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Going “all-in” to pursue 21st century education

5 min read

Voice of the Educator

When California’s state legislature voted to provide one-time revenue in support of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment System during the 2013-14 school year, many school districts immediately used those fiscal resources to provide students with access to one-to-one technology as a part of their daily curriculum.

However, what many of these districts did not realize is that once a decision has been made to provide students with 1:1 technology on a daily basis, and teachers have been trained in order to effectively utilize these tools, you are never going back to a traditional educational model.

What may have started as a one-time purchase to fill a specific assessment need has fundamentally changed the tools that students and teachers believe are essential for learning.  And as we grapple with preparing kids for a world of work that does not yet exist, we know that daily access to technology is here to stay. Just as the term “high stakes” applies to both standardized testing and Texas Hold ‘em, we have literally gone “all-in” in supporting our 21st century educational ideals with student devices.

Any time that technological tools are purchased for students, the clock of depreciation immediately begins ticking. The National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that a device loses roughly half of its remaining value with each additional year of use. For schools then, at a minimum, all student devices will need to be replaced within five-to seven years from purchase. This dynamic immediately creates an issue of both fiscal sustainability and purchasing creativity. Schools must get the greatest return for every dollar- not only in the purchase of machines, but also to provide adequate professional development, relevant applications and comprehensive support.

I’ve spent 23 years in education thus far, ranging from a major urban school district of 78,000 students to a rural district of only 1,200 kids; but the issues are precisely the same. “How are we going to get more kids access to devices and then keep this good thing going?” Over time, we’ve pursued several solutions, and we are constantly trying to find additional ways to meet all of our needs. I’ve outlined some of our most successful efforts here:

  • Leasing machines: Machines can often be leased over time, extending payments over the life of a device’s viability. Leased machines often include a warranty for replacement of the device, should accidents occur, which they invariably do. This method can allow business managers to adequately budget for technology expenditures long-term, which is key for sustainability.
  • Purchasing quality refurbished devices: Once a decision has been made by a district to purchase a specific device, many reputable retailers will offer refurbished units of the same device at a greatly reduced cost. And over time, if the student devices are still working adequately to meet teacher needs, the purchase of refurbished machines can significantly delay the need to purchase a system-wide upgrade.
  • Increasing accountability: This is a simplistic solution for drastically reducing damage to student devices: Hold kids and families accountable by issuing them the same machine annually over time. They will work much harder to keep a machine safe if there is some sense of “ownership” over the device, regardless of whether or not it actually belongs to the district. We have even offered families the opportunity to purchase their own insurance for the device at a reduced group rate in order to promote care in handling and use.
  • Encourage BYOD: Encouraging families to “bring their own device” has also proven a very cost effective solution, in that the district has a greatly reduced obligation to provide a device for every child.  This can create some difficulty in managing student projects in a diverse environment, but web-based tools such as Google Docs allow for use across platforms and devices. We have even incentivized the idea of students bringing their own device by offering their student activity card, which provides entry into athletic games and dances, free of charge to anyone who is providing their own device.
  • Combine strategies: Many of the strategies above are most effective when used in tandem with one another. For example, BYOD can be used in conjunction with the purchase of refurbished devices, so that families have the opportunity to buy the same refurbished machines that are being used in school.  In Chawanakee, when we needed to provide relatively expensive MacBooks to some of our high-school students, we had good success in purchasing refurbished machines, no longer produced by Apple, from Mac to School. Our families, in turn, were able to buy exactly the same model for their students to keep permanently from their sister company, MacService, if that was their desire.

In short, when you are “all in” with technology, sometimes a little of the creativity and daring of the wild west poker player is a necessity for keeping a quality program moving forward. The success of our kids in the modern era hangs on our ability to manage this process well — and that’s no bluffing.

Bob Nelson is the superintendent of Chawanakee Unified School District in North Fork, Calif. Follow him on Twitter @suptbob.

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