.
“We think in the long run it’s going to last longer and serve us better,” said Francis. Accompanying each device will be a semi-rigid case, also Creek Squad tested and approved. “That was by far the choice of all of the Creek Squad,” Francis said. The outside of the case has space for an identification card with the student’s name and a barcode for the device, for inventory purposes. The card will also work as a library and lunch card too, Francis said.
While the devices primarily work off an Internet connection, a software product, Hapara, will be installed, which allows a teacher to send data to groups of students, and see what each student is doing on their device. “Teachers will be able to see what (website) tabs are open, because kids are very good at tab-flipping.” Francis explained. Currently, students in classrooms will often have several websites open, and quickly change from one to the other when a teacher walks by to observe. The Hapara software will show the teacher exactly what websites are open on any student’s computer, whether hidden or not.
“So the teacher on (his or her) computer can say, ‘you’ve got these tabs open, and that’s very nice, now close your YouTube and get to work,” Francis said.
Francis said inappropriate content will be blocked from access both at school and away.
“We’re going to prevent them from going to gambling sites, pornography, all the sites we typically block in the schools anyway,” he said.
The district is getting the machines at a bargain, spending just $250.99 each, “That’s about $20 under retail, we got a great deal on that,” Francis added said, and the cases are just $26.25 each. Also discounted is the Google Management License, essentially a lifetime service fee, for a one-time cost of $25 per machine, usually $30. The Hapara software has a $6 annual fee and the web-filtering program costs $8.72 annually per device. He said as more devices are obtained the cost for these programs actually decreases.
The total unit cost comes to $315.48 per device, far less than Francis anticipated.
“I’m really pleased we were able to get the devices we want,” he said. The Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) budget, which the board approved later that evening, will be the funding source.
While the devices will be under warranty, many of the simple repairs, such as replacing a screen, will likely be done by Creek Squad members upon training from Francis and his technology department staff. Also, students will have the same device throughout their time in the building, which Francis said gives the student a sense of ownership, and hopefully leads to taking better care of the machine. When a student advances to the high school, their Chromebook will cycle to an incoming sixth-grader.
When the high school transitions to 1:1, an incoming freshman will be issued a device, which they would then use throughout their four years.
Superintendent Tim Kuehl told the board a committee is currently drafting policies for the devices.
“Do you want the check now or later?” Board member Rick Hergert asked Francis, echoing the board’s support for the program. The motion passed unanimously.