Massachusetts School Leans on Chromebooks to Bridge Connectivity, Tech Gaps

At a cost of $543,465, over 2,000 teens in the school will recieve Chromebooks.

by Amy Saltzman, Wicked Local Metro / September 12, 2018 0
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(TNS) — After rolling out an initiative last year to provide all incoming Cambridge Rindge and Latin School freshmen with laptops, the district has expanded the program this year, offering the entire CRLS student body -- over 2,000 teens -- Chromebooks.

At a cost of $543,465, over 1,700 laptops will be handed out to the incoming freshmen as well as juniors and seniors, according to school officials. Sophomores will continue to use the same devices they were issued as freshmen last year.

The district said the initiative is an attempt to level the playing field by bridging the digital divide.

"We are very proud to be able to launch a 1:1 technology program at the high school," said Superintendent Ken Salim in a written statement. "We know that access to information and online resources has become essential for teaching and learning. Last year's pilot proved that through this model, we can level the playing field for students, while allowing CPS educators to truly integrate technology into instructional design across the curriculum."

Students will have access to the devices at school as well as at their homes throughout their entire enrollment at the high school.

Why Chromebooks?

The decision to use Chromebooks rather than a different laptop was a combination of familiarity, price, and features, according to Gina Roughton, assistant director of Educational Technology for Cambridge Public Schools, who was interviewed last year.

"They're an amazing device in terms of a tech-perspective. They boot up in seven seconds, so there's no loss of instructional time," Roughton said in 2017. "And the obvious is that they are on the Google environment and we've been a Google for Education school district for seven years now, so it's our preferred use for online collaboration and productivity tools."

To encourage responsible use and to ensure student privacy, the district limits internet access through filters and bans on certain applications and websites both on and off campus.

The privacy standards set in Cambridge were adopted regionally by the Massachusetts Student Privacy Alliance, and now are the basis of the national student privacy model, according to Principal Damon Smith.

Issues raised

At the Sept. 4 School Committee meeting, some complaints were made that those students who already have high-powered devices are not able to use them in the classroom, just designated areas such as the cafeteria, Media Cafeteria and library.

Part of the limitation on personal-device use is due to bandwidth, officials said. Smith said the school is prioritizing Wi-Fi access to school-issued devices in order to ensure they are working fast enough to not result in loss of instructional time.

"This summer, CPS invested in improving the Wi-Fi capacity in common areas of the high school such as the library and cafeteria. At the same time, because this is such a high volume of devices coming online, they've decided in classrooms to restrict Wi-Fi access to the Chromebooks," said Rosalie Rippey, communications manager for CPS.

Smith said there's also a benefit to having consistent technology across the board.

"When you have a bring-your-own-device platform in school -- where some students have Windows, G Suite and some students have something completely different -- I think that creates a level of dissonance in the classroom that doesn't lead to effective instructional support," he said.

At the meeting, students and parents also expressed privacy concerns and the lateness in which the district announced the new policy. Several students said they already purchased personal laptops without the knowledge of this incoming requirement.

Smith said while he respects the arguments brought up at the meeting, it may come down to just a difference of opinion. The initiative is not new, he said, and has been on the table and discussed for over four years. Also, all computers used on campus are subject to the same filters, he said.

"This is about, in essence, an equity issue. This is about making sure our district and our school in particular is walking our talk. Making sure the devices we use are ones everyone can use and access to do whatever they need in school," he said.

©2018 Wicked Local Metro, Needham, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.