The devices offer an opportunity for students to become good digital citizens, superintendent says.
By Matt Skoufalos
If nothing else, said Superintendent Scott Oswald, putting laptops in the hands of Collingswood schoolchildren “will teach them that not everything you read on the Internet is true.”
In the coming school year, the district will distribute take-home laptops for every student in grades six and nine, with classroom sets for fourth- and fifth-graders.
At $279 apiece, the 550-computer investment costs more than $153,000, and will kick off an initiative to issue every child in the Collingswood middle and high schools a 14-inch Google Chromebook within three years.
Giving computers to a generation of children who are well familiar with advanced technology is, most importantly, an opportunity to teach next-level digital literacy, Oswald said.
“Old-school teaching was the teacher was the one in the room who knew everything and you learned from them,” he said. “With the technology at their fingertips, the kids will have access to a lot of information. Now the focus will turn to validating the information.”
That exercise in critical thought is part of a larger piece of instruction on being a good digital citizen, which Oswald said extends beyond appropriate online conduct to “get[ting]them to ask the question of ‘Do I believe this?’”
The devices themselves are sturdy, Oswald said, but spare. He estimates that the laptops will last somewhere in the neighborhood of three to four years, and said that parents will have the opportunity to purchase insurance that would cover repairs or replacements at less than the cost of the computer.
“I’m not sure there’s been one really extended beyond its life so far,” he said. “The nice thing about the Chromebook is that there really isn’t a lot in the book. There’s a processor, a motherboard, a small hard drive, keyboard, mouse. Everything else runs off the cloud.”
Given that so much of the value of the device lies in its connectivity, the district is also taking measures to assure that all its students have online access as well. Families that apply for free and reduced lunch are often eligible for the Comcast Internet Essentials program, which provides high-speed wireless Internet access for around $10 per month.
The superintendent also said that educators in the district would be training diligently on the new devices. He stressed that although instruction changes when technology is introduced, curriculum will not be based around the laptops themselves.
“We’re getting to the generation [of teachers]where these are the digital natives,” Oswald said. “It’s much more natural to them.
“This is how they grew up,” he said.