Boyle County High School: Tech Done Right!

Mark Wade of Boyle County High School in Kentucky
Mark Wade, Principal of Boyle County High School, shows off the school’s new digital signboard system.

I recently met with Mark Wade, Principal at Boyle County High School, to discuss the new leaps the school is making with technology. This school is blending traditional educational tools with digital platforms that will not only make education easier and more efficient, it will help students be more prepared to live in a technology-infused world.

The most obvious example of this new technology is on display in the front lobby as you enter the school, a digital signboard powered by a Chromebox and RiseVision which was implemented about three weeks before the end of the school year. This signboard system uses televisions in multiple locations throughout the common areas of the school for displaying information, and it can also be pulled up by individual teachers in their classrooms.

Many of the slides feature students at the school and offer information about events and news related to student life. Wade said that an RSS program for announcements on the digital signboard would be implemented soon. He expects the use for this system to continue to expand.

And the best part? “The students do all the programming,” said Wade. Chromebox is an inexpensive, fast, high-definition tool to fetch the information the high school’s computer class creates using java and html programming.

One-To-One Technology Program

At the end of this school year, a whole slew of Chromebooks arrived at Boyle County High School. Next year, when Boyle County High School students return, each will be presented with his/her own Chromebook. This program is called the One-to-One Technology Initiative.

The Chromebook given to an incoming Freshman will follow them through their high school career. At the end of the school year, the student will turn in their Chromebook and the next year they will get the same Chromebook back. (The school will use the summer to do maintenance on the machines to prepare them for the next full year of hard use.)

Why Chromebooks?

“When we were researching devices for our one-to-one. In our research, we determined that Chromebooks are outselling other technology options 5-to-1 for education,” said Wade.

According to statistics from Google, the cost for deploying, maintaining and security is dramatically reduced on Chromebooks compared to PC platforms. Google estimates a savings of $1135 per Chromebook every three years as the result of easier deployment, less labor to support, less teacher time spent troubleshooting, and zero virus issues.

The Chromebooks come with support, management, and built-in access to Google Apps for Education and access to pre-packaged educational content, books and other resources.

One of the features of this suite is Google Classroom – which helps teachers create and collect assignments paperlessly. There are also time-saving features for teachers to make distribution to students quick and easy and Google Drive organization to help keep things in order. Teachers can see who has started work, what work has been completed, and can work with students in real-time.

For students, the Google Classroom application means they have one place to see their assignments and can start working on them with a single click. The collaboration features include a discussion stream, so students learn together and help each other.

In addition, the Google Apps for Education — a suite of productivity tools for classroom collaboration — is tied to each device for the students to use. As long as the device is in use, the tools are available to the student, Wade explained.

“People thought the Chromebooks were useless offline,” said Wade, “but you can use them offline, and you can save to flashdrive and other media.” Even if the student doesn’t have access to the Internet at home, the Chromebook will still work for them. The school has Internet, and the Chromebook apps have offline access that will update as soon as the students hit the school’s wifi.

Another advantage to the Chromebook platform is that it is hot-swappable. That means that if the device itself has a problem that can’t be solved, the student can get a new Chromebook, log into their Google Apps account, and all the information will look just like their old device. That’s not so simple on other platforms.

What About Other Platforms?

Wade said the school has an inclusive technology platform. The school is set up to use any device. They currently have macs, pcs, and android platform devices. “We live in a mixed technology world here,” he said, “Students need to be able to use all of them.”

Before deciding to go with the Chromebooks for One-to-One, Wade said, “We were also looking at Macs, but they are so expensive. The PCs would be good, but they are somewhat of a nightmare to maintain.”

“We want to be good stewards of everything we have going on,” said Wade.

What If the Chomebook is Damaged?

The Chromebook is required at the high school, meaning if something happens to the device, a new one must be purchased.

They plan to use a “stepped” fine program for accidental damage. Although the proposed fee scale has not yet been approved by the district’s lawyers or the school board, Wade expects the plan to go something like this: If damage is the result of an accident, the first instance will be a $20 fee for repairs, such as a cracked screen from a drop. The second incident steps up to $80-100,  and the third one is the price of the device.

If the device is maliciously or intentionally damaged, the students (and their parents) are responsible for the cost of repairs or replacement.

“We want them to have skin in the game if they aren’t taking care of it,” said Wade.

Will Chromebooks Replace Textbooks?

Chromebooks will not replace textbooks. Boyle County High School’s approach to education, “will be very much of a hybrid model,” said Wade. “We still see value to having textbooks, especially in some classes — like math. Students seem to prefer doing math content out of a book.”

Wade said this preference may be the nature of the content. He said that they have already noticed some defined preferences in students and some literature students don’t want to use the Kindles or iPads the school library has for reading books.

“They want to read from a traditional book,” said Wade, “Anytime we can hybridize, we will. We don’t want to use technology just for technology’s sake. We want to use technology if it helps us.”

What About Teachers? Will Their Role Change?

Boyle County High School Teacher Helps a Student with Technology during Class
Boyle County High School Teacher Helps a Student with Technology during Class.

“I will tell you that technology does not replace our teachers,” said Wade, “There’s no way.”  But, with the sharing and collaboration capabilities of the Google Apps, teachers can give instant feedback and grade assignments in real-time.

“We have top-notch teachers,” said Wade, “They aren’t scared to use content, they aren’t scared to use digital. They are second to none.”

We aren’t just giving each kid a Chromebook and saying, “Here you go” because we don’t want it to be poorly implemented.

Wade says the school is investing eight professional development days during the summer months to allow the teachers the opportunity to digitize content and to prepare for implementation. He says, “some of our teachers still need training, but some could be trainers themselves!”

Wade said that some technology trials had been reverted to traditional teaching methods, “We had some flipped classrooms.” He explained that in an advanced Spanish class, the students tested some online learning models. The students interacted with online content, recorded their own messages in Spanish, and translated (typed out) what they heard in Spanish.

“The students didn’t like it,” Wade said. They said they wanted what they had before with the teacher-led instruction and “We listen to student input.”

Non traditional days (due to inclement weather) can include independent online learning, to reduce the make-up of instruction days at the end of the year. Students would have to do assignments during certain hours of the day, but that time would only be used for content they hadn’t mastered — it would not be used to introduce new information.

“We made that decision,” said Wade, “because we believe that the best thing you can do in education is do a great job delivering content the first time” and we want that time reserved with our teachers.

What About the Parents?

Parents are positive so far, but Wade expects that some concerns will probably arise as this is implemented. He sees one of the goals of the technology implementation for the school is to educate parents about technology too. Wade says he expects the school to devote time to addressing parent concerns and answering their questions.

For instance, Wade says the school will help parents learn how to monitor responsibly what their students are doing at home. “We [the school] can’t be responsible for that,” he said, but the school can help the parents learn what they need to know.

Students are not required to take the technology home. They can check it in and out at the end and beginning of each school day if they (or their parents) prefer.

What About Online Safety and Security at School?

Students will be required to obtain a “digital drivers license” before going online. This online safety course will educate students on how to identify phishing schemes, spoofed emails, and other things they need to be good online citizens before they get on the school network.

What About the Cost?

The cost to the school for these devices is $273 each. This seemed expensive for a Chromebook, so I asked Wade about the cost.

He explained that these models were not the same models that could be purchased by the public, they included  a Google management piece (which is a part of the Google Apps for Education program) and unlimited storage space follows the students through school and beyond, as does their personal email address.

“We are trying to be very responsible with our taxpayer resources. We want them to know that we are making wise decision and are preparing students… we think this is a very good move.”

He said that the school currently has unlimited storage through Microsoft OneDrive, but he anticipates a move away from the Microsoft products because the cost is so high, compared to Google.

There are many cost and time savings as a result of going “high tech” at the school. One easy-to-see way technology will help, is to move the the school toward going paperless. This isn’t just a convenience issue and a time-resource issue, it’s also a financial one. Wade says that considering the conservative estimate of cutting copy needs by half will save up to $8000 per year at the high school alone.

The annual school fees will help to cover the cost of the technology. (The current fee of $99 per student includes textbooks and technology.)

How Will This Impact the Traditional School Library?

Wade said the school is purchasing fewer hard copies of books, but they will still purchase hard copies. Buying fewer books, is however, opening up some space in the library.

With this new-found space, the library will now include a Mac lab, a printing area, an area where students can put together presentation pieces, and an area to check out traditional books.

There will be a tech help desk inside the library which will be run by the students. So, if a student is having difficulty or needs assistance with a device, they can get permission from their teacher and go to the tech desk in the library to receive help.

The library will also be used to help with the technology check in and check out process for those students who do not wish to take their Chromebooks home after school.

Why the Emphasis on Technology?

Wade says technology gives him additional convenience as a Principal, “I can unlock doors here at the school from home, I can remote into the school and turn up the heat or the air down.”

“Our district technology is very strong,” said Wade. “We have capable access points in each room. We have upgraded our T-1 lines and have increased our bandwidth.” Wade said that even on the days the school has a huge draw on the bandwidth, there is no noticeable lag.

The school uses remind.com and twitter to disseminate information to the students, parents, and the general public.

A content management system called Converge is used by the district and this system is so powerful, according to Wade, it seamlessly integrates quizzes, messages and other pieces of the educational digital pie.

Technology helps Boyle County High School teachers and their students with daily tasks. One teacher told Wade, “It used to take three days in a lab for my students to create a writing piece. Now, to write the same piece takes them one day.”

Wade says technology is helping the teachers, the students, and the school to become much more efficient.

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