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 Textbooks wear out, can get lost, and become outdated.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