The system is purchasing small, portable computers equipped with Google’s Web-based Chromebook system, said Superintendent Claire Dryden.
How the cloud works
The schools are moving to Google Apps for Education, a free program for schools, said Shawn Hudgins, technology coordinator for the system. The service stores programs and documents on Google’s servers so users can access them from any computer, he said, a system often referred to as “cloud-based.”
For instance, teachers can post assignments on the system, which students can access from anywhere they happen to be working. As the students start the assignments, teachers can access the students’ work in progress and offer suggestions or explanations. The work is shared and saved immediately, he said.
Hudgins can define how the documents in the cloud are shared, he said. If students are working on a collaborative project, he can allow the work to be shared between all of them and edited by any of them. If the students are working alone on a project, he can allow only the teacher to see and comment on the work, he said.
How much it will cost
The computers the system is buying are affordable, about $380 each, Dryden said.
Dryden said she proposed the initiative, which will cost the system nearly $750,000 when it’s complete. She thought it was important because a large number of students in Cleburne County don’t have easy access to computers at home, she said.
With 68 percent of the students coming from families whose low income makes them eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, that’s not surprising, she said. Some families have no computer, while others have only one for the entire family to share. Providing computers the students can use at home and at school can help ensure that the students have all the resources they need at all times, she said.
The computers will also provide a resource that allows teachers to know immediately what students are learning or not understanding in the classroom.
What it’s worth
Leslie Wilson, CEO of One-to-One Institute, said studies that show “one-to-one programs,” as educators call initiatives that issue computers to every child in a school, increase student achievement but only if the technology is integrated into the learning.
“It’s not about every kid having a personal device,” Wilson said. “It’s about teaching and learning.”
One-to-One is a Michigan-based nonprofit that evolved out of Michigan’s statewide school technology initiative, she said. The organization takes the lessons learned in Michigan’s plan to get technology into the hands of its students, and it teaches school systems how to implement successful programs, Wilson said.
Wilson said it’s hard to say how many school systems have begun such programs because many have simply handed out devices without extensively integrating them into the learning process. The nonprofit has identified about 2,000 school systems in the nation that have changed the way they teach to integrate the technology, she said.
How will it happen
Friday, the Cleburne County system initiated the first phase of the project. It ordered two carts, all the necessary software and 130 Lenovo X131 computers on Google’s Chrome platform, enough for the teachers and a mobile computer lab for each high school, Hudgins said.
This first year, the teachers will receive training on the new system and help students become familiar with it with a minimum of three Chromebook projects each quarter, Dryden said.
Hudgins said Eric Lee, an instructional specialist at Jacksonville State University, will train teachers for two days in August.
The school system will continue to use direct instruction from the teachers, she said. But the computers will allow the students to do more project-based learning in which the students are presented a challenge and have to solve it, Dryden said. The students do the work and the teacher provides feedback, she added.
Next year, the system hopes to order enough computers to provide one for every student in the system from eighth-graders to seniors. She would also like to include seventh-grade students, but it all depends on money, Dryden said.
Right now, the system is looking for ways to fund the initiative, including grants, state and federal technology funds. The system could make installment payments, she said.
But, she said, it’s important for the system to find a way to make it happen. Today’s world is wired 24/7, and the students have to learn to function in that world, she said.
“We’ve got to go about teaching in another way,” Dryden said.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.