Tag Archives: 1:1

Fall 2016 Technology Plans Overview

I’m off to West High School this afternoon to talk with our social studies and world languages teachers about upcoming technology plans, and realized that I haven’t yet posted the PowerPoint that I’ve frequently used in order to provide a synopsis of our upcoming changes.  

The PDF below includes the slides from that presentation, and offers a quick update on some of the bigger changes we’re implementing here in the Iowa City Schools.  


What are Chromebooks?

Chromebooks have become ubiquitous in the education sector, but I’m often met with confusion when I mention a Chromebook to somebody outside of the school setting.  Here at the Iowa City Schools, we’ve deployed roughly 2,500 Chromebooks over the past year, with most of those deployments in the form of mobile carts that are now available in each of our schools.  Further, an upcoming 1:1 initiative and an increase in the number of devices available at the elementary level will result in upwards of 11,000 Chromebooks district-wide within the next few years.  Here’s a quick Chromebook overview:

What is a Chromebook?

Chromebook 02-16-16 (2)Simply put, a Chromebook is a laptop.  The form factor (in picture at right) is that of a traditional laptop, with a keyboard, screen, USB ports, and so forth.  Unlike other laptops that run Windows or OS X as operating systems, Chromebooks run Google’s Chrome OS.

What is Chrome OS?

Chrome OS is a cloud-based operating system that integrates with Google’s online services (Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, etc.).  ICCSD students and staff can sign on to district-issued Chromebooks using their respective Iowa City Schools Google accounts, while one can sign in to non-district owned Chromebooks using any Google account, including ICCSD accounts.  Since storage and settings are in the cloud, anything that a user does on one Chromebook is available when they log in to a different Chromebook.

How is Chrome OS different?

Unlike a Windows or Mac computer, where the traditional paradigm is to have software installed directly on the device itself (think Microsoft Word, GarageBand, or Photoshop), Chromebooks are geared towards web-based applications and content.  Just about anything that you can do online can be done on a Chromebook.  Recent research shows that over 90% of current high school students’ computer use takes place within a web browser, which makes Chromebooks a potentially perfect fit for modern computer usage patterns.

So a Chromebook can’t run regular software? 

Yes and no.  You cannot install Windows or Mac versions of software directly on a Chromebook, but you can run online versions of the software.  Office 365, Google Drive, YouTube, Photoshop Online, and WeVideo, for instance, offer online equivalents to traditional desktop software.  Chrome OS does support a number of apps, such as Evernote, Gmail offline, calculator, Any.do, and PDF Viewer that are installed to the device and will work whether the Chromebook is connected to the internet or not.

AutoDesk Inventor on a Chromebook

AutoDesk Inventor on a Chromebook

Beyond those options, ICCSD is also piloting Citrix XenApp and VMWare Fusion, both of which allow  full Windows versions of software – including resource-intensive software such as Autodesk Innovator (pictured at right, from a Chromebook) – to be made available to Chromebooks.  The software itself is delivered virtually to the Chromebook while running on a server.  This provides the benefit of running full version, specialty software on Chromebooks, while also delivering substantially better performance for resource-intensive applications than could be achieved on most regular laptops.  The latter benefit is the result of running the application on a server that is far more powerful than any affordable laptop.

Does a Chromebook need to have an internet connection to work? 

No, although an internet connection is important for maximizing the benefit of the Chromebook.  You can still create and edit files, view pictures, take notes, and other functions without an internet connection, but you wouldn’t have access to virtualized applications, your full Google Drive directory, or to other internet resources.

Here at ICCSD, all buildings in the districts have wireless coverage, and we’re working to eliminate dead zones and to develop our infrastructure to improve network performance.

What does a Chromebook cost? 

As a general rule, schools don’t have the financial resources to pay for extravagant technology offerings.  The price of Chromebooks – about $200 – $300 per device – is one of the primary factors driving their adoption in schools.  By comparison, an iPad typically costs around $400, and a Windows or Mac laptop/desktop around $1,000.

Are Chromebooks easy to support? 

Sometimes, the initial cost of a product can be misleading, due to substantial costs related to supporting the product in an enterprise environment.  Chromebooks, however, offer savings on both fronts.  Schools can purchase management licenses for about $25 per device, which allow the district to manage printers, access rules, and other device and user settings.  Since the devices use our Google accounts for logins – and these accounts are linked to our on-campus Active Directory servers – technology staff do not need to manage accounts for specific users.  Further, the fact that the devices do not require software to be installed means that we can configure a new Chromebook for deployment in the amount of time it takes to join the device to the district’s wireless network, or about 3 minutes.  If a device has a problem – a corrupted operating system, for instance – we can restore the device to its original configuration in under 15 minutes.

Are the devices durable? 

School districts have had mixed experiences with regard to durability.  In general, we’ve found – as have other districts – that the Chromebooks are no more or less durable than our other laptops.  Especially with a 1:1 program under development, durability is a key factor that we consider in evaluation of potential models for purchase.  

Is a Chromebook a good choice for home, or for a college student? 

I get questions about computers for home and for students headed off to college all the time.  In short, a Chromebook is going to be somewhat limited for home and student use, especially if there is any need for specialty software (engineering, music composition, GIS, advanced video/photo editing, etc.)  That said, the majority of users just need a computer in order to browse the internet, check email, and compose an occasional document, spreadsheet, or presentation.  If you have wireless internet at home/school and you’re comfortable working with Google Drive, Google Docs, and Gmail, a Chromebook can be a perfect computer for home use.  Not only is it tremendously cost-effective, but it is also easier to use and to maintain than Windows or OS X computers.

If I were to buy a Chromebook, where can I get one?  

Almost all computer resellers – with the exception of the Apple and Microsoft stores – now sell Chromebooks.  You can often find good deals on Chromebooks at Best Buy and office stores, or online through Amazon.com or Newegg.com.  When you choose a Chromebook, you’ll have some of the same choices that you have when purchasing any laptop: screen size, storage capacity, RAM, processor, and wireless.  Technical specifications are not as important for Chromebooks as for other computers, but I generally recommend:

  • at least an 11.5″ display, at least 1366×768 resolution
  • storage capacity isn’t generally important; most Chromebooks have SD card slots for photos from a camera
  • I recommend 4GB of RAM, but 2GB is sufficient.  4GB will result in a smoother experience for most users
  • Processor is generally unimportant; you’ll get better performance from a Chromebook with an Intel Core i3/i5 than you will from some other options (Celeron, Atom, Rockchip, Tegra, Exynos, etc.)
  • Support for wireless 802.11ac has the potential to improve streaming and web application performance.


Thoughts from ITEC

ITECOne of the annual events that I look forward to in the world of educational technology each year is the ITEC – the Iowa Technology & Education Connection – conference in Des Moines.  This two day conference touches on all aspects of  educational technology, including IT support and management, curricular technology resources, the intersection of technology and instruction, and so forth.  Perhaps even more valuable than the sessions are the opportunities to talk and debate with others from Iowa’s ed tech community; being able to learn from the perspectives of teachers, students, administrators, and technology professionals from districts large and small is exhilarating.

Here are some of my thoughts and takeaways from this year’s conference:

Technology is ubiquitous: one of the recurring discussions in sessions with other technology directors was that of service continuity, or making sure that the network and our data stay accessible no matter what.  The fact that this is such a hot topic drives home the fact that we are increasingly dependent upon technology – wireless networks, cloud services, student information systems, file synchronization, etc. – such that outages can substantially impact learning.  In this vein, service continuity is a big focus for us right now in the Iowa City schools, with discussions ranging from cross-training support personnel to the addition of a second data center for failover and load balancing purposes.

We have outstanding staff members in the district: prior to the beginning of the keynote presentation on the first day of ITEC, I was reminded about how innovative and forward-thinking our staff can be.  Along with several other items to kick off the conference, I got to see Garner principal Nick Proud honored with ITEC’s Outstanding Administrator award.  Throughout the conference, I saw ICCSD staff presenting at sessions, ICCSD students coordinating and creating podcasts, and was never at a loss for pride in the district I serve.

We have to reach students where they live: in technology terms, it’s easy for me to default to technology solutions and communication methods that I use.  As an administrator, I have to push myself to innovate and learn such that my limitations don’t result in barriers to students’ effective use of technology.

There are tremendous benefits to a growth mindset in educational technology.  Rather than fighting changes in communication technologies, we as educators need to work to stay ahead of those changes.  Our kids live in today’s world; let’s teach them there.

Failure is fine, but it isn’t a goal: Among the other valuable messages from George Couros’ keynote was this one, which resonated with me: failure is part of learning, but isn’t the end of learning.  While we need to encourage risk-taking and acknowledge the messy ups and downs of progress, we ultimately must work to build a mindset where failure isn’t the end, it’s just a part of the process from which we grow towards success.

I need to get in the classroom more: While I’m not usually a big fan of self-focused statements, I want to own up to this one.  Since I started in the district in July, I’ve spent relatively little time in the classroom.  This has to change, and I’m excited about making it happen.  While administrative responsibilities are time-consuming and can seem to monopolize availability, it’s impossible to serve our students and teachers if I am not closely connected with their experiences in our classrooms.

Sometimes, the nuts and bolts can be innovative too: the Nevada School District, near Ames, has been implementing virtual applications to support their Chromebook 1:1 initiative for the past year.  Attending a session presented by their Director of Technology Joe Wakeman affirmed our approach to offer specialized software through a virtual platform, such that students can access the software they need at any time, from anywhere.  While, on one hand, this solves a very mundane problem of needing to run Windows software on a Chromebook, it has the potential to dramatically change how and when students work, and how teachers are able to deliver instruction.  The next step is ensuring that all of our students have access to internet no matter whether they’re on or off-campus.


1:1 Initiative Coming in 2017, 2018

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.

district-profile-gilrs-at-compuersWhile 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 digitaldivideexisting 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.

cipaWill 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 c04808653Chromebooks 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.  1402604213896In 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).

cisco-3560Will 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.