Going 1:1 with Chromebooks and Interoperable Digital Content in Lee County, Florida
There’s a saying that everything happens for a reason. For the School District of Lee County in Fort Myers, Florida, two statewide initiatives spurred an IT transformation that is, in turn, helping to make digital learning easier.
First, Florida required districts to transition from paper-based to online testing. Then the state mandated that districts use digital materials for half of all classroom instruction. “We thought, ‘Since we are being forced into using digital content, and Chromebooks are becoming a great option and have keyboards so they can be used for online testing, that might be the right choice for us,'’” says Dwayne Alton, director of IT support.
Redefining Ease of Use
Two years ago, a handful of Lee County schools pilot tested Dell, ASUS, and Acer Chromebooks. The district was already using Google Apps for Education (GAFE), and after six months of trial they were enthusiastic about going 1:1 with Chromebooks, thanks to the very low maintenance, security, great battery life, and reliability.
At this point, the focus turned to content and software. Alton did not want teachers or students to have to go to five different websites to access content. Instead, his goal was to consolidate the digital content into one location. He started working with IMS Global (http://www.imsglobal.org), a nonprofit collaborative that is providing a foundation for innovative products to work together.
“We got together with our content providers and told them we required all content and systems to be IMS Global compliant. We gave them the milestones they had to hit to continue doing business with us,” says Alton. “Essentially, we wanted our teachers to be able to use one login for everything they needed.”
The 1:1 Expansion and Digital Journey
Last school year, Lee County provided Dell Chromebooks for take-home use by 18,000 students in grades 6 through 8. This year, they extended to the high schools, bringing the total number of Chromebooks up to 46,000.
Teachers use G Suite for Education (formerly GAFE), Google Classroom as a mini learning management system and Safari Montage as a learning object repository. Content providers, including Pearson, Discovery, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), supply digital material as thin common cartridge; rosters and assignments are handled with IMS Global standards. In other words, there is a one login at the beginning of the day that gets each person, depending on role, all the tools and apps they need.
“Our login gateway is Launchpad through ClassLink. That is the student home page, where students have icons of all their apps. So, if I’m in Safari and I want CompassLearning, I don’t have to log in again. We’re the first district in the U.S. to use IMS Global’s Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) and IMS Common Cartridge with CompassLearning, and the first district to deploy one roster with Compass, HMH, and Pearson,” says Alton.
In 14 months, Lee County Schools went from supporting no IMS standards to being further along than probably about any other district in the country. “A lot of these companies have become more than vendors; they are our partners who help us solve these problems,” says Alton. He credits his chief academic officer who encouraged him, about 18 months ago, to hold vendors to the standards.
“Our curriculum staff and I are in full sync. In fact, the coordinator calls me more than my wife. We co-present about digital content all over the place.”
Aligning Content and Instructional Strategies
Alton believes that giving a lot of thought to the processes around 1:1 and observing what other districts did helped him figure out a better path for teachers and students. “We wanted to make sure our content, instructional strategies, and professional development (PD) worked together. Students won’t magically learn if we just give them a device. It’s a paradigm shift.”
When it came to PD, teachers knew they were not expected to become experts right away. Instead, they were asked to get comfortable with basic skills: making sure students and parents were in sync and using G Classroom and G Calendar to communicate.
During the pilot year, a core team of teachers were trained to use the technology and the tools. They took a Google Docs class that focused on students taking control of learning and the shift in the delivery model. “It threw them for a bit,” admits Alton. “They may have expected us to walk them through how to create a document but instead they had to build lessons in Safari Montage.” Those teachers, in turn, trained others.
Lee County Schools uses Renaissance STAR and Compass to get formative data, and the district started working on linking the two programs in 2014. When students take a test in STAR they automatically receive a Compass learning path based on their performance. Teachers can follow the whole path or take pieces of it. That process is helping teachers learn to differentiate instruction.
Currently, Lee County is working on getting Compass’ analytics engine to aggregate performance data. “For each step we bring in products and solutions we think are great and work with companies to rebuild them so that they use IMS technology instead of proprietary technology. It took three years, but now we can deliver assessment, build content, and share the data across assessment and content.”
121 schools, including: 44 elementary, 16 middle, 13 high schools, 96 “traditional” and 25 charter schools.
Cost, per day, to run the district: $3.4 million
Students on Free/reduced-price lunch: 70%
Graduation rate: 75% (85% when counting only the 13 traditional high schools)
Languages spoken: 124
Countries represented: 159
Among its many accolades:
- In August 2016, the IT instructor at Dunbar High School, was named a Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Expert.
- In May 2016, two Lee County Public Schools received funds from a grant from the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries. The funds were used to update the schools’ media centers.
- In March 2016, Allen Park Elementary was named to Renaissance Learning’s National Honor Roll for outstanding performance in advancing students achievement in reading.
- In January 2016, the district received a Work-Life 2016 Seal of Distinction Award from WorldatWork. The award, given to 116 employers around the world, recognizes organizations that implement successful work-life programs and policies.
46,000 Dell 3120 Chromebooks for grades 6 through 12.
Teachers use Dell Latitude 3350 Windows laptops with Chrome.
Aerohive enterprise WiFi system, running 802.11ac (with one access point per classroom) and 8 gb/s of Internet bandwidth.