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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nashua school board considers updates to classroom technology

NASHUA – Google programs and technology might soon become commonplace in Nashua classrooms.

A new report on how to bring classrooms into the 21st century was reviewed by the Board of Education Monday night, and included information on classroom use of Google Docs and Chromebooks. ...

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NASHUA – Google programs and technology might soon become commonplace in Nashua classrooms.

A new report on how to bring classrooms into the 21st century was reviewed by the Board of Education Monday night, and included information on classroom use of Google Docs and Chromebooks.

The Information Technology Committee prepared the report, which detailed how to improve a classroom to either “bare minimum” or “enhanced” technology standards. Their goal is to develop a plan for creating what they called the “ideal classroom of the 21st century.”

The committee includes teachers, students and parents from across the district ,as well as administrators, technology staff and school board member Elizabeth Van Twuyver. District technology coach for elementary schools, Jen Grantham, along NHS South teacher Mike McQuilkin, presented the report.

The presentation began with a video of two high school students asserting that the district’s technology was outdated and slow – but the video had difficulty buffering and would not play properly.

Grantham said their first goal is to meet “bare bones” technology standards in classrooms, followed by what can be done to move toward “enhanced” classrooms for the future.

She recommended Google Chromebooks as a less expensive tool to explore for increasing students’ access to technology, as well as classroom use of Google Drive and Google Sites access.

Grantham explained that a Chromebook doesn’t have a hard drive and stores all data on the Cloud. “It’s a much, much lower price-point than a laptop,” she said. “It requires no anti-virus protection.”

“So you’re saying this will replace the students’ paper and pencil in the future?” member Sandra Ziehm asked.

“We need to teach in the language they’re speaking,” Grantham said, adding that her five-year old daughter’s technological literacy is beyond most adults.

Principal Keith Richard at South is piloting a Chromebook cart this year, according to Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Seusing.

“We may need to look at higher-end technology for some courses,” said Superintendent Mark Conrad. But other technology, such as Chromebooks, is worth reviewing to increase students’ access to technology, he said.

In terms of programs, Grantham said the use of Google Docs is free, and has a great potential for cost-savings in not having to purchase other software, such as Microsoft Word.

Grantham reviewed the versatility of Google Docs for classrooms, stating it could facilitate student and teacher corroboration and make saving and storing documents easier. “I know it’s been a great opportunity for sharing among the report card committees,” she said.

“It would appear to be a great brainstorming opportunity for the kids,” said member Steven Haas.

Board member David Murotake said he was excited about the presentation, but warned that nothing is ever really free. He asked whether the district should or should not upload sensitive data to the Cloud because, as he put it, “who owns the data?”

Van Twuyver added, “When you relinquish data up to the Cloud, you lose control of that data.”

The district’s Wi-Fi capability remains a formidable obstacle, according to Fairgrounds Jr. High School teacher Gary Hoffman.

“The number one thing that frustrates teachers is when the technology doesn’t work,” he said. He said the Wi-Fi signals haven’t been strong enough to support multiple devices. Hoffman said a classroom might have a pile of Chromebooks, but not the wireless support to use them.

“Moving into the 21st century, we need to make sure the Wi-Fi can support multiple devices,” he said.

Conrad said the district is in the process of refreshing wireless access points in schools, which should improve access.

Beyond that, Seusing said they’re hoping to use federal “E-Rate” funds toward creating additional access points. E-Rate is an initiative by the FCC to increase internet access in schools and libraries.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402 or tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Forbes on Twitter (@Telegraph_TinaF).