Updated: May, 2018
In Fall, 2017, the Iowa City Schools launched its Chromebook 1:1 initiative in all high school grade levels (9th – 12th). In August, 2018, the initiative will be extended to include grades 7 and 8 district-wide.
Accounts from our students, teachers, principals, and families indicate that the first year of our 1:1 initiative in the high schools has gone well. With that said, our 1:1 initiative – and all of our technology initiatives – are ever-evolving. As we look to roll devices out to junior high school students in August, 2018, we will be utilizing lessons learned from our first year of the high school 1:1 program to make the transition as smooth as possible from both a logistical, as well as a teaching and learning perspective.
What is 1:1?
While the concept of a 1:1 initiative is not new, it may not be a familiar one for all 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 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 able to provide a limited number of cellular hotspots for students who do not have home internet access, at both the high school and junior high grade levels. This access is made possible through a Sprint 1 Million Project grant for the high schools, and through Kajeet wireless hotspots in the junior highs.
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 be filtered using the Securly content filtering service. While no content filter is perfect, this step will ensure a very high level of protection off-campus, functionally identical to that currently provided within ICCSD.
What device will be given to students? As part of the 1:1 program, the district is 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 has implemented virtualized application delivery, using the Citrix XenApp platform. 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? Students should immediately report broken or lost devices to their building technology support and/or library staff. We prioritize access for students, and will provide a loaner or replacement device to students so that they have the tools they need to continue to participate in their courses. Students and families will not be charged for damage or loss, although repeated events may result in restrictions being placed on a student’s ability to take devices off campus.
Is the 1:1 initiative be hugely expensive? Thankfully, no. The combination of Chromebooks – which cost 60-85% less than 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. Generally speaking, 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 provides Chromebooks to secondary teachers upon request.
Does the district’s network infrastructure support the 1:1 initiative? Technology & Innovation staff have substantially upgraded our network infrastructure, and our network has proven to be sufficient to handle the demands in the high schools during the first year of the 1:1 initiative. Our district internet bandwidth was upgraded to 3Gb in August, 2017, which we’ve seen to be sufficient even at peak periods. Further, our wireless infrastructure has been upgraded to the 802.11ac standard, which along with our 40Gb network backbone has provided high-quality network service to our 1:1 devices.
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 has added building-assigned technicians in our high schools, and has implemented 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.