Finding New Ways to Increase Student Engagement

Faced with aging technology nearing end of lease, the School District of Springfield Township—an administration serving nearly 2,200 K-12 students in Springfield, PA—was looking for a cost-effective way to put more technology in the hands of their students and improve learning at the same time.

“We were providing access to systems on a 2:1 ratio—one system for every two students,” said Richard Oliver, Director of IT. “And with the age of the devices and the complexity of our image, we were losing instructional time just waiting for the devices to boot up. On average, it took 5-7 minutes for each system to boot, which is a loss of roughly 22 instructional hours—nearly three days—over the course of the school year. We were looking for a better way to put technology in the hands of more students and gain efficiencies as well.

Exploring New Technologies and Methods

With those goals in mind, the administration embarked on a pilot program at the beginning of the 2014/2015 school year. The pilot consisted of deploying 400 HP Chromebooks to students in the 8th and 9th grades on a one-to-one initiative and utilizing Google Apps for Education to provide the tools for the students and teachers to use, as well as an online collaboration space where they could connect with each other on a daily basis.

With Google Classroom providing the framework, teachers were able to take a step forward in providing more personalized learning for their students. In one example, a teacher videotaped their lectures and made the content available to students to consume while in the physical classroom and from home. Students were able to review the material as many times as they wanted to reinforce the concepts being taught. In addition, the teacher created “impossible to fail” quizzes for the students to use to make sure they understood the content. If the student answered a question incorrectly, they were required to go back to the section of the lecture where the material had been taught and go over it again before they could advance to the next question.

Use of the Chromebooks, in conjunction with Google Classroom, also has increased engagement and collaboration among the students themselves as well as with the teachers. For one assignment, the technology was used for a persuasive writing activity. Students were asked to view videos of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other persuasive speakers, and then write a short paper on the topic. In the past, the teacher would have showed the videos to the entire class of 20-30 students at the same time, the students would then write a paper and turn it in for the teacher to provide feedback. But now, the students can watch the videos at their own pace and then write their paper online, submitting it for teacher feedback as well as peer feedback in real-time. Using this approach, the students feel more engaged and actually learn how to work collaboratively with one another. “I think the Chromebooks have been useful for my writing,” one student said. “It’s so much easier to apply revisions, and I don’t have to waste paper by writing and rewriting draft after draft. Chromebooks have made it easier to interact with my classmates and teachers using Google Apps.”

Preparation and Planning Were Important Factors

As with any new project, preparation was important. To help teachers become more comfortable with the Chromebooks and Google Apps prior to the pilot, the administration conducted a series of professional development sessions monthly throughout the school year. In those sessions, teachers were able to receive hands-on instruction to improve their own skills with the products as well as receive tips on how to use them in the classroom.

In addition, special tech-savvy teachers were brought on-board and designated as instructional coaches provided assistance to teachers on a continual and as needed basis with such things as setting up a Google Classroom, planning instructional activities, using email, creating Google Slides presentations, and working with content.

Our combination of technology, technology support and instructional support creates a dynamic team that results in success for the students,” said Oliver. “Having the coaches available full-time to support our teachers has made a huge difference.”

Results Achieved and Next Steps

To measure the effectiveness of the pilot program, Springfield Township administrators conducted a survey before the pilot began and another one at the conclusion. While the results showed clear improvement in the proficiency level of students with using Google Apps—Gmail (from 93% to 97%), Google Drive (from 96% to 98%), Google Sites (from 65% to 74%), and Classroom (from 63% to 97%)—the real change was seen in the interaction between teachers, students and peers. Using the Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education created more opportunities to give and receive feedback in a more timely manner, and students indicated they experienced an increase in both verbal feedback (from 68% to77%) as well as written feedback (from 66% to 83%).

With the encouraging results received—improved proficiency level of students with technology, real-time feedback from teachers and peers, and the increased engagement of the students—the administration plans to expand the Chromebook deployment to grades 4-12, an additional 1,640 devices, starting the 2015/2016 school year.