With the start of the new school year, 46 of Loudoun County Public Schools’ 92 schools distributed Chromebooks to its students as part of a three-year initiative to equip all students with personalized learning devices.
Students in grades three through 12 at the 46 schools received the Lenovo 300e Chromebook. Next year, 23 more schools will receive the devices, and in 2020 the final 23 schools will receive the Chromebooks. Funding for the devices has come from reallocated existing technology dollars, according to LCPS.
“Overall, the program is off to a great start. In the 46 schools that went digital this year, we are seeing teachers leverage the digital tools to transform the learning environment. I am excited to see the initiative continue to flourish and enhance the student experience,” Assistant Superintendent of the Department of Digital Innovation Vince Scheivert said.
A key component of the initiative is equalizing access to technology and educational content for students.
But with change has come some difficulty and uncertainty. Loudoun parents have voiced concerns to LCPS staff and posted comments in online parent groups.
Among parents' chief concerns are liability if the Chromebook is lost or broken and security questions.
LCPS recommends all broken or lost devices be immediately reported to schools, according to its FAQ. Students also have access to media centers that can help with damage.
School Board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian District) said Chromebooks are pretty durable, and some breakage and loss is anticipated. Rose said LCPS is looking at ways to improve the device rollout as it receives feedback from teachers and families. Rose said one thing LCPS may consider is looking at a system that would allow younger students in elementary school to leave their Chromebooks at school to prevent students breaking or losing the devices at home.
On the Internet security side, LCPS officials say they are doing all they can to keep students secure. Parents and students may have noticed a pop-up when they first logged onto their Chromebooks, notifying users that browsing activity is monitored and privacy related settings and plug-in settings may be changed.
LCPS devices have the same restrictions as desktops and laptops at school, meaning certain sites are restricted based on content. Sites that may use a device’s location or microphone may be blocked from doing so, and certain word combinations will be flagged.
The Internet content filter is managed by the Information Security team within the Department of Digital Innovation (DDI). Student content in LCPS' Google and O365 domain is analyzed by a service that enforces the acceptable use policy and monitors for inappropriate content such as pornography, suicide and self-harm, violence towards others, harassment and content featuring drugs and alcohol, LCPS officials said.
The school system uses content monitoring software to filter information that is searched via the Internet. If searched content is identified to be a potential threat of self-harm or harm to others, the software program alerts LCPS regardless of if school is in session. Once alerted, an LCPS representative reviews the information and informs the school administration. The school administration is then supposed to contact the parent to inform them of the concern, and depending on the content, may also contact local law enforcement.
“Student safety is our first priority. Keeping students safe online involves a strong partnership with parents and educating students about online safety and responsible digital citizenship,” LCPS officials said.
Some parents have expressed concern over LCPS having access to the Chromebook’s camera or location. LCPS officials said the school system does not have the capacity to remotely activate the camera or microphone on the Chromebooks and that Chromebooks do not have GPS.
Rose said she’s been assured that LCPS is also taking steps to protect students from companies that might mine students for data. Though LCPS uses Google Classroom, Rose said Google does not have any access to student data.
Additionally, because of LCPS’ safeguards on sites, app and software downloads, parents may feel more secure that what their students are accessing is safe. Rose said one of her kids has used his Chromebook to download pre-approved music department software that helps him explore his love of music.
This is one way the devices can be used to personalize learning and further students’ passions, she said. It also allows teachers to find out in real time if students are understanding material, and it allows for more collaboration between students — a real world skill they will need after graduation.
Rose said the devices interface well with the school system, making it easier for students to access homework, complete homework and get grades back faster.
If students or parents want to continue using their own technology as opposed to the LCPS Chromebook, parents can opt out their student at the school. LCPS has said the Chromebook initiative is not meant to replace the Bring Your Own Technology program but to complement it.
Rose also said the Chromebooks are not replacing physical books or writing with pen and paper. Though screen time will increase with the devices, Rose said they won’t be in front of a screen all day, and the Chromebooks are meant to help enhance student outcome.
“These kids need to be engaging with the technology now if we’re going to set them up for success in the 21st century and that is important,” Rose said. “But that doesn’t mean reading, writing on paper isn’t important. It is. We can have both.”