Sunday, August 28, 2016

Portland’s Chromebook Initiative a Smart Move

Congratulations to the Portland School District for making the wise decision to purchase Chromebooks for their middle and high school students. Even more impressive is providing each student with a laptop for use during the school day. Hopefully, in time, students will be allowed to take them home where they can continue with school assignments. To some, this may seem extravagant and expensive. However, the program has the potential to do away with expensive textbooks, which can cost up to $100 each. Textbooks wear out, can get lost, and become outdated. Instructional resources provided via the internet to all Chromebooks are free to low cost and easily updated when needed. Chromebooks are long lasting, virus resistant, include all the apps (software) a student will ever need, have long battery life, and unlike more expensive tablets, have a keyboard. They are inexpensive with prices falling in the $150-$350 range.

Any technology program will require a well planned, professional development program where teachers are trained in the proper integration of technology into the school curriculum. Training should be ongoing and not a one day experience. Ideally, training should precede the distribution of laptops to students.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Technology Integration into K-12 Education, Now and in the Future

Ronald L. Abate
August 14, 2016

Computer usage in K-12 education has morphed into four areas: (1) as a tool for facilitating student work assignments; (2) internet research; (3) instruction; and (4) coding.

Problems and Solutions to Integration
Integration of computers into K-12 schools has moved slowly, at least when compared to business and industry. Desktop computers first appeared in schools, but more recently, mobile, lightweight laptops and tablets are becoming the norm. Ideally, all schools should aim to provide one device for every child to be used at school and at home.
A major obstacle has been the high cost of hardware. School districts were faced with expenditures of around $700 to over $1,000 per device. An added expense was networking a group of computers in labs, libraries, and even entire buildings. The need for personnel to maintain these networks added to the cost. The advent of cloud computing in the early 2000’s, (where programs, file storage, and communication are processed on remote servers via the internet), has resulted in a significant drop in the price of laptops and a lessening of the need for networks. Students will now have access to their district's resources in the cloud from any location at any time.
Chromebook laptops, a cloud computer, are an ideal choice for grades 3-12 with prices ranging from $150-$350 per unit, software included. Tablets, which do not have a qwerty keyboard should be reserved for K-2 students. Schools would require a robust connection to the internet to assure fast access.
The need for teacher preparation is another deterrent to integrating technology. Simply placing a large allotment of computers into a school without prior planning and teacher training is a recipe for failure. Training in technology should be ongoing and not a one day, district-wide offering.
Teacher preparation colleges can help by requiring future teachers to become technology proficient.
The role of school librarians will likely transition into computer and internet support specialists as the internet becomes the major source of information for education.

Recommended Practices
Keyboarding. Good typing skills will help facilitate written expression. Efficient keyboarding will serve students well while in school and for the remainder of their lives. Training should be provided early. My personal experience indicates that third graders can become proficient when instruction is provided at the rate of one-half hour per school day for the first half of the school year.
Computer Based Instruction. The demise of expensive, physical textbooks has already begun, being replaced by instructional, online resources, some of which are free. Schools may opt for a blended approach where teacher led activities are supplemented by online instruction done at home. The trend to online instruction will lower costs associated with textbook wear, lost books, and replacing out-dated books. Online resources provide a more direct, economical, and efficient route to making revisions as needed. Ideally, online offerings should be interactive where learning is measured continuously and students are always aware of their progress. Report cards may be eliminated as progress is measured continuously and parents have the option of checking their child’s achievement online at any time.
Online instruction should be personalized according to the needs of each student. This includes the use of online videos, simulations, digital game-based learning, the pacing of instruction, and any other venue that facilitates learning. The best programs will have the capability of assessing the most effective learning style of each student and make adjustments accordingly.
In October 2015 the U.S. Department of Education undertook a campaign to encourage school districts to replace traditional textbooks with free, quality resources (#GoOpen with Educational Resources.) This incentive has the potential for providing access to quality, instructional resources to all students regardless of location.
Strengthen School-Home Connection. Students can submit homework online. Teachers can grade assignments and return them to students via the internet. The need for paper will be reduced.
Virtual Reality. Students get the opportunity see distant places immersively without leaving the classroom. Also, personalized instruction, utilizing the power of artificial intelligence (AI), can be provided individually by a virtual teacher.
Standardized Testing. Testing can be administered online where scoring and analytics can be performed rapidly.
Monitoring and Program Evaluation. The large amount of data a district accumulates can be used to analyze the learning characteristics of a group of students (classroom, school building, or district) with the goal of evaluating and improving instruction.
Virtual Schooling. Students can opt to take a course online at anytime from any location. This can be useful where students wish to take a class not available in their school. One option is to take a massive open online course (MOOC) offered by providers like Khan Academy, Coursera, Edx, and Udacity. Motivated students may even complete course requirements and graduate earlier

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Free College Courses for Prison Inmates Should Include Online Offerings

Efforts to provide Connecticut's prison inmates with college course enrollment opportunities through federally funded sources is commendable. Our state should seek the most efficient and financially responsible process for delivering courses to our prisons. Hopefully, this will include offering Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). This would involve instruction delivered to individual inmates on computers via the internet. The least expensive devices are laptops with keyboards using the Chrome Operating System (Chromebooks). They should be restricted to instructional use.
Course content may be developed by the various State community colleges and universities. All course offerings are reusable and open to revisions as needed. However, MOOCs should involve more than watching a professor lecturing on a screen; these should be interactive, include short videos, simulations, and even educational games. The idea is to make these offerings interesting and motivating. These MOOC courses may be offered to prisoners in other states. Exams may be provided online and/or in proctored classrooms.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

An Evaluation of the Acer Aspire One Cloudbook
May 14, 2016

Acer has developed a low cost laptop running Windows 10; a computer where most programs and files are stored in the cloud. An internet connection is required. Prices vary according to the reseller, but most are under $250. This can be an attractive offering for K-12 schools and for others on a budget who prefer the Windows 10 Operating System.

The Cloudbook has a generous 14” screen, Intel Celeron Processor N3050, Intel HD graphics, 2GB of memory, 1TB of cloud storage, and a full qwerty keyboard. Also included, is a one year subscription of Office 365, six months of McAfee virus checker, and Cortana (Microsoft's voice input feature.)

Set-up seemed long. Processing speed appears to be a tad slower than the Chromebook. Screen resolution was excellent. The Cloudbook is lightweight for a laptop and slightly thinner than the Toshiba Chromebook.

The Cloudbook is comparable to the Chromebook. It has access to many free and low cost apps. This is an exceptional buy for those who prefer working under Windows 10. However, after one year, one would have to pay a yearly fee of at least $69 for Office 365. If only occasional word processing is required, it would make sense to install one of the free programs available on the Acer.

Installing the one-year free trial of Office 395 has problems. So far, I have been unsuccessful. There appears to be a problem or conflict with the password required to install Office and the one needed to open the laptop. The password used to unlock the computer is not recognized. The option of changing your password should be avoided, because the new password voids your entry into the computer. Hopefully, a call to support will solve this problem.

Generally, I tend to avoid software programs that charge a yearly fee as is the case with Office 365 and McAfee. Chromebooks come with all the software most people will ever need (Docs, Sheets, Slides, etc.) at no extra cost. Also, virus checkers are not needed as this function is performed in the cloud. The Chromebook apps are well suited for the average computer user. Too often, users purchase more powerful machines and too complex software than what they really need - all at an elevated price.

In conclusion, the Acer Cloudbook is recommended for those looking for a low cost, Windows 10 based laptop. Note that this computer was recently released; some problems are to be expected. Hopefully, the kinks will be worked out soon.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Economies Offered by Cloud Technology, K-12

Ronald L. Abate*
April 9, 2016

The following recommendations hold the promise of delivering a quality K-12 technology program at a significantly reduced cost. Savings can be realized by reductions in the cost of: (1) laptops, (2) textbooks and school supplies (paper, pencils, pens, etc.), (3) computer labs, (4) local area networks (LANS), (5) computer maintenance, (6) software (apps), (7) personnel used to oversee hardware/software usage, and (7) telephone land lines.

Three issues must be addressed to make these savings a reality: (1) one laptop per student, (2) a robust internet connection in each classroom, (3) ongoing staff professional development in the integration of technology into education.

1. Cloud-based Laptops.
An approximately sixty-six percent (66%) reduction in the unit cost of laptops can be realized when Google Chromebooks are purchased. These units cost between $200 and $300. Software and operating system upgrades are included in the price. Prices this low increase the desirable goal of moving to a 1:1 distribution of computers.

2. Textbooks and school supplies.
According to the Scholastic Administrator, “Typical elementary-school textbooks cost more than $100 each, and, as a result, the four largest textbook publishers rake in more than $4 billion each year.” (David Rapp | November/December 2008.) In Oct. 2015, the US Dept. of Education announced their #GoOpen initiative, “a campaign to encourage states, school districts and educators to use openly licensed educational materials.” The need for physical textbooks can be reduced by using online, resources. These include commercially authored e-books, and especially free reading materials prepared nationally and locally by district and other personnel. Note that online materials do not wear out, may be multimedia, and can be updated online as needed.
The cost of paper supplies can be reduced when assignments and homework are completed and submitted online and are corrected and returned online. Similarly, testing can be administered and scored online.

3. Computer Labs.
Cloud-based laptops can communicate with one another online, assuming a building internet connection is available, thus negating the need for many school labs. For example, students will no longer need to use the library network of computers as they will carry their laptops wherever they may be.

4. Local Area Networks.
Wired networks (LANs) will be unnecessary since all communication between students and teacher, and teachers and staff occur via the cloud. The cost of adding and maintaining these LANs will be minimized.

5. Hardware Maintenance.
The use of cloud computers should reduce maintenance issues as these laptops do not have hard disk drives or fans - both mechanical components that eventually break down.

6. Software.
Software (apps) is included in the cost of Chromebooks eliminating the need to purchase software rights, like MS Office 365. Also, upgrades to the Chrome Operating System are free.

7. Technology Personnel.
Cloud-based laptops should reduce the cost of personnel to maintain hardware. The price of replacement is so low that repairing is often negated.

8. Land Telephone Lines.
The use of a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phone system could eliminate the expense of land lines. Calls are free in the USA and Canada for many systems. Voice quality is excellent. (Note: Every Chromebook contains a VOIP phone at no extra cost.)

*Mr. Abate, now retired, was the District Computer Coordinator of Fairfield Public Schools, Computer Applications Instructor at Briarwood College and Research Associate at Yale University. He was also the owner of Galaxy Computer Services.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Professional Development Plan for Training K-12 Teachers in The Use of Technology
Ronald L. Abate

Many districts throughout the U.S. have made large purchases of laptops and/or tablets used to support instruction. Some schools have even provided one device per student. A commonly reported problem is the need to train teachers in the use of these computers. Not addressing this issue is a common reason for failure to integrate these devices into instruction. Teachers will need training. A number of approaches have been used:

1. Leaving the training to the vendor.
2. Use of a professional development day.
3. Use of a professional development day to introduce teachers to the devices, followed by ongoing training at the building level by local staff.
4. Ongoing training at the building level by local staff.

My experience as a K-12 trainer has resulted in the most success with #4. I used the following procedure.

1. Computers were distributed to teachers before students.
2. Teacher training took place daily or every other day one-half hour before students arrived.
3. Teachers were encouraged to start introducing computers to their class when they felt competent in their use.
4. Teachers were encouraged to seek help with issues during the before school training class.

This system has two major advantages: support and training is ongoing; and training is in small units and is distributed over time rather than all-at-once. Economic and educational benefits are realized by eliminating a professional development day. One more school day may be added to the calendar.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Two Transformative Developments that Can Alter the Course of K-12 Education

Ronald L. Abate
November 5, 2015

The introduction of microcomputers in the early 1980s was met with excitement and skepticism by K-12 educators. Some complained about their high cost, others saw it as another fad, and some were simply intimidated by their perceived complexity. Others saw the great potential of these tools to facilitate education at all levels. Today, the voices of the skeptics have become silent. But two perplexing dilemmas remain: the high cost of hardware and the need to maximize the pedagogical benefits of technology to ALL students. Cloud computers and online courses can help.

Implications of Cloud Computing

The advent of cloud computing, (the practice of using a contingent of powerful, remote computers [servers] accessed via the Internet to process, manage, and store data), led to a much less expensive option. Google developed a web based operating system (Chrome OS). Various manufacturers have incorporated this system into their machines. These became known as Chromebooks. These laptops cost about two-thirds less than Apple or Windows based computers, mostly because they do not contain hard disk drives and fans. Acer, Asus, Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba and others market Chromebooks. Apple and Microsoft are reportedly in the process of developing cloud based laptops.
Many Connecticut school districts (including the seventeen technical schools) are converting to Chromebooks; a trend occurring nationwide. Many are aiming to provide one for every student ( 1:1 distribution.) A high-speed internet connection, a content filtering system, and staff training are prerequisites for successful deployment. Ideally, students would be permitted to take Chromebooks home where they can continue to work on assignments. Districts would have to take steps to assure that a home, internet connection is available to all students.

Features of Chromebooks

Light weight (most under 5 pounds)
Virus protection at no extra cost
Cooler operation; fans are not essential.
Fast startup and processing
Many applications (apps) included in the price (word processing, spreadsheets, slides, etc.)
Long battery life (about 9 hours)
A qwerty keyboard; desirable for word processing and test taking
Voice to text capability
Automatic updating of the operating system; expensive, time consuming updates are eliminated.
All student work is saved automatically in the cloud and is retrievable from any location where an internet connection is available.
Sound and a camera are included.
Free phone call capability (dialing and receiving within the U.S. and Canada)
District-wide management capability of all laptops from a central office location.
Lost or stolen Chromebooks can be locked remotely making them unusable.
Low cost (as low as $150 per unit.)

Benefits Provided by 1:1 Laptop Distribution

A “library” of resources via the Internet becomes available at anytime from any location. All students will have access to information provided by the Internet.
Less expensive, interactive, electronic textbooks can be accessed online. They can be readily updated. Unlike print textbooks, they will not get lost, wear out, or require physical storage space.
Forward thinking districts can enlist the skills of their faculty to create custom, online instructional units that will be made available to all their students.
The librarian’s role will transition to that of a technology support specialist.
Communication via the Internet between home and school can be facilitated.
The need for paper will be reduced as written assignments and testing are done online.
Students can submit assignments to teachers who can oversee, comment, correct and return work to students ALL via the Internet.
Safe, online storage of school records.
The need for local area networks (LANs) and computer labs will be reduced as each student will have their own laptop connected to the internet.
Assessing student achievement can be ongoing as progress is updated continuously through the use of moving averages. The need for report cards will decline.
Standardized testing can be administered on laptops. Results and summary statistics will be available almost immediately. Scoring cost will be reduced.

The Implications of Online Courses
Offering Massive, Open, Online Courses (MOOCs) is a recent trend at many colleges. These courses may be open to anyone, anywhere, often are free, are self-paced, and may offer college credit. Classroom attendance is not required except for proctored final exams if college credit is desired.
Very few K-12 school districts are using online courses due to: (1) cost of 1:1 distribution of laptops for use in school and at home, (2) lack of internet connections in some schools and homes*, (3) dearth of online, interactive instructional units and (4) unfamiliarity with the concept. K-12 school districts should undertake the development of online instruction. These units may be revised and updated as needed. Print textbooks will no longer be needed. Online texts may be offered as primary instruction, review, or for remediation. Students may do their homework before class, while in-class time is devoted to discussion, exercises, or projects, - the so-called “flipped classroom.” Online courses developed at the district level may, in time, become MOOCs open to all K-12 students world-wide.

*The Federal Government has earmarked 9 billion dollars to help schools develop high-speed Internet connections.