Approximately 25 to 30 people came to the Saline High School Media Center Monday night to hear more about the district’s plan to require that all incoming ninth grade students this fall bring a mobile device with keyboard to class every day. The presentation was given by Saline High Assistant Principal Theresa Stager and Assistant Super Intendent of Instructional Services Steve Laatsch.
Administrators from Saline Area Schools hosted a forum Monday night in the high school media center to offer more information, and to take questions, about the forthcoming BYOD+ initiative, which will require incoming freshman to bring a laptop (or mobile device bearing a keyboard) with them to class each day.
The acronym stands for “bring your own device,” and the plus indicates the program is a step beyond the current status quo, which has been to strongly encourage students to bring mobile devices to school to satisfy certain aspects of the curriculum that require them.
Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Steve Laatsch hosted the event alongside Saline High School Assistant Principal Theresa Stager.
As mentioned last week by Superintendent Scot Graden at the board of education meeting, the district has negotiated a deal with Southfield-based technology company InaCOMP to supply a low-cost Chromebook Laptop option for families seeking to buy a computer for their child if they don’t already have one.
At $161, the price is on the low end of the laptop market but is promised by the district to be a quality machine. Laatsch said the same unit is already being used successfully on classroom laptop carts.
For those families who cannot afford the negotiated price and who apply for financial assistance, Stager made clear the Chromebook their children receive will be the exact some one as those who paid for it.
“What we do want you to know is that all families who request financial aid will be provided a district-issued Chromebook to keep for all four years of the student’s career, but this device is the property of the student,” she said. “It will not be tagged in any way, it’s not an old Chromebook; we’re going to purchase them just like we purchase the new Chromebooks that everyone else will be purchasing.”
This will negate any potential for stigma attached to having a school-funded unit, Stager said.
When the floor was opened for questions following the presentation, one of the first round of concerns expressed by parents was whether the low-cost Chromebook being offered by the school would be good enough for the everyday needs of students.
“We think it is,” Laatsch said, indicating there are already computers in place for students to use for more robust tasks such as in graphics and multimedia classes. “For the day-to-day operations we really do feel like it’s enough.”
Other parents wondered if students might have trouble staying on task, but Laatsch said the district has previously been successful in reining in inappropriate online behavior under the current circumstances where most kids have a computer and a cell phone at all times anyway.
Parent Ben Lilley said he sees it as being the same as addressing any other kind of behavior issue requiring discipline.
“You can’t stop everything, right? They can bring a phone up and hold the phone in front of them and be connected to AT&T and do whatever they want as long as the teacher doesn’t see it, but is that good digital citizenship? I don’t think it is.” he said.
It was also explained by several administrators that an upshot of the Chromebook’s simplicity is how it can be monitored for usage outside of what’s deemed appropriate.
Students sign into their Chromebooks while at school using GoGuardian, a content filter that allows the district to maintain its internet operating standards while students are there. Teachers can see when all the students in class are signed in, and you must logout of one user profile on a Chromebook to access another.
A separate advantage to the Chromebook is that it isn’t prone to viruses, Laatsch and others at the meeting said, which was another major concern expressed by parents who fret paying $161 for something they’d have to fix all the time.
This is inherent in their design, since Chromebooks are made to simply access the internet, and store data remotely, unlike traditional PC and Mac computers that have large internal memory capacities, Lilley, who runs a software company, said.
“I’ve never even heard of one that’s had a virus. I know that sounds silly,” he said. “Everything runs out at Google.”
If problems do arise, InaCOMP offers a weekly pick-up and drop-off repair service at the school for damage or warranty issues on computers it sold. Students would receive a loaner for the duration of the repair.
Ultimately, Laatsch said, lower device costs on the district’s part will enable administrators to bolster other areas of the curriculum in need.
“By not having the constant purchase of devices, it’s going to allow us to do more for learning,” he said.
Though there are many complicated details to sort through as the BYOD+ effort is integrated, Stager said technology is not taking over completely.
“Although we’re asking that the students bring their devices, this doesn’t mean that everything they’re going to do is on the device all day,” she said. “This doesn’t mean that they’re only going to have text books online, this doesn’t mean that all of their activities while they’re in school are going to be digital. It’s so that they have it when they need it in whichever class that they’re in.”
The slide presentation from Monday night’s meeting can be viewed at the SAS eighth grade transition page, https://www.salineschools.org/schools/saline-high-school/resources/8th-grade-transition/.