The Hard(ware) Choice | November 2012 Digital Edition

Chromebooks: Richland School District Two

Donna Teuber
Technology Integration Coordinator
Richland School District Two, Columbia, SC
Year Implementation Began:  2012
About the program:  Eventual deployment to over 21,000 students in grades 3-12 at 38 school sites.  School sites choose their preferred device, with most choosing Chromebooks.

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?

Teuber: Our top considerations in choosing devices included instructional needs, cost, and infrastructure requirements. Our pioneering 1-to-1 teachers were asked about the most important technology needs for student learning, and devices were rated to determine if they would meet the needs of teachers and students. Devices were also rated on their technical and infrastructure requirements. The total cost of ownership was calculated for devices to determine if the devices chosen would be sustainable given the current funding for the project.

We went through a comprehensive device selection process to arrive at the devices that are being used in our 1-to-1 initiative. Our 1-to-1 outcomes focus on 21st century skills and project-based learning. We believe that student achievement will improve through the transformative use of technology which supports our project goals. The ISTE NETS standards best describe the 21st century skills that we want for our students. Our district has also embarked on a process to bring more project-based learning into our classrooms. Another initiative in our district is for our students to have ePortfolios to document and showcase student learning.

We looked at devices based on these outcomes for student learning. Teachers, administrators, instructional technology specialists and other key stakeholders from each school tried out the devices to see if the devices would allow students to use a rich variety of resources for research, create projects using a variety of Web 2.0 and multimedia tools (video projects, podcasting, presentations, etc), collaborate electronically on projects (video conferencing, collaborating on documents), communicate (e-mail, file sharing), and showcase their learning (blogs, digital storytelling, e-portfolios). Additional needs identified included the ability for students to access digital content posted by the teacher and access other digital content (multimedia, online textbook resources, ebooks).

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.

Teuber: Members of our 1TWO1 task force visited other districts and schools to see a variety of devices being used in classrooms. These visits were invaluable in giving us first hand knowledge of how devices were being used and background information on any management or cost issues. The group also read literature on devices and gained insights from technology research provided by Gartner. Gartner research on device sustainability was very useful in planning. Based on the research findings, our device sub-committee designed a process to evaluate devices based on the instructional needs of our schools.

THE: Why did the Google Chromebook 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 the Chromebook provide that those other devices didn't?

Teuber: The Chromebook stood out as a device that would meet our needs based on the seamless integration with Google Apps for Education (we are a GAFE district), a full web browser to support Web 2.0 tools, and a management console which easily enables us to register devices, filter access from home, and push out apps to all devices. The Chromebook also stood out because of the long battery life, instant Chrome OS updates, and virus protection. The Chromebook had the lowest overhead for management for our technical staff as well as our instructional staff. Another feature of the Chromebook is that it works well with our district’s virtual desktop infrastructure. Our students can login to VDI on their Chromebooks and access applications running on our district server. NWEA MAP testing as well as other legacy applications are accessible.

The devices that were rated included Lenovo laptops running ThinPC, Lenovo Thinkpad Android tablets, iPads, and Chromebooks. Over a two day period, stakeholders from each school including administrators, teachers, and instructional technology specialists evaluated the devices. Schools were given choice in the selection of devices to ensure that the device would meet the needs of the students and teachers.

All of the devices that we evaluated were good choices for our desired outcomes. The choice of tablets in three middle schools was a good fit because the schools have identified e-books and apps that will enable them to meet our desired outcomes and reduce paper. The majority of our schools chose the Chromebooks because of the good fit with the desired outcomes as well as the fit with our infrastructure. We've always had a variety of devices in our schools and anticipate that the BYOD (bring your own device) movement will continue to grow. As the choice of good devices for 1-to-1 initiatives continues to grow, we are committed to evaluating new devices that come on the market and optimizing choice in devices which meet the needs of our students.

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

Teuber: Our 1TWO1 task force includes representatives from the Academics and Information Technology departments as well as teachers, school administrators, students, media specialists, and instructional technology specialists. The group worked collaboratively on our goals and outcomes and participated in the selection process.

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?

Teuber: In preparation for our 1TWO1 roll out, the IT department upgraded our infrastructure. Infrastructure upgrades to support 1TWO1 computing included adding wireless access points in every classroom, upgrading bandwidth, and implementing VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure).
After devices were selected, schools were given the opportunity to pilot the devices in classrooms to ensure that the devices would meet the needs of our students and our infrastructure requirements. An outside evaluation team assisted with the final pilot report.

We provided extensive professional development to teachers to ensure buy-in. Teachers in each phase of the initiative have received devices early so that they can learn how to use the devices and develop content. Our district technology integration team recommends that teachers moving into a 1-to-1 computing environment have a minimum of 14 hours of up front training with additional on-going training and collaborative work time throughout the school year.

The Richland School District Two technology integration team has a plan to ensure that professional learning is customized to meet the needs of all teachers. A collaborative team across departments has developed a scope and sequence for technology professional learning. The scope and sequence includes managing a 1-to-1 classroom, creating digital content, using online Web 2.0 resources, and digital citizenship. The National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) were used in developing the scope and sequence.

Each school has a full time Instructional Technology Specialist (ITS) who is available to collaborate with teachers on the integration of technology into the design of student work. The school ITS also provides regularly scheduled and customized professional learning sessions for classroom teachers based on the individual needs of teachers.

We have involved parents through a parent advisory committee with a representative from each school. We recently held a district-wide Internet Safety night for parents and provided parents with hands-on sessions as well as demonstrations of student work. Each school also holds parent universities and information sessions to address the needs of parents.

THE: Since the deployment of the Chromebooks, 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?

Teuber: We’ve been very pleased with the performance of the Chromebook in our schools and have had few damages. We’ve found that classroom management is the key factor in ensuring that devices continue to work and aren’t mishandled by students. We have benefited greatly from the support provided by the Google Chromebook team. The team has been responsive to our requests and suggestions and has assisted us with providing quality professional learning experiences for our teachers.

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?


About the Richland Two (1TWO1) Computing Project
In January of 2010, a steering committee to study 1-to-1 computing came together to begin exploring the possibility of expanding 1-to-1 computing to all students at 38 school sites in grades 3 through 12. The student population reached with 1-to-1 computing will be over 21,000 students. Months of planning, site visits, research, and committee work preceded the request to the school board for approval of funding for the infrastructure needed for this project. At the school board meeting on Aug. 23, 2011, funding was approved for the wireless infrastructure needed for the expansion of computers in the district. The cost of computers has dropped significantly and our current PC replacement funds will allow us to purchase additional student devices.

Anticipated Timeline
With the bond referendum of 2008, funding became available to open all new schools with 1-to-1 computing. Since that time, we have opened two elementary schools (Langford and Catawba Trail) and one middle school (Muller Road). Our newest school, Westwood High, opened in August of 2012 with 1-to-1 computing for all students. Others schools have achieved 1-to-1 computing earlier than anticipated including Blythewood Middle, Richland Northeast High School, Windsor Elementary, and Polo Road Elementary.

The rollout of 1TWO1 computing is in three phases. Phase one began in January of 2012 with 5th grade, 6th grade, and 1/3 of high school classrooms. Phase two began in August of 2012 with 4th grade, 7th grade, and 1/3 of high school classrooms. Phase three begins in August of 2013 with 3rd grade, 8th grade, and the final third of high school classrooms. Devices will remain in classrooms until each high school and middle school has enough devices to send home with every student. Elementary schools will continue to use the technology in classrooms. A number of computing devices are also available in each PreK through 2nd grade class and our commitment includes other technologies as well. We have Smart Boards or similar technologies in all of our classrooms, studios in most of our schools for live and taped productions, and each school has a plethora of tablets, cameras, e-readers, flex cams, probe ware, etc.

The 1TWO1 computing initiative is an integral part of the Richland Two Story. Using technology, students will inquire and explore their world. Transformative technologies will ignite a joy of learning in our students and inspire them to become 21st century learners. Students will work collaboratively on authentic problem and project-based activities which enhance creativity, critical thinking, communication, and problem solving. Through personalized, authentic and collaborative experiences, our students will develop the skills to prepare them for a future that we can only imagine.

Goals of the Project

  1. Improved Student Learning: Through instructional strategies that apply best practices in teaching with technology and a variety of resources which support the curriculum, student learning will improve.
  2. Meaningful Student Engagement: We will offer 1TWO1 computing to make school more engaging and relevant for our students and to support meaningful and more challenging work as described in the Richland Two Story.
  3. 21st Century Skills: We will ensure that students have high level 21st century skills which will prepare them for a successful future.
  4. Project and Problem-based Learning Opportunities: Through personalized, authentic, and collaborative experiences, students will solve problems and demonstrate their learning through project-based activities.
  5. Equity of Access: We will bridge the digital divide by providing all students with access to technology tools and resources for anytime, anywhere learning.

Richland County School District Two is committed to promoting high quality planning, implementation, and evaluation of our 1TWO1 computing initiative. The district chose the Getting To Outcomes (GTO) accountability system as a good fit for a formative and summative evaluation, to inform progress and outcomes. In November 2011, the GTO Evaluation Team began working with staff from Richland County School District Two to inform, improve, and evaluate the implementation of its 1TWO1 computing initiative. We believe that we are doing some particularly interesting work with this empowerment evaluation model which includes identification and piloting of a variety of measures of our outcomes as well as a model for planning and monitoring effective implementation. This is accompanied by something called the Quality Implementation Tool which we have found helpful. The team has assisted us in using the GTO model to develop our goals and expected outcomes. The team has also developed measurements for our outcomes including focus groups, surveys (parent, teacher, and student), checklists, a classroom observation protocol, and the use of a QIT. The QIT includes checklists for schools to follow in implementing 1TWO1 computing.

The GTO Evaluation Team completed the following tasks during their initial work:

  1. Conducted an evaluation of the November Try-Out schools.
  2. Assessed the readiness of schools to implement 1TWO1 beginning in January 2012 using focus groups with principals and ITS.
  3. Facilitated workshops with key Richland Two district staff to define the goals and desired outcomes for 1TWO1 computing.
  4. Facilitated a QIT meeting with elementary and middle school stakeholders to assess the quality of implementation at each school.
  5. Conducted district-wide surveys for students, teachers, and parents to gather data on the quality of implementation and the quality of professional development.
  6. Conducted classroom observations using a new classroom observation protocol.

Our technology integration team meets regularly with the GTO team to work collaboratively on surveys and other measures. Our district research team also works closely with the GTO team to examine test data, discipline rates, attendance rate, and other quantitative and qualitative data. Current survey results indicate that our 1TWO1 initiative is being implemented effectively in schools and that teachers are receiving the needed professional development. We are currently looking at rubrics for 21st century skills that we can use to track how teaching practices are shifting. We look forward to sharing results.