Long login times, unpredictable computer behavior, and outdated applications. These are issues that students throughout Howard County have experienced when trying to use school technology. To address this, the school system has called into place the “Chromebook Initiative”.
“The Chromebook initiative is one strategy HCPSS is using to refresh obsolete equipment.” said Lynn Ho, a delivery manager for the HCPSS Department of Information Technology. This initiative will enforce the installation of Chromebook mobile labs at every public school in Howard County, and replace the former practice of purchasing Apple and Dell computers as the need arises.
As well as replacing old, unusable technology, this project will work to “optimize the student to device ratios at each level,” all the way from elementary schools to high schools, according to Ms. Ho. The end goal is to provide, at any given time, access to Chromebooks for “70% of students in a high school…63% in a middle school, and 50% in an elementary school,” said Ms. Ho. It goes without saying that a substantial amount of financial resources will go into being able to afford this project. Currently, Chromebooks found on Amazon or Best Buy range in price from $170 to over $300, but a process is in place that “helps ensure the school system can acquire products at the best price possible.” Through this process, the HCPSS Board of Education accepted a bid that allows the school system to buy a mobile cart for $987 and each Chromebook for $331.24. Also included in this purchase price is a Google management console, which means that the new computers will be delivered at each school ready to use in the classroom.
“Ready to use in the classroom” is an exciting prospect to some Atholton teachers. According to Crystal Shelley, a history teacher at Atholton, each department only has one or two carts of Macbook or Dell computers and they are constantly checked out, in use or argued over because of the high demand for laptops. It’s obvious that more laptops ready to use in the classroom are highly needed. Mrs. Shelley expressed her high opinion of this initiative, labeling it “an equity thing”. Making sure that all students have access to the same technology is imperative to the school environment. “Bring your own device works when every kid has them”, Mrs. Shelley continued, but not every kid does. In her opinion, “a few [carts] for each department would be wonderful.” Teachers who share Mrs. Shelley’s opinions have the Chromebook Initiative to look forward to, as this project will work to achieve just that: enough laptops for teachers to be able to use the technology in their classroom as often as they want.
There is a combination of funding sources going into this project. The Board of Education was able to acquire lower prices than regular commercial prices, but hundreds of Chromebooks still need to be bought. The money for these Chromebooks is coming from several different sources. With the help of Chief Financial Officer Rafiu Ighile, savings from the Technology Operating and Capital budgets are being used. The school system is currently reviewing a proposal for a commercial loan to help finance this project.
This financial and timely commitment is an exciting, necessary prospect to some, such as teachers like Mrs. Shelley. There are others, however, who think otherwise. Senior Brenna Lindberg expressed her opinion on the incoming wave of brand new technology by saying that “replacing and updating would be worth it, but getting new computers for every student is not going to be effective.” She questioned, “why would I use the school’s computers when I already have my own set up for my needs?” Along with the problems the senior raised about providing redundant supplies, she also questioned the logic behind giving students as young as elementary schoolers this constant access to technology. “No elementary schooler needs that much access to a laptop,” Lindberg stated passionately. “Once in a while use is fine, but not to the point where they need their own.”
Whether the new Chromebooks will prove to be a blessing or a hindrance, thousands of dollars are currently being allocated to provide for them. Seniors may not reap the direct benefits of this massive undertaking, but juniors and underclassmen can finally say goodbye to old, outdated school technology.