Helping Close the Digital Divide with Google for Education

Innovative programs can help all students access the latest technology
By: | Issue: March, 2015
March 6, 2015

A common challenge with district technology initiatives, particularly BYOD or 1-to-1 programs, is equity of accessÑensuring that all students can utilize the same technology, regardless of their socioeconomic status. In this web seminar, originally broadcast on February 24, 2015,an administrator from Huntsville ISD in Texas discussed the innovative ways the district has addressed this challenge, including using a state technology grant to expand the district’s successful “checkout” program, enabling students to take home Google Chromebooks with Apps for Education if they do not have access to computers or the internet. Presenters also discussed ways to overcome the digital divide, how Google tools help students own their learning and increase collaboration, and how to provide more effective tools and individualized PD for teachers.

Google for Education Team

I’m going to begin with 60 percent, because on the Google for Education team we think about this number quite a bit. Sixty percent is the segment of students currently in school today whose future careers do not exist yet. If you think about it, many of the tech roles that you and I have today didn’t exist when we were in school. Many non-tech roles have changed dramatically as well, generally as a result of adoption of technology. The way we research, collaborate and disseminate information has already evolved and will continue to change. So conventional thinking on education is no longer enough and that, too, needs to change. What can we do to help transform education? Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Here on the Google for Education team, we believe that open technology is the key to improving education. What does it mean to go Google? We asked our Google schools and they told us that it was more than just the technology. It’s about adopting a culture that extends beyond the classroom walls. It’s about openness, curiosity and working together. Going Google in education means four thingsÑempowerment, choice, teamwork and sustainability. First, empowerment. When you have access to digital content, it empowers students and gives teachers the tools for individualized learning. Second, Google believes in giving schools choiceÑthe ability to choose the right device anytime, anywhere. Because what good is information if it isn’t accessible in the classroom? With that in mind, Google solutions work on many platforms so schools can use their existing equipment and keep options open even as they commit to new device deployments. Third, teamwork. Teachers say that being able to work together in real time using Google Apps is the most profound change in the way they teach and the way students learn. Collaboration fosters teamwork, problem-solving, organizationÑkey skills for the modern world. For example, we have Google Docs, where multiple students can work together in the same document at the same time. Students can learn about working together with a set of classmates with diverse perspectives.

Finally, going Google is about sustainability and scale. With a school’s budget, the price of the device matters, as low-cost solutions give more students an opportunity to go Google. With Google Apps as a foundation, it is easy to manage 10 or 10,000 devices with our admin tools. You can set up a whole classroom of our tablets or our Chromebooks in just a few minutes. We offer schools a free, web-based suite of services called Google Apps for Education. These apps include Gmail as your email service provider and things like Google Docs, spreadsheets and presentations for content creation. There are over 40 million Google Apps for Education users in 180 different countries. Over 70 of the top 100 U.S. universities are using Google Apps for Education, as well as seven out of the eight Ivy League institutions. After you set up devices, it is time to figure out what to do with them. That’s why we’ve created Google Play for EducationÑa single destination for teachers to find and share educational content. Play for Education makes it easy for teachers to explore Android apps for tablets, Chrome apps for Chromebooks, and books and videos that can be enjoyed from any web browser. Instead of putting a request into the IT department and waiting for apps to be downloaded to individual tablets, teachers can explore Play for Education themselves and instantly send the content they want to each student device.

Director of Staff Development and District Initiatives
Huntsville ISD (Texas)

work in a school district in Texas with about 6,300 students. Twenty-four percent of our students are African-American, 30 percent are Hispanic, and 43 percent are white. About 64 percent of our students are economically disadvantaged, and 45 percent of our students are categorized as at-risk. We have seven school campuses in our l district. I want to explain why we went Google. We were managing our email server locally and it was not going well. Eventually, we decided to switch to Gmail. As we entered into the Google ecosystem and we started teaching people what that system was about and how it could help us with collaboration, it was a logical next step to look at Chromebooks. We received the first technology lending program grant from our state in 2011, and bought Chromebooks for several grade levels. We have a robust wireless network installed that allows students to use their own devices or our devices to access the internet. We also bought a Chromebook cart for staff development purposes. Now, before we have a leadership meeting, our staff accesses a Google Doc of the agenda and contributes to it. Our meetings are much more productive as a result.

We have also started using a new product called Neverware. This software enables us to essentially reformat any computer and turn it into a Chromebook. With a BYOT implementation, our students needed to be able to access all content, no matter what device they have. We also have a lot of old netbooks, as they were a bit cheaper than a traditional laptop. We’ve kept them up to date, with extra RAM and Windows 7. However, they were still too slow, and Neverware solved that problem. We purchased about 350 Chromebooks for checkout purposes through the grant we received; we also purchased about 100 MiFi’s. Our checkout program now goes down to fifth grade. The program enables students who don’t have access to this technology at home to check out these devices through the library, and it works a lot like checking out textbooks. When a teacher wants a student to check out a device, the teacher fills out a Google form and the librarian fulfills the request. If the device is being checked out for one night, we don’t send home power cables. Those are much harder to get back than devices. People often ask us if students break these devices, and the answer is yes, unfortunately sometimes they get broken, but that is rare. You have to trust that teachers know their students well, and they know that each student really has work to do. That is going to help the Chromebook get returned to school.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to:

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