Chromebooks Are Coming, But Backpacks Will Still Be Heavy

by | Sep 2, 2014

The new computer devices – due to arrive next week – will augment rather than replace textbooks, at least at first.

Rollout of new computer devices for each student at East Greenwich High School should take place within the next two weeks, Supt. Victor Mercurio told the School Committee Tuesday night. Originally, the administration thought the Chromebooks would be available for distribution before school started, but the delay has worked to the district’s advantage, Mercurio said, allowing teachers to get more training prior to rollout.

But for those parents who thought backpacks for their high schoolers would be lighter with the advent of Chromebooks, not so fast.

“Essentially, with textbooks, different departments are in different places,” said EGHS Principal Michael Podraza. Some teachers, such as business teacher Patricia Page, have already started supplementing the textbook and in some cases not even using a textbook, he said. The Science Department, too, has been quick to incorporate digital offerings in their coursework. Other departments, he said, are more tied to their textbooks at this point.

“My hope is and my belief is that we’re curating lots of different resources,” Podraza said. “Twenty-first-century learning isn’t about the textbook. It’s about what you can do with the skills and can you curate the resources and then what can you create with them. So ultimately, we’re going to have teachers who are creating their own textbooks. We’re going to have students in classes that are rebuilding and building their textbook every year but supplementing with video, with Skype video, with different posts and links.”

School Committeewoman Deidre Gifford was more interested in some of the concrete aspects of the rollout, again suggesting that it be postponed until the district has a new technology director in place. Hiring a replacement for Carlos Zambrano, who departed last spring, has taken months and there’s still no replacement. Supt. Mercurio said Tuesday he was hopeful that the latest round of interviews would yield a candidate “within the next two weeks.”

Still, Gifford’s suggestion was not acted on. School Committee Chairman David Green said he was comfortable with the rollout taking place before a director was in place, since the previous director supervised the planning and acquisition of the Chromebooks. The district is hiring a “technology integration specialist” for the high school to help with the Chromebook implementation – the School Committee has approved the hire but the candidate had not officially said yes Tuesday night. Still, Principal Podraza said he thought the tech hire would be ready to start Monday.

Gifford also asked about agreements with third-party companies supplying free online products to students – how was that monitored in light of the district’s policy against advertising to students, she asked. Podraza said with companies like Ever Fi, which will provide a “digital citizenship” course for students to complete, “there’s no advertising and no data-mining of emails.”

Students will be responsible for their Chromebook just as they are for their textbooks. The device, with the extras needed for school, costs about $400. If families want to buy an insurance plan, that’s available. Each student is expected to complete the online digital citizenship course soon after they receive their Chromebook, although Podraza noted it would not be practical to confiscate the device if the course is not completed, since it will be integrally linked to the educational experience.

The legendarily poor Internet connectivity at the high school appears to be a thing of the past due to extensive “behind the wall” improvements in recent years, Mercurio was happy to report. He said there were possibly 400 computer devices online at EGHS during an orientation session for the whole district just before school started and everyone was able to connect.

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