BYO, Chromebooks and Innovative Learning in Southeast Texas

Nancy Caramanico

A robust wireless infrastructure, Google Apps for Education, student-owned devices, and Acer Chromebooks are the perfect backdrop for innovative classroom learning in Dayton ISD.

Dayton is a BYOD district; they’ve never seen one-to-one as financially feasible. However, in addition to the BYO devices, the district strives to provide a common solution that all students can benefit from. In fostering expanded student access to individual technology and increasing availability of digital content, Dayton has found Intel-based Acer Chromebooks to be a perfect fit.

Choosing the Chromebooks

Prior to switching to Chromebooks, Dayton had tried other options,including laptops, notebooks, and iPads. Although all these devices were portable, they didn’t all offer adequate access to online resources. District leaders wanted to assure quick and seamless access to Google Apps and find a solution that was also budget friendly.

A group of teachers and administrators were chosen to do hands-on experimentation with different Chromebook models from various vendors. They concluded that the Acer model best suited their needs because of its keyboard layout – which they saw as the most user-friendly – and its long battery life, which allows students to have all-day access without needing to recharge. Pricewise, the Acer Chromebook was very affordable and in line with what the district had budgeted for.

In 2012 Dayton ISD began purchasing Acer C7 models for targeted classrooms in grades 2-5. Their more recent purchases have been the newer Acer C720 Chromebooks. Both Acer options feature Intel chips. In the second and third grade, students access online programs through a shared set of 35 devices.  In the fourth and fifth grades, 76 devices are distributed to the different classrooms, two per room. When the need arises, classrooms will lend devices to one another to allow for a larger group of students to work together. Chromebooks are also available in the elementary school libraries, where they are open to anytime use by teachers or students.

Digital Content and Educational Benefits

At Dayton ISD, ongoing usage of Google Apps for Education and other online content supports the learning environment. The district has begun to make an important shift to digital content. The state of Texas encourages use of digital content via a phased-in paper-to-digital plan known as the Texas Digital Learning Initiative and Dayton plans to be fully digital within four years.

Chromebooks, in conjunction with BYO, play an important role in facilitating this shift to digital content. Online access to web-based programs also offers flexibility for classroom learning, assessment systems and professional development. Additional student benefits include creativity and engagement.

According to instructional technology coordinator Amy Ripkowski, “With the Chromebooks we find that students are always producing. They research, create, and more. The Chromebook solved a lot of issues and removed drawbacks. Since many of teacher and student programs are web-based, everyone has easy access.

Students are so engaged in their work that they don’t want to turn in the Chromebooks at the end of the work sessions. They get very involved in creative projects and online research.”

Teachers in the district typically find that classroom logistics are easier with the Chromebooks than with other devices. With the Chromebooks, students can do their work, save it and access it easily again just by logging in. They don’t have to worry about where their files are.

Building Leadership Capacity

With effective student use of technology as a top priority, Dayton ISD knew that an essential key to a successful program meant building capacity for use by teachers and administrators. All campus administrators have Chromebooks for gmail and web access. Administrators find that observation and appraisals can be completed more easily on this device than on previous ones used, because of how easy it is to enter information for later access and distribution.

Teacher professional learning is supported, as well. Dayton ISD provides Chromebooks at their educational support center for teacher and administrator training purposes, as well as making them available for checkout at the administration building.

In professional development sessions, teachers and administrators explore the use of the Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education. These sessions help to foster easy login and access to Google Apps and online content any time and any place. The focus is on professional use, especially for planning classroom lessons. The supportive technology team is on hand at training sessions to make the learning easy and collaborative. Modeling and just-in-time support help teachers and administrators to bring the technology use at Dayton ISD to the next level.

According to Peter Griffiths, executive director of federal programs and accountability, “Our technology teachers are now in more of a coaching role. As we work to provide technology integration assistance, teachers are able to focus on instructional use. We now have teachers who are asking for Chromebooks. They are choosing the Chromebooks over other tools consistently and this is the first time we have seen such a common choice of device. The Acer Chromebooks are quick and versatile and teachers are excited about the battery life. They want them and are ready to jump in.

Planning for Success

Dayton has been asked to share their implementation story with other districts and the technology team is glad to assist. Says Griffiths, “We have enjoyed the use and benefits of using the Chromebooks in our classrooms. This spring, we have invited assistant superintendents from multiple other districts to seef how we have incorporated them in our district.”

Here are some of the tips Dayton ISD administrators consider key to success:

  • Add ample bandwidth and update your wireless infrastructure: Make sure that Internet speeds and wireless access points can handle the always on-nature of web computing. Within the last several years Dayton ISD has completed a comprehensive wireless infrastructure build-out and broadband update. Additional broadband upgrades will be implemented in the coming months;
  • Take a team approach that involves curriculum and technology leaders: In Dayton ISD, Griffiths, Ripkowski, and technology director Suzanne Chachere meet regularly to plan, implement and evaluate programs. Together they review the needs of the teachers and students in view of curriculum and district goals and state standards, and map out an implementation plan for district-wide innovation and learning.  Each campus also has an instructional technology teacher.
  • Plan age-appropriate use: The age of the children will impact the ways in which Chromebooks are used.  Younger grades may need extra help with login, for example, while middle or high school grades may need much less support. The focus should be on curricular need and purpose, which also varies across grades.
  • Pilot with smaller groups first: Get feedback from the pilot before your plan your large-scale deployment.

Looking Ahead

With successful pilots of Chromebooks in place, Dayton ISD is looking ahead to the coming year. Plans include a pilot of departmental sets of Acer Chromebooks in select secondary school classes. A team approach to planning, a focus on digital learning content, the right devices, and always-on access are all key elements of Dayton ISD’s successful road to technology integration. The district plans to continue on that journey.

At A Glance: 

Dayton ISD is a geographically large school district, covering 248 square miles in a semi-rural part of Southeast Texas between Houston and Beaumont.

The district consists of 7 schools, serving a total of 5000 students. Nearly 62% of students are economically disadvantaged, 15% have limited English proficient and 54% are identified as at-risk.

Dayton ISD met the Texas Academic Performance Report (TAPR) for the 2012-2013 school year. 

Infrastructure: 

In 2012 Dayton ISD began purchasing Acer C7 Chromebooks for targeted classrooms throughout the district. Recently, they have purchased the newer Acer C720 model Chromebook.

Recent wireless infrastructure updates and broadband builds have been completed. In addition to buying Chromebooks for student, teacher and administrative use, Dayton is also a BYOD district.

Dayton ISD uses Google Apps for Education, including Gmail for email communications and Chrome for online browsing. They participate in Google Apps licensing and apps are selected and distributed by grade. 

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