Eudora High School 1-to-1 laptop rollout going smoothly

There’s a new rule this year for students to obey in the hallways of Eudora High School.

In addition to such longstanding rules against running or lingering while moving from room to room, students now must heed a 21st-century dictate.

“We had an assembly,” sophomore Brayden Yoder-Mulkey said. “We were told we had to keep our laptops in their carrying cases whenever we leave the classroom.”

The rule is meant to protect the new Dell Chromebooks every student in the school was given at the start of the school year. Students also learned they weren’t to put stickers or personalize their laptops’ exteriors in any way, and to plug them in before going to bed at night so that batteries were refreshed for the next day.

The Chromebooks’ distribution followed the Eudora school board’s approval in April of a $115,177 purchase of 500 laptops, Google Management Console licenses and four mobile charging carts. The cautious board also spent another $10,900 on protective sleeves for the laptops.

The district was able to make that investment in tight budgetary times after the city of Eudora purchased the old Nottingham Elementary School and adjacent property for $850,000 so the city could guide the property’s redevelopment.

It’s not that his students didn’t have access to technology in the past, Eudora High School Principal Ron Abel said. The school had a mobile cart fleet of Apple Macbooks for classroom use, as well as desktops. With the arrivals of the Chromebooks, the cart fleet “waterfalled” to middle and elementary schools.

The new Chromebooks are a big step up, said Yoder-Mulkey and fellow EHS sophomores Holland Harvat and Holly Vesecky. They boot up very quickly, have fast internet browsing speeds and have batteries that stay charged for the day.

Those are qualities for which Chromebooks are known. Chromebooks use the Google OS operating system introduced in 2011 and are designed to be used primarily with the internet, where they access cloud-based applications.

Fast boot-up time and browsing speeds are important in the classroom, Abel said.

“Getting online quickly saves classroom time,” he said. “One thing you can’t give teachers is more time.”

Sophomore Harvat said the personal Chromebooks give students a boost in basic coping skills.

“I think it will help students stay organized,” she said. “We have folders for all our different classes.”

That organization is achieved through the Google Classroom, a free web-based platform that allows the integration of Google applications for education with text, email and calendar apps. Google Classroom allows teachers to make information on assignments, grades and progress available 24/7, Abel said.

“I can send a message to my teachers and hear back from them immediately,” Vesecky said.

The district had hoped to make the jump to 1-to-1 computing sooner, Abel said. The delay did allow teacher training in Google Classroom and other aspects of the Chromebooks, he said. Teachers also received training in how to incorporate the new technology in classes. Some online material is integrated into curriculum, and teachers find other content to augment their classes.

The classroom use of the laptops varies from day to day and class to class, the students said. The laptops may be integral to a day’s presentation or stay tucked away in their protective sleeves when the class is engaged in a more “hands on” activity, they said.

Most importantly, the laptops provide all students equal access to web-based learning, at least while they are at school, Abel said. The district doesn’t know the exact percentage of students who have home internet access, but he estimated it to be from 75 to 85 percent, adding the caveat that smartphones are near universal. Lack of home internet access doesn’t make the Chromebooks useless because they have some offline functionality, but it does limit their purpose, Abel said. Unfortunately, Eudora doesn’t have many public spaces offering Wi-Fi access, Abel said.

Although some students have attempted to access online games, inappropriate sites have been effectively blocked, the EHS sophomores said.

“Our World History teacher wanted us to play a game as part of the class, but he couldn’t get on the site,” Yoder-Mulkey said. “The teacher had to go through IT to get access.”

There’s been a wrinkle or two, but overall he has been pleased with how well the 1-to-1 rollout has progressed, Eudora Superintendent Steve Splichal said. He attributed that to the district’s extensive advanced planning on the initiative.

The district benefited from studying the experience of other districts, one of which introduced a 1-to-1 initiative a decade ago, Splichal said. Administrators, board members and teachers visited other districts to identify potential problems, see what was working and review policies, he said.

For example, when Baldwin High School started its 1-to-1 iPad initiative at the start of the 2013-2014 school year, the district learned it had a serious shortage of Wi-Fi access that hampered the devices’ effectiveness until more access points were added and other problems addressed. With that lesson learned, access has not been an early problem at EHS.

Policies were borrowed from other districts that instituted a student technology fee and required students and parents to sign pledges, Abel said. Parents were also offered the opportunity to purchase insurance for the Chromebooks.

“All but three took advantage of the insurance,” he said.

The delay also allowed the district to launch its initiative with the less-expensive Chromebooks. Again the Baldwin City school district provided an example: In February 2013, its board agreed to a lease-purchase agreement, requiring the district to pay $90,000 for three years for the 475 iPads introduced later that year at Baldwin High School.

“There’s a substantial difference from the price of iPads and Macs,” Splichal said of the EHS Chromebooks. “We looked at the dollars and cents because we want this to be sustainable, and not a one-time deal.”

The district still needs to work on sustainability in regard to replacing its Chromebooks, Splichal said. But with the laptops having a four-year lifespan, the district has time to develop a plan to buy new laptops for high school use while used models will waterfall to lower grade levels, he said.

“We’ve got several years to develop a process and a plan to refresh units,” he said. “We’re looking at maybe refreshing a class or two at a time. We don’t know what that will look like just yet.”