The Hard(ware) Choice | November 2012 Digital Edition

Netbooks: Oak Lawn-Hometown District 123

Ben Grey
Chief Information Officer
Oak Lawn-Hometown District 123, Oak Lawn, IL
Year Implementation Began:  2011
About the program:  2,200 netbooks deployed to students in grades 3-8: HP 1103 netbooks for grades 5-8 and Asus 1011 netbooks for grades 3-4

Editor's note: This special Web supplement features the unabridged responses from districts regarding their 1-to-1 computing programs. Edited responses originally appeared in the November 2012 digital edition of T.H.E. Journal. Use the navigation bar at right to browse additional responses.

THE: What were your district's three key considerations when researching devices to support your 1-to-1 initiative? (i.e., cost, server-based, existing infrastructure, vendor support, etc.) Why?

Our process for device selection can be distilled to the following formula:
Goals + Culture + Cost = Device selection

Our research process began with the consideration of the goals we wanted to meet through the 1-to-1 program. We wanted our students to engage more deeply in the process of learning and thinking as a result of the 1-to-1 access, and we wanted to engage the students in critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity, and building a solid knowledge foundation.

Once we worked through the consideration of our goals, we then discussed the culture we wanted to create, as well as considered the culture we already had in place in our district. We wanted to create a culture of learning where students could own and have autonomy in their learning experience. This is, in part, what was so intriguing about the Linux solution we have deployed. Our students have full admin rights to their machines, and they can quickly restore the device back to its original state, while still keeping all of their user files. The quick restore feature takes less than 20 seconds, and the explanation of the process can be found here.

Finally, we considered price. I’ve written more extensively about the cost consideration here and slide 10 here shows a breakdown of device costs we were exploring at the time of our purchase 17 months ago.

THE: There is significant research that a district must do before they can make an educated decision on which device is best for their 1-to-1 initiative. Please describe which resources were most helpful to your district while researching devices.

Our best research resource was experience. We tested a number of different devices ourselves, and we spoke with districts who were utilizing each device we were considering in their classrooms. This field testing and district interviewing approach proved invaluable in our decision making process.

THE: Why did netbooks running ubermix stand out as the device that would best meet your district's key considerations? What other devices made your short list, and what features or functionality did these netbooks provide that those other devices didn't?

For the reasons stated in question one, we felt that the process we ran to determine which device we were going to utilize provided us with the best solution. The way our staff and technology department could easily support the high volume of devices we introduced to our environment through the use of the quick restore feature as well as the ability to easily reimage a machine in minutes allowed us great freedom to then focus on the most important aspects of a 1-to-1- how the computers make a difference for student learning.

We also evaluated iPads, ultrabooks, Chromebooks, and MacBooks. We believe the netbook provides more opportunities for our students than iPads at a lower cost. We could accomplish the same user experience with the netbook as a Chromebook but with the added advantage of running a full operating system allowing our students to explore the full functionality of a device down to the root level of their machine.

The MacBooks are a higher-powered machine with a larger screen, but their price excluded them from being a possibility for us as it would have added an additional $1,164,000 to our overall project. To account for the need of a higher end computing device as is required with students periodically when engaging in more demanding multimedia projects, we have provided several carts of MacBooks at each school for teachers to check out during projects requiring a higher-powered machine.

THE: What role did your IT and curriculum departments play in the decision-making process?

Our IT department and curriculum team were a part of the research and development process of our 1-to-1. We convened a committee composed of individuals from our IT department, curriculum team, classroom teachers, support staff, parents, board of education, and community. Together, we worked through what we wanted our 1-to-1 environment to look like and what device we felt would meet our goals.

THE: Describe the deployment process. Were there any infrastructure upgrades that needed to be made? How was professional development handled, and how did you ensure teacher buy-in? Were parents involved in any training?

In year one, we deployed the netbooks for grades 5 through 8. We reallocated two FTE to hire two instructional technology coaches to provide job-embedded professional development for our staff. We have maintained from the outset that our implementation will be a multi-year process as implementing a quality 1-to-1 that will bring about lasting, meaningful change for the learning environment takes time and a great deal of effort for everyone involved. We continue to celebrate the success and share positive ways that learning is changing with our staff, and that work, along with the outstanding collaboration between our teachers and our technology coaches, is creating buy-in from all stakeholder groups. We continued with this approach in year two as we added grades three and four to our 1-to-1.

From an infrastructure standpoint, the most critical aspects of a 1-to-1, beyond device selection itself, is bandwidth and wireless. We upgraded our bandwidth to increase our capacity more than 500 percent, and we installed a new wireless system in our middle school. We then redeployed the existing access points from our middle school back into our elementary buildings to ensure we had a system that would properly support the increase of devices on our network.

THE: Since the deployment of the netbooks, have there been any considerations that weren't weighted heavily during the research process but have come to have a significant impact on the success of the initiative since the deployment?  

I have been researching 1-to-1 programs for six years, and I thought I was fully prepared for what implementing a 1-to-1 would look like in a school district. I was mistaken. I underestimated the power of providing a computing device for all students. That has been my biggest surprise, and certainly, a profoundly pleasant one. The conversations that are taking place, the opportunities our students are being afforded, and the culture of learning that is being developed far surpasses my hopes and expectations. Certainly there are challenges that must be met from a technological and professional development standpoint, but we have an amazing staff who have been more than patient with our process. The work that they are doing with our students and their netbooks is inspiring. I look forward to seeing how it continues to grow over the coming years.

THE: Can you provide some additional details on your 1-to-1 initiative: For example, how many devices have been deployed? Which grades are involved in the initiative? Do the devices go home with the students?  

We have approximately 2,200 netbooks deployed to students in grades 3 through 8. We have a shared, grade-level cart of iPads for kindergarten students at each of our elementary buildings, and we have a shared, grade-level cart of netbooks for first and second grade at each of our elementary buildings as well.

We are also offering to parents of students in grades 3 through 8 the opportunity to participate in our parent purchase program. This program breaks up the cost of the device over three years, and once subsidized with our student technology fee, allows parents to purchase their device for only $44 a year over a three year term. If a parent participates in this program, their child can take their netbook home each night and on the weekends throughout the school year. More details about our program can be found here

Our first year of the implementation was last school year (2011-2012) with students in grades 5 through 8. This year, we added grades three and four to the 1-to-1.