In Fall, 2017, the Iowa City Schools will be deploying a Chromebook 1:1 initiative in all high school grade levels (9th – 12th). The following year, the initiative will be extended to include grades 7 and 8 district-wide.
While the concept of a 1:1 initiative is not new, it may not be a familiar one for students, staff, and community members within the district. Essentially, the definition of a 1:1 initiative is a technology deployment where a device is available for each student. Within that broad definition, there are many different deployment models that have been implemented by districts that already have 1:1 in place. Below, I’ve provided the most current answers to a handful of the frequently asked questions concerning 1:1, which address many of the details of our upcoming deployment. That said, it is important to note that these details, while accurate at the time of posting, may be subject to change based upon community input, funding changes, and other mediating factors.
What is the purpose of the 1:1 initiative? Ultimately, the goal of the program is to positively impact the educational outcomes for and opportunities available to our students. As you might expect, there is a substantial amount of research conducted over the past two decades relating to the impact of 1:1 device initiatives in schools. Without going too deeply into the existing research – I’ll save that for a later series of posts – specific impacts that we can expect to see include increases in student engagement, improved equity of access resulting in a decrease in the digital divide, use of anytime/anywhere technology access to facilitate implementation of new and innovative pedagogical approaches (such as this, this, and this), and improved attendance, among a number of other factors.
Will students be able to take devices home, and at what grade levels? Students at all of the district’s comprehensive high schools and junior highs will be assigned devices that they can take home.
Will students be required to have internet at home? While internet in the home is not a requirement, there is no doubt that home internet access allows students to utilize the devices made available to them as fully as possible, both within and outside of school. That said, the district is currently exploring possibilities for providing inexpensive or free internet to ICCSD families, such as this arrangement that the Cedar Falls Schools worked out with a wireless provider.
Will the district filter internet content? Per federal law, the district will filter internet content on district-issued devices, both at school and at home. While off-campus, all internet traffic will still be routed through district-controlled content filters in order to prevent access to inappropriate materials. While no content filter is perfect, this step will ensure a very high level of protection off-campus, identical to that currently provided within ICCSD.
What device will be given to students? The district has not yet made decisions with regard to a specific make and model, but we know that the district will be issuing Chromebooks to students. These devices – which utilize a largely cloud-based operating system – offer an ideal combination of capability and affordability to school districts, and address the reality that the vast majority of students’ computer activities occurs within a web browser. Further, management of Chromebooks is easy and cost-effective, creating relatively little overhead for district IT staff in comparison to Windows or Apple options.
How will students access software that can’t be run on a Chromebook? It is true that the majority of the work our students do is conducted within a web browser, but there are many important exceptions. Some of the Windows-based titles that our engineering, computer science, art, and other courses require include: the Autodesk suite, Android Studio, Photoshop, Geometer’s Sketchpad, and Finale, to name a few. In order to address these needs and offer anytime, anywhere access to these specialty titles, the district is implementing virtualized application delivery, using either the Citrix or VMWare platforms. With these server-based software platforms, ICCSD will be able to deliver any of these specialty Windows software titles to student-issued Chromebooks – or any device with an internet connection – no matter where students are. This means that students will no longer need to be in a CAD lab to work on engineering coursework; they can be in a study hall, library, coffee shop, or at home and still have the access they need.
How will the district deal with broken or lost devices? While a specific policy is still being developed, any policy that the district issues will be crafted with the reality that an initiative that is part of our base educational resources should not create a substantial financial liability for families. As with any technology deployment, some damage will be incurred. The district will plan for incidental damage based upon input received from districts that have implemented 1:1 initiatives over long periods of time, while working to craft policies that appropriately address willful damage or theft.
Will the 1:1 initiative be hugely expensive? Thankfully, no. The combination of Chromebooks – which cost a fraction of a Windows or Apple device – and virtual application delivery – which will allow the district to substantially reduce the number of lab computers that are needed in the secondary buildings – ultimately results in a program that is close to being cost-neutral compared to the district’s current deployment. This is the case despite the fact that the student-issued Chromebooks will be on a three-year replacement cycle, as opposed to the six-year cycle that had been in place for lab computers.
How often will the devices be replaced, and will each student get a brand new device? Student-issued Chromebooks will be replaced every three years, but students are not guaranteed to be issued a brand new Chromebook initially. Students in 7th and 10th grades will receive priority for brand new devices, as deployment of devices at these grade levels – combined with a three-year replacement cycle – results in fewer redeployments over the course of students’ careers. That said, the initial deployment – along with changes in numbers of students from year-to-year – will result in some students receiving one or two-year old devices during initial deployment. These devices will still be replaced after the device has been in service for three years, however, so no student will be expected to use a device that is greater than three years of age.
Why the three-year replacement cycle? In researching replacement cycles for 1:1 Chromebook initiatives, this was by far the most common cycle implemented by other school districts. Further, many of the districts that implemented four or five-year cycles reported that decision to be one that they would have made differently if given the opportunity. Further, this replacement cycle ensures that Chrome devices purchased by the district are still supported by the manufacturer throughout the duration of the devices’ use in the district.
Will teachers get devices as well? Teachers within the ICCSD are already issued Windows laptops, and that practice will continue. The district is exploring whether there is a need to provide teachers with Chromebooks as well; this is contingent upon changes that Google may make in the coming year to merge the Android and Chrome operating systems, and to restrict the use of Chrome apps to Chromebooks (as opposed to being accessible from within a Chrome browser on any computer).
Will the district’s network infrastructure support the 1:1 initiative? In our current state, our infrastructure – in terms of wireless networks, building-to-building connections, firewall, and internet bandwidth – is probably not sufficient to support the addition of over 7,000 student-issued devices. That said, we are already working to implement cost-effective (or free) changes that will dramatically improve our ability to support 1:1, along with all other network traffic within the district. Further, our current contract with our internet service provider – the Iowa Communications Network – expires at the end of this fiscal year, and we have been assured that rates will drop substantially when we are provided with figures for a new contract. This, along with a competitive bidding process, should allow ICCSD to significantly expand our internet bandwidth while keeping costs steady.
What about tech support capacity? While we will be adding 1:1 devices, we will be offsetting this addition with the removal of a substantial number of Windows lab computers, which are much more resource-intensive in terms of maintenance. That said, the technology & innovation office is already working on plans to maximize our capacity and efficiency as it relates to hardware support and service. In addition, we hope to add student tech teams within each of the high schools (at the outset, with potential additions of junior highs at a later date) to deal with some first-level tech support. It is important to note that the initial purpose of these programs is to offer opportunities for students to learn about and become involved with information technology, and any such programming will include opportunities beyond hardware repair, such as technical certification opportunities.
I had heard that 1:1 would begin in 7th and 10th grades in year one; what’s the reason for the change? One of the early deployment plans was to deploy the devices to 7th and 10th graders in 2017, and then again in 2018 and 2019 until all 7th – 12th graders were assigned devices. This would have resulted in the high schools being 1:1 by 2019, and the junior highs by 2018. The primary reason for the new HS -> JH deployment model that we’re using is the opening of Liberty High, the district’s new comprehensive high school, in 2017. Whereas our existing buildings are already outfitted with computer labs, mobile device sets, and classroom-assigned devices, Liberty is currently under construction and does not have preexisting equipment. With the implementation of virtual applications (mentioned above), a 1:1 implementation will dramatically reduce the amount of equipment that the district will need to purchase in order to outfit Liberty when it opens in 2017, since there will be less need for standalone computer labs and device sets. This timeline will allow us to save a substantial amount of money – between $100,000 and $200,000 – which allows us to expedite the deployment timeline such that all 7th – 12th grade students will be assigned devices by 2018, a year earlier than originally scheduled.