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What can RB take away from D96’s technology problems?

Cameron Gmitro, 5th grader at Central Elementary School

Cameron Gmitro, 5th grader at Central Elementary School

Mike Gmitro, Staff Reporter

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Earlier this school year, the RB School Board announced that they would be moving towards a one-to-one computer system in the coming years. A one-to-one program involves putting a laptop, or in RB’s case a Google Chromebook, into the hands of every student. With today’s continuously accelerating technological trend in education, this would appear to be a smart move.

RB is not the first to follow this trend locally; District 96 which includes the Riverside elementary schools Central, Blythe, Ames, Hollywood, and the junior high school Hauser, has already been operating on a one-to-one program for five years.  At a September 27 D96 board meeting, there was a discussion on the technology problems that have been plaguing RB’s feeder district. These include server failures, under-utilization of the laptops, and lack of advancement in the teaching going along with these laptops. This has raised some serious concerns throughout the district and could be raising some serious concerns at RB.

Last month Client First Technology Consulting performed an assessment of the technology situation at District 96 and presented their findings to the school board there. The assessment was requested after frequent complaints that the Internet moved slowly and that the school e-mail system frequently crashed. Client First reported back that there was a significant amount of obsolete equipment and infrastructure in place in the district. In addition there was purchased technology that was not being used or implemented. Client First made several recommendations, mainly on how District 96 should get their equipment up to date.

Matt Ahlenius is Technology Systems Specialist at District 96. He sets up the Servers, Network, Wireless Access Points, and Interactive Projectors for every building in the district. A large portion of his time is working on the one-to-one program servers and fixing the laptops for the students. He says that the problems D96 faced were attributed to the Wireless Access Points and Internet Bandwidth inability to handle the increased number of computers.

Despite this Ahlenius believes that one-to-one is a very worthwhile program.

“It’s a more collaborative and student-centered learning process,” Ahlenius said.  “Students can more easily work on projects together, especially using Google Docs and other online tools.”

Students actively use computers in the classroom to write papers, create art, design presentations, produce music, research, and learn foreign languages.  Ahlenius notes that the computers are used in every subject at D96 to create opportunities for very creative teaching.

Ahlenius said that the main thing RB needs to consider as it moves forward is preparation.  Client First cited that one of the biggest issues at D96 was the piling on of new technology onto old systems.  This caused the new technology to not be able to operate to the best of its ability.

Ahlenius said, “There are two software usage challenges that we have begun facing during the last two years, Adobe Flash Player and Java updates.  These updates have become quite a bit more frequent as there are many security holes in the software.”

As Adobe and Oracle continue to update their software, Apple eventually blocks older versions from running on the laptops to protect against security holes.  It takes many additional hours to install the latest updates.  RB’s decision to use Chromebooks may avoid some of these problems.  Chromebooks, by nature, filter all of their usage through Google Chrome and update automatically.  However, the downside is that they currently do not support Java, which limits the sites students can visit.

Just before Thanksgiving Break, RB suffered a morning-long network crash, stalling teacher’s lesson plans.  What will happen once lesson plans are event more reliant on Internet access via the Chromebooks?

Over the past two years, RB has been fixing its wi-fi problems and increasing bandwidth within the school.  Lack of bandwidth was identified as a problem at D96 by Client First.  Low bandwidth can cause the entire system to slow down, becoming a real nuisance to teachers in both districts.  However, updating bandwidth costs money.

Ahlenius’ main suggestion for RB was to make sure that proper preparation takes place before rolling out Chromebooks.  In order for RB to modernize, the network infrastructure needs to be up-to-date.

When asked if RB could be successful with its one-to-one program given the problems he has seen at D96, Ahlenius said, “Success is limited by design and implementation.  If RB properly researches what they intend to do, how to implement a solid infrastructure and provide professional development to their staff, then, yes, they will be successful.”

Still, that advance work is critical.

“There is no substitute for doing it right the first time and sustaining a program,” Ahlenius said.

1 Comment

One Response to “What can RB take away from D96’s technology problems?”

  1. Martha, an RBHS and District 96 parent on December 9th, 2013 12:19 pm

    Thank you for an interesting article. I have had two kids go through the 1:1 laptop program in District 96 and I think it is not the program that your source says it is. Neither child created anything of any value using these laptops. Sure, they were/are fun but they are not really being used in any academic/creative manner. My older child suffered in the area of writing, in particular, with the “student-centered” aspect creating a shortage of real input and criticism from the teacher. It is not enough to work with fellow students; teachers are needed to provide instruction and criticism–and of course to inspire. These things are certainly not provided by computers and very often (if not always) are not provided by classmates.

    In addition, Mike, the cost for such a program should be prohibitive considering the financial situation at RBHS. Any extra money seems to go toward athletic facilities; it is difficult to see where the money for staffing this ongoing program will come from. The school’s average ACT score dropped a full point last year–money that will be spent to administer a laptop program could probably do more good in the form of smaller classes and more intervention. Laptops, and especially chromebooks, are window dressing. Substantive, instructional computer classes for the RB students–learning how to program for example–would be much better than 1:1 word processing.

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What can RB take away from D96’s technology problems?