Big changes are in the works for Dothan City Schools’ one-to-one initiative in the coming year. The city school board in April voted to discontinue use of iPads it had leased and switch to using Chromebooks. The new hardware isn’t the only change coming to the program, which began in 2014 and put more than 7,000 devices in the hands of students in grades K-12. The system is also making changes concerning how and where the devices are used.
Next year, students will no longer take their devices home. The Chromebooks will stay at school, except for special assignments when students will check them out and take them home. Students and parents will no longer have to attend an orientation seminar to be assigned devices. Videos will be available on the city schools’ website providing some initial training on how to use the devices.
“The concept of the initiative is not changing,” Mark Williams, director of technology services, said. “We are still emphasizing the use of technology to enhance learning in other areas. Exposing the students to different platforms actually expands their horizons and better equips them to be productive in post-secondary work or the job market.”
Dothan City School Superintendent Chuck Ledbetter said that keeping the Chromebooks at school will reduce problems such as students forgetting their iPads.
“Most of the schools came to the conclusion that it was important to have them in the classroom,” Ledbetter said.
Students will also have less flexibility concerning what they can view and install on their devices. The Chromebooks will be more strictly controlled than the iPads, so the games and other apps students installed on their iPads won’t be available on the Chromebooks.
Costs will also be different. The city school system will likely charge a $20 user fee to students at the beginning of the year, a lower fee than it charged for the iPads. Repair and replacement fees will likely be about the same, however.
Ledbetter said the changes in hardware and in how it is used in the schools will make the city school system’s technology initiatives more instructionally effective.
Williams said no further upgrades to the city schools’ technical infrastructure will be needed to support use of the Chromebooks. However, the city school system is proceeding with planned WiFi upgrades that are funded by federal and state dollars.
iPads vs. Chromebooks
Chromebooks aren’t another version of an iPad made by another manufacturer. There are significant differences between the two devices.
Chromebooks are more Internet dependent than iPads, many of their functions rely on Internet access as most Chromebook applications run online, rather than off the resources of the device.
“It’s more of a portal,” Ledbetter said.
Williams said, “The Chromebooks have a QWERTY tactile keyboard and are more like laptops. Most of the applications exist in the cloud and are dependent on Internet connectivity but not all applications. Some of the apps work offline and synch when the Internet is available. The Chromebooks do not have a touch screen. They are very manageable devices.”
Ledbetter said the city school system could better control the applications being used by students on the Chromebooks, which is one reason why he recommended the switch.
Another key difference between the Chromebooks and iPads is that Chromebooks have a keyboard built in, whereas iPad users must use a touchscreen to type. Ledbetter said the keyboard makes the Chromebook better for writing papers and other assignments.
Dothan is not alone in making the switch from iPads. An article in Education Week reported that middle and high schools in Maine are swapping out iPads for laptops after a survey found that 88.5 percent of teachers and 74 percent of students in one district favored laptops for classroom use.
The Chromebooks are also significantly less expensive than the iPads. The system leases the devices, and will pay about $250,000 less per year for them.
iPads aren’t completely gone from the Dothan City Schools. The system is retaining a number of them, as they are superior for making and editing videos.
While Dothan leaped into its one-to-one initiative in 2014 during the administration of Tim Wilder, the Enterprise City Schools chose a more toes-in-the-water approach. The system has gradually introduced Chromebooks into its system in the past few years, opting for a one-to-classroom approach. The system has slowly worked to bring teachers up to speed on how to use the devices before mass-releasing them to students.
The system’s middle schools will likely have a fully implemented one-to-classroom program next year and the high school and elementary schools will soon follow.
Camille Wright, Enterprise City Schools superintendent, said her system opted for a slow approach to give teachers time to learn best practices for using the devices. Wright said she wanted educators to have plenty of time to develop skills in using the devices before fully integrating them into the classroom. Wright said taking time to acclimate students to the devices, including concepts of responsible digital citizenry, was also an important goal.