As the new academic year settles in, St. Clair R-XIII Board of Education members took a quick tour of the Google Apps for Education program the district will begin implementing this fall as part of its one-to-one student learning initiative.
During their August meeting, the seven board members started to navigate how to use the cloud-based system on the new Chromebooks the district purchased last month. District administrators assisted and showed the group how to create and manage Google-based emails, documents, applications and other items.
“These are just some of the basics to get you started to see what we’re going to be doing,” Superintendent Mike Murphy said. “As you can see, there is an almost unlimited amount of information available.”
It was reported during the meeting that the Chromebooks are being set up and tailored for R-XIII’s needs. The first set of prepared devices have gone to administrators and teachers. Students will not receive them until January when the second semester of the 2013-14 academic year gets under way.
“I plan for them (board members) to keep them (Chromebooks) for a couple of months to determine how the devices work and how it will integrate with Google Apps,” Murphy told The Missourian. “We plan to expand digital communication for meeting preparation as another objective.”
Murphy said board members will use the Chromebooks “for a variety of reasons.” He said he hopes to evaluate their level of understanding of the device and how students can benefit from utilizing them.
Murphy said it is important to note that the Chromebooks themselves will not store any information on them. Instead, the cloud-based system the district is using will keep the data, which will allow the information to be obtained by individual users from any electronic device set up to the R-XIII system.
Individual gmail accounts will be used to access the information. Those accounts will allow for the data to be managed solely by its creator.
The learning initiative will put a digital device in the hands of every junior and senior high school student and will allow for access of information available at numerous and almost limitless sources besides textbooks through the World Wide Web.
The cost to initiate the program — $431,000 — was approved in June by the board of education as part of the 2013-14 budget. The money will be used to purchase 1,400 Google Chromebooks at a cost of about $300 per unit.
During the demonstration, some board members had a little fun with each other and Murphy by sending instant messages back and forth that were shown on the board room’s large screen.
“The classroom is getting a little out of hand,” Murphy said with a smile as his introduction began to wind down.
As part of the new one-to-one student learning initiative, the school district is rolling out new email addresses for faculty and staff and eventually will do the same for older students.
The district also is changing its Internet domain.
The new R-XIII domain will be “stcmo.org.” The current domain is “stclair.k12.mo.us.”
As part of the initiative, teachers and students will use email more frequently to communicate and assist with the learning process. Since the program is Google based, gmail accounts will be used.
“The email transition is a thought process,” Murphy told board of education members during their July meeting. “And as a whole, this transitional process is beginning to take shape.”
Murphy said district employees and board members now are using gmail addresses that use the first initial of their first name followed by their last name. An example would be firstname.lastname@example.org for Murphy.
When students receive their email addresses, they will be slightly different. They will first feature their graduating year followed by the first-name initial, full last name and the domain.
The superintendent said that for a while, emails sent to old R-XIII addresses and domain will transfer to the new accounts so communications will not be lost.
Teachers and other faculty members are going through training now.
Before the budget was approved in June that included the costs for the Chromebooks, the board and Murphy went through a detailed discussion about the one-to-one concept.
The superintendent has said that the one-to-one computing “provides the opportunity for wireless connectivity at home and school and for students and staff to communicate.”
The digital learning will be implemented in four phases, with the first being informational that will continue through October. From that point through the end of the first semester, lesson design and detailed planning for the second semester will continue.
All teachers will be trained by then.
“We certainly want to ease any tension in the community with what we want to accomplish with this,” Murphy told The Missourian. “This is all about devising methods to experience learning with 21st century technology.”
In January after the Christmas break, the district’s older students will receive and use their devices during the second semester as part of the third phase. At the end of the upcoming school year, the devices will be collected and the program tweaked however necessary.
The full implementation then is planned for the following fall as the fourth phase.
The R-XIII school district now is a wireless environment. That means the hard-wired computers in the school still will work but the 1,400 Chromebooks simultaneously will connect students to information.
Students will be able to access that same information in the same way at home with the Chromebooks as well as with other computers and smartphones. If Internet access isn’t available or affordable, there will be “hot areas” in the community where free access can be gained.
Some initial rules and regulations will be in place. Additional policies and procedures will be developed as the concept takes shape.
Teachers will use the technology so their lesson plans, assignments, worksheets and even tests are electronic, gradually diminishing the use and cost of paper. Students will access material through a portal with the plan to be able to log on at school or home.
Students will be able to access appropriate lectures and information pertaining to St. Clair’s curriculum from around the world. Teachers will facilitate that curriculum through their lesson plans.