In a growing school district, Putnam County’s instructional technology leaders look for opportunities to share learning resources with as many students as possible, and to prepare students for a rapidly evolving work world.
“We have to prepare students for jobs that don’t even exist yet,” says Lance Key, the district’s instructional technology specialist. “The one common thread in these jobs is technology—so if we don’t help them build these skills, we’re not training them in the right way.”
However, the district’s 50 computer labs didn’t allow students much time to sharpen digital skills—or for teachers to inspire and engage students in lessons using technology. “Labs are very structured time—there’s never enough labs for the teachers who want to use them,” Key says.
The district had taken key steps to support greater adoption of instructional technology, such as launching VITAL (Virtual Instruction to Accentuate Learning) for students who wanted to customize their learning through homeschooling or online classes. The VITAL program was growing, with parents and students embracing the teaching model—driving more discussion about providing teachers and students with engaging digital tools. The district started using G Suite for Education in 2010, but initial use was mostly limited to Gmail for teachers.
“We saw this as an opportunity to show teachers what G Suite could do for us,” says Sam Brooks, Putnam County’s personal learning supervisor and principal of VITAL. “Our superintendent, Jerry Boyd, was a Google person long before we were, and he saw Google as an opportunity to explore what technology could do for teaching.”
Instructional technology leaders wanted to move toward a 1:1 model for nearly all grade levels by 2020, which triggered the search for devices that would complement more widespread use of G Suite for Education. After testing laptops and computers from several vendors, the district purchased ASUS Chrome OS devices—including ASUS Chromebooks, Chromeboxes, and Chromebits—as they were more cost-effective, worked well with G Suite for Education, and better suited to the classroom environment.
“We needed devices that had longevity, and that would also give us the most bang for the buck,” Key says. Putnam County’s instructional technology team put the ASUS Chromebooks through tough durability tests, such as dropping them on the floor and trying to pry off keys.
For the price, “we could purchase six Chromebooks instead of alternatives on the market,” Key says, which helped the district stretch its technology budget. The district also replaced many computer lab devices with ASUS Chromeboxes, while Chromebits were deployed in cafeterias and hallways for digital signage installations.
Using resources more effectively
The affordable ASUS devices are helping Putnam County make progress more quickly in its goal for a full 1:1 program. As of early 2019, the district is using 9,000 Chrome devices. “If we’d spent the same amount of money on other devices, we’d never have gotten close to 1:1,” Key says.
By keeping device and IT management costs in check, the district can redirect budgets to other programs that help build student’s digital know-how. “We’ve created a maker space and bought virtual-reality headsets for students,” Key says. “We’re spending money in different ways.”
Some of the savings also comes from reduced costs for IT management. “The old devices in our labs use a lot of resources for updating and fixing devices as well as buying software,” Brooks says. “Now the money we save can be put back into the classroom. We have a single portal where we can manage devices and add apps and extensions, without sending technicians out to every school. At the same time, we have devices that help us create true personalized learning.”
Improving teacher productivity
In the same way teachers use Google Classroom to quickly share learning resources with students, teachers and administrators are using Classroom and G Suite for Education to add efficiency to their regular meetings.
“That was a big ‘aha’ moment,” Brooks says of the superintendent using a Google Classroom to share training materials for discussion. “We started seeing principals using Google Classroom to push out resources—when they have the material in advance of meetings, they can form opinions ahead of time, which leads to shorter meetings.”
Teachers took enthusiastically to training as word spread about G Suite, which promoted adoption of the new devices: Educational technology requires training and coaching if teachers are to become daily users of tech in their classrooms.
“We thought we’d hold five training sessions—and ended up running 30 of them,” Brooks says. “We showed teachers that learning about G Suite for Education was a no-brainer, which is when it really caught on. Teachers would tell us, ‘We finally have something that makes sense to engage students in classroom, and gives back time in the classroom—something we’re always trying to find ways to do.”
Engaging and collaborating with students
Chromebooks and G Suite for Education have transformed the teaching environment in Putnam County classrooms. “You might see a station rotation model, or you might see students working in groups—the kind or collaboration you wouldn’t see before,” Key says. “Teachers are now working the rooms—not standing up and broadcasting knowledge, but working individually with students.”
“Teachers are now working the rooms—not standing up and broadcasting knowledge, but working individually with students.”Lance Key, Instructional Technology Specialist, Putnam County School System
“It’s changing the ways teachers look at their classrooms,” Key adds. “It’s revitalizing teachers who’ve been in teaching for a while—they don't even want to retire anymore.” Now that classrooms have been transformed from traditional rows of desks with teachers lecturing up front, and into spaces where students take charge of their learning—using technology that inspires and engages them—teachers can adopt creative approaches for every lesson.
Teachers are also making the most of collaborative tools in Google Docs and Google Classroom. “The biggest fans are English teachers—they don't have to take home stacks of papers to grade,” Brooks says. Instead of spending hours at copy machines running off worksheets, teachers can now add assignments to a Google Classroom and instantly share lesson materials with students. The commenting features in Google Docs encourage teachers and students to work together on lessons—and for students to work more closely with each other.
“Teachers help students name each revision in Google Docs—draft 1, peer review, and so on,” Key says. “Students understand their progress, and how their work gets better.There are more places for us to offer feedback to students on a regular basis.” The process of revising and evolving work—and incorporating feedback from teachers and peers—can be the most critical stage of learning, Key says. And it’s a process that’s much more visible within G Suite tools.
“The highest level of learning happens at the creation stage, but it’s been hard to see where that happens,” Key says. “Now when students create, it’s not messy or time-consuming – it’s more engaging and immersive.”
In the VITAL program, Chromebooks and G Suite for Education now play a role in helping students engage with teachers when they’re not in the same classroom.
“We have homebound students that use Chromebooks to maintain that solid connection with their teachers,” Brooks says. “It’s been instrumental in allowing us to offer students all the great opportunities we have in Putnam County.”
At a Glance
What they wanted to do
- Implement an affordable 1:1 program
- Increase students’ access to digital tools beyond computer labs
- Add flexible technology for the district’s successful online learning program
What they did
- Adopted G Suite
- Standardized on ASUS Chrome OS devices, including Chromebooks, Chromeboxes, and Chromebits
What they accomplished
- Made greater progress on reaching 1:1 goal since the district can purchase more devices with less money
- Improved teacher productivity and communication
- Inspired teachers to adopt new teaching models such as station rotations
- Increased collaboration between teachers and students using features such as Google Docs comments