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School system may put Chromebooks in the hands of middle, high school students
school laptops

Liberty County school board members will have a big ticket item in front of them at their March 12 meeting.

The school system’s technology department is proposing to replace the iPads given to middle and high school students with Google Chromebooks. Bids for the new hardware ranged from as low as $2.8 million to as high as $3.5 million, with proceeds from the education special local option sales tax covering the costs.

Dr. John Ryan, the system director of technology, said the Chromebooks give the students an advantage, particular at test time, over the iPads. With only one port, if an iPad is running low on power, a keyboard can’t be plugged in, in order to get the iPad recharged.

“Physical keyboards are needed all of the time in many of our classes,” Ryan told board members recently. “Current keyboards were purchased for testing and cannot be used at the same time a power cord is used. If the iPad is low on power and they need a keyboard, we have a problem.”

High school students who used Chromebooks also asked if they could keep those and turn their iPads back in.

“It was our high schools clamoring for us to look at moving to Chromebooks first,” Ryan said. “I think they got to use them, touch them and feel them for a year.”

Most of the other systems within the 1st District Regional Educational Service Agency have gone from iPads to Chromebooks, Ryan added. Statewide, only 1.9% of testing was conducted on iPads.

As an example, Ryan said students have to write a mathematical question on an iPad during a test had to find the correct insertion point with their finger.

“They keep poking at the right insertion point and can’t do it and students give up,” he said.

Ryan said he believes adopting Chromebooks will help with the system’s marks on statewide testing, though he acknowledged he can’t quantify that.

A committee made up of teachers, administrators and media specialists reviewed devices for middle and high school students. They looked at 13 test devices, and Ryan said the committee probed the uses for each of those, including for recordings, audio-video and for science, technology, engineering and math.

The committee met twice and eliminated Windows-based devices at the second meeting because of cost and complexity.

“From a technology standpoint, we realized the cost would be about 20% more and we would have to retrain our staff,” Ryan said.

Eventually, the committee recommended — with one member voting for iPads — to switch to Chromebooks.

“We feel like this is going to be the best device,” Ryan said. “Even the teacher who voted to keep iPads said for his use, he would like to keep the iPad but he can see the Chromebooks being better for the system.”

Under the contract board members will consider, the system is looking at buying 5,772 Chromebooks. If board members approve the deal, the iPads currently in use in the middle and high schools will become backups for the elementary schools. With an estimated 3,000 breaks or battery failures each year among the iPads, Ryan estimated there would be enough iPad inventory to serve as backup.

Student devices typically are replaced every four years, and all student devices were budgeted for a refresh over the coming summer. New devices for pre-K and elementary are planned to be adopted for the 2025– 26 school year.

Changes to iPad security and privacy also prevented the system from getting all the devices’ settings to where they need to be, and that caused significant issues during testing, Ryan said.

Also, the system’s Apple Care Plus is expiring and Ryan said the average number of device breaks each year, such as broken screens, is about 4,500. Half the current iPads would become replacement iPads. With an estimate of 3,000 breaks and battery failures, there would be more than enough iPads to make it through the year with no added costs, Ryan told board members.

“The first two breaks are free. But the third break is at the cost of what it costs us,” Ryan said. “We’ll end up with 75 iPads we can’t send out because they’ve had two breaks.”

The usable keyboards and cases at the secondary schools would be used as replacements at the primary schools.

Ryan said teachers asked what they are giving up going from the iPads to Chromebooks and all they could find was one drone control app that was being used in one classroom.

“That is the only app we could find systemwide that was not on Chrome,” he said.

Ryan also pointed out that the current iPad keyboards use a lightning connector, which will not be available on the next refresh because mobile devices will be using USB-C connectors. He added Google and Microsoft have made many improvements to their student devices offerings and the cost differences — $395,000 more for Apple devices than for Chromebooks — can be significant.

Our current keyboards use a lightning connector, which will not be usable on the next refresh since all mobile devices are moving to a USB-C connector.

Though teachers will continue to have Macbooks, an Apple computer, they will have control over their students’ Chromebooks, Ryan noted. Teachers can see each Chromebook on their screen and if they spot a student not paying attention, they can send a direct message to that child to get back on task, rather than calling them out in front of the class. Teachers also can decide whether to block a site such as YouTube on a student’s device.

“They will have incredible control over the devices,” he told board members.

Other new devices may be in store for school system personnel. Board members will take up a recommendation to buy 192 ChromeBoxes with monitors at a cost of $140,728 and 49 Windows- based PCs with monitors at $50,985 at their next meeting. Those computers will be for staff and administration and not for classroom use.

The total cost of almost $192,000 will be covered by ESPLOST. Ryan said each person scheduled to get a new computer was asked what programs they use and how they engage with their computer. Most of the programs are now either browser-based or appbased and much of what they do is now housed in the Cloud, meaning fewer Windows-based PCs are needed.

Surplus desktop computers are scrubbed clean of school system information and programs and sold, but computer prices have fallen so much, Ryan said, the system doesn’t get much in return for the sales.

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