Ever since District 207 announced in early February that incoming freshmen would be studying from Google Chromebooks instead of paper textbooks, parents have had lots of questions.
Related: Concerns raised about D207's move to Chromebooks
Many of those questions centered on why Chromebooks were chosen over iPads or other devices, and why students would need new devices when their parents had already purchased something else for them.
Others, such as Maine South sophomore to use the Chromebooks without Internet access.
Background: Dist. 207 replaces texts with Chromebooks
We put some of these questions to Henry Thiele, Ed.D, Chief Technology Officer for District 207. Following are his responses to Patch.com's questions.
1. I was told Internet service has been down four days last week and Monday of this week. Is that correct?
Henry Thiele: Yes, due to two unrelated events. Last week from Tuesday until Friday we were hit by a DDOS attack which made Internet access slow and unreliable (not completely down). To correct this our network team worked with outside consultants to identify a combination of hardware and software changes to prevent these and future attacks. Other schools in the area have also been responding to similar issues this year. On Monday of this week construction crews in Roselle cut a major fiber connection and we lost our Internet connection as a result. We were impacted along with many other AT&T customers throughout the Northwest and West suburbs. Both of these were unseen circumstances and were the most prolonged Internet outages in the past 6 years. Overall, our uptime is traditionally exceptional for a school district of our size - with 99.9% uptime since 2008.
2. Are there any plans to upgrade Internet service at the school(s)?
Yes, our current contract for Internet service ends in May and we are considering proposals that would offer much more bandwidth and redundancy to reduce the chances of issues like last week interfering with instruction.
3. Why did the district choose Google Chromebooks over a device which could store textbooks and data on it? (Note: The assumption that Chromebooks do not store data was based on a link provided by D207 to a Google Chromebooks site)
The chromebooks can actually store downloadable textbooks and data on the device as it comes with 16gb of storage (similar to a standard iPad). However, most textbooks are browser based, so the type of device is irrelevant as long as it can access the Internet. Some of the publishers offer a downloadable companion as well, which can be accessed as a .pdf on the chromebook offline.
The chromebook was chosen for a variety of reasons after 5 years of piloting a variety of 1:1 devices including from laptops, netbooks, iPads, and chromebooks in all three schools we came to the conclusion that the chromebook best met our needs. The key factors included:
- Providing all of our students within a grade level the same opportunity to access to select electronic textbooks as well as the vast array of resources on the web.
- A cost point that could easily be offset by replacing select print textbooks with electronic books and eliminating the requirement that students purchase a scientific calculator, resulting in a cost savings for families over their high school career
- The ability for a chromebook to natively and seamlessly integrate with Google Apps for Education, which is our platform in Maine 207 for communication and collaboration
- A chromebook comes with an integrated keyboard and mouse, which makes creating products online easier for many students and its more than six hour battery life will let students work through an entire school day without charging.
- The ability to manage the device and monitor student use at school through an enterprise management console. We can also use this tool to put the device into a "test mode" to comply with a variety of online based assessment tools or upcoming online state standardized tests.
- Chromebooks update the operating system themselves while we still have the ability to push out applications and tools to our students.
- We have the ability to lock anyone out of a stolen or lost chromebook, thus making it unusable and serving as a deterrent for theft.
- The chromebook offers a full featured browser for working on the Internet that includes support for flash, a requirement for some online resources.
- Although the chromebook allows files to be stored on it, all of the work done on a chromebook ultimately backs up to the cloud. As a result a student will rarely ever lose their work and if their device stops working another chromebook can be substituted and the student can continue working as if they were on their original device.
- A chromebook also comes with the ability to add on external storage through USB flash drives or SD cards. So students can pull in and access work done on other Windows, Mac, or Linux based systems and still store and work with large files that do not easily store on a mobile device or in the cloud.
4. Is the district testing the Chromebooks? If so, how are they working out so far?
Yes, we were one of the first schools in the country to receive chromebooks as part of a pilot project with Google in 2011. As mentioned above, we have tested the chromebooks alongside many other devices as well. This year we are piloting them in each school and are successfully using them in a program where the students are 1:1 and bring the chromebook home with them. We have seen great results from the chromebooks and this has helped us believe that this is the right device for next year.
5. Is the district 100 percent committed to Chromebooks at this point, or is it still a reversible decision?
For next year, for the reasons listed above, we are 100% committed to moving forward with chromebooks. However, since technology changes so quickly this is a decision we will evaluate each year.
6. What about students who do not have Internet at home? How will they be able to study on Chromebooks?
This relates to question #3 above, however, need for access to the Internet at home depends greatly on the activity that the teacher has assigned and the electronic textbook that is chosen. Much of what happens in a classroom is much more complex than a textbook and depends on a variety of authentic resources. However, many of the features on the chromebook are available offline. Visit http://goo.gl/LsaNH to view a collection of offline applications which includes Google docs, sheets, and slides as well as many others.
7. If all students' families would need to get Internet, what about those who cannot afford the cost?
We will address this in many ways. First, we have extended the hours when our libraries are open at school this year providing more access to the school's resources and Internet. Our public libraries also offer Internet access. We will also be working with students to map out locations and businesses in the community that offer free Internet access. Internet service providers are also helping close the gap. For example Comcast is offering families with a child that receives free or reduced lunch Internet access for under $10 per month. Visit http://www.internetessentials.com/ for details.
8. Could a student who owned another computer download a textbook onto that device, so that they could read off-line?
As referenced in #3, most of the books are accessible on the Internet and are available from any device with the proper login information. It is in a publisher's best interest to make the resource as accessible as possible.
Thiele said more answers to parents' and students' questions can be found at http://tinyurl.com/207chromeFAQ.