LIVINGSTON, NJ – The 1:1 computing initiative that has been a central focus of the Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) since the pilot program launched in January 2016 once again took center stage at the first LBOE meeting of the new school year.
With the 2016-'17 school year now officially under way, the update on both the operational and educational rollout received high marks.
The 1:1 pilot program, initiated last year, was designed to bring the school system into the modern age by delivering laptops and tablets with Internet access to every seventh-through-12th-grade student in the Livingston school system as a means of opening the gateway to digital learning opportunities.
The initiative was helmed by a specially implemented District Technology Committee comprised of more than 30 technology professionals, school administrators, principals, teachers, media specialists and communications officials. Extensive research on how this type of initiative was successfully implemented in other school districts was conducted; policies and guidelines were drafted; outside vendors responsible for providing all essential equipment were negotiated with; and teaching staff, students and parents were offered educational opportunities to bring them up to speed before the launch.
Tom Douglas, manager of Technology, confirmed in his operational report that by summer’s end 2,487 computers had been “imaged” and distributed to Livingston High School and Heritage Middle School students. The labor-intensive process of “imaging” included setting up the devices by registering each one, uploading all necessary software, and adding every device to the network.
Although the order for the devices was placed early, devices arrived later than originally anticipated, which necessitated a collapsed turnaround time. Only a little less than 200 devices remain to be distributed over the next few weeks.
“The tech department, tech coaches, administrators, and mostly the student helpers that we hired for the summer did a fantastic job,” said Douglas. “Without them we wouldn’t have been able to turn the devices around as quickly as possible. Having the summer helpers on board was a great asset and one of the best things that we did to accomplish the rollout.”
According to Douglas’ report, the infrastructure is holding up well and no outages have been reported during the initial week of usage. Technology coaches, working in tandem with building technicians, are credited with keeping the process moving smoothly.
On the horizon is a Livingston Public Schools-Livingston Township fiber-optic-cable deal with Verizon that, once implemented, will increase the speed of the devices, tenfold. After a resolution is passed, the Township of Livingston will sign an agreement with Verizon, granting Verizon a municipal right of way.
Following a permit and applications process, the fiber-optic vendor will begin working on local poles. Pole work is expected to be completed a month after it begins and is anticipated to be completed during the winter months.
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction, Patricia Boland, then took the floor to offer an educational update. Nearly 200 teachers took advantage of the technology courses offered over the summer and, being so well received, the overwhelming feedback from those participants indicated that the teaching staff wanted more of the same.
In response, eight Google courses and four “One Note” courses of various types were offered to staff on Sept. 1.
“Some teachers had already completed the basic courses so we adjusted the level so we would be able to attract people who already knew the basics but needed some additional skills,” said Boland.
From both operational and the educational accounts, the engagement of the tech coaches is evidence of the 1:1 computing program’s immediate success. Between deployment activities, teacher assistance, and in-person, hands-on appearances in classrooms as the initiative launches, tech coaches are utilizing before and after school time periods, classroom time, and lunchtime, to make themselves available to all who need assistance.
Already, a culture of technology “success story” sharing is being evidenced amongst the teaching staff. Over the course of the next month, coaches are expected to come share their experiences in how they’re effectively utilizing the new technology with the LBOE. In the classroom, on-the-spot coaching is currently the most requested resource.
Newly appointed Superintendent of Schools Christina Steffner stated that she is working with Douglas and Marilyn Lehren, Livingston Public Schools Manager of Communications and Community Outreach, to refine a feedback survey that will continually track progress as the 1:1 computing initiative takes hold.
Utilizing a carefully constructed survey based on concerns voiced in an earlier forum, including such issues as a fear of forgetting their device, a tendency not to use it very much, an inability to navigate the software and more outstanding concerns will be addressed.
“The survey will go out in the next week, giving us a good sense of where teachers, students, and parents are to start,” said Steffner. “The survey will be out in the field for two weeks and then we’ll take that information and consolidate it and, in three months, we’ll go back out again and see where the issues still are.”