PBL working to get mobile devices in every student's hands

PAXTON — With the Paxton-Buckley-Loda school board’s approval earlier this month to spend more than $40,000 on additional technological equipment — including 10 iPads for a cost of $4,100 and 81 Chromebooks for a cost of $24,447 — the district is steadily getting closer to its goal of having a mobile device in the hands of every student in every classroom.

The district’s technology committee — headed by the district’s technology coordinators, Dustin Franckey and Mike Brehm, and junior high school social studies/technology teacher Rob Pacey — presented a proposal to the board during its Nov. 18 meeting to help bring PBL’s two elementary schools — PBL Eastlawn School and Clara Peterson Elementary School — closer to a “1:1” ratio of mobile devices to students.

Upon the request of Superintendent Cliff McClure, the committee gathered data on students’ usage of mobile devices and compared that with the number of devices the two schools currently have. They found that although the district could handle going “1:1” at the two schools “from a management standpoint,” Franckey said, it would be a “large undertaking” that might be financially burdensome to pursue immediately.

As an alternative, Franckey suggested adding slowly to the district’s inventory of mobile devices — reflecting the proposal the board approved by a 6-1 vote.

“With the state of the state and with the amount of usage we’re seeing, I think we should probably continue down the path that we’ve been going down and slowly saturate the district even more, until we see an uptick in usage,” Franckey said.

With the current inventory of 282 iPads at the two schools, the district would need to buy 30 more iPads to reach a “1:1” level, Franckey said. With 125 Chromebooks currently, the district would need to buy 159 more, or six Chromebook labs, to reach 1:1 at the two schools, he added.

Franckey said the purchase of the mobile devices would not be the only consideration, as well.

“With the influx of mobile devices on the network and the cumbersome management of iTunes accounts, I feel we would need a more efficient management console for the iPads as well as a more robust wireless infrastructure at Eastlawn and Clara Pete,” Franckey said.

To bring both buildings up to a 1:1 level, it would cost $76,568 — including $48,896 for six Chromebook labs, $12,720 for 30 more iPads, $10,332 for a new iPad management console (Casper Suite-JAMF) and $4,620 for wireless infrastructure upgrades, according to Franckey.

It would cost an additional $45,634 a year to replace the technology to maintain the 1:1 level, he added.

Although Franckey said there is evidence that mobile devices are being utilized increasingly in the classroom, the demand and funds are not stable enough at the moment to warrant spending that amount of funds right now.

Franckey presented the board with a proposal to buy only 81 more Chromebooks and 10 more iPads — which he called a “conservative approach ... best suited for the district.”

In addition to buying the smaller amount of technology, Franckey proposed redistributing two of Eastlawn’s existing iPad carts to Clara Peterson while also adding Chromebooks for reading intervention purposes at Clara Peterson, allowing students at Clara Peterson to “migrate from the iPad they are accustomed to using at Clara Peterson to a Chromebook that they will use in grades 3-12.”

“Our current technology data indicates that we have a student-to-device ratio of greater than 1:1 at Eastlawn; Clara Peterson is far below at a 1:1 ratio,” Franckey wrote in the proposal. “By making better use of our current district resources, we can bring Clara Peterson closer to the 1:1 threshold while keeping Eastlawn above the 1:1 mark.”

The proposal also calls for the district to spend $10,332 on a new iPad management console and $4,620 on wireless infrastructure upgrades. At both schools, Franckey said, there are currently “some dead spots.”

“We’re still going to stick with the same system that we have,” Franckey said. “We’re just going to add some additional (wireless) access points, which will be able to handle incoming new Chromebooks as we continue to saturate those schools, and also at Clara Pete with the iPads.”

Added Brehm: “Once we start putting more devices on (the network), they start knocking one another off, so we need more access points so we can handle what we have.”

The new iPad management system will allow the district to “control our iPads at the Clara Pete level much like what we do with our Chromebooks right now.”

“Very easily we can remotely wipe them, reset them,” he said. “There would be a centralized way to purchase apps. The teacher would ask for apps for one class, and we could take those apps away when they’re done and re-use them elsewhere. We’re completely losing money by using iTunes gift cards at this point.”

McClure said the technology proposal approved by the board could be funded using carryover Title I funds, with the exception of the $4,620 to be spent on the wireless infrastructure upgrades.

Franckey said there will be a $2,400-per-year cost following the “initial investment.”

McClure said more technology could be purchased in the spring.

“I feel like we’re headed in the right direction,” McClure said. “I feel much better than just ‘let’s buy a bunch of units and put them in everybody’s hand and then figure out how to utilize them later.’ So, I feel like we’re moving at a great pace here.”

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