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.