Algonquin requiring students to “Bring Your Own Device” starting November

by beth on October 17, 2018

Post image for Algonquin requiring students to “Bring Your Own Device” starting November

Above: ARHS Students will need to bring their own devices to school soon – but the options are somewhat flexible. (images from flickr L-R by Jian ossian and Intel in Deutschland)

Algonquin offered two info sessions for students’ parents last night. The focus was their about-to-launch BYOD initiative. Starting November 5th, each student will be required to bring his/her own electronic non-phone “Device”.

I didn’t attend the sessions. But I did watch the Tech Team’s presentation to the Regional School Committee in September. The Tech team touted that increased use of tech will teach students to be “responsible digital citizens” and prepare them for college and careers.

The Director of Instructional Technology & Digital Learning pitched that devices will enhance the classroom. Julie Doyle said devices will help make classrooms “more seamless” with the school’s use of Canvas (the online Learning Management System). Distributing and collecting devices had wasted learning time in classrooms.

Teachers are being encouraged to:

rethink their curriculum to take advantage of the powerful self directed and collaborative learning opportunities that can take place when every student has access to their own device.

Some of that is promoting creative use in classrooms. But it also is about improved feedback to students via videos, message boards, or individualized emails.

Addressing a member’s a question about risks of limited comprehension in digital reading, Doyle said:

Sometimes, we as educators also need to know when it’s time to put the device away. And the fact that our kids will have the device all the time doesn’t mean they will be using them all the time.

The Principal positioned BYOD as not much of a change. Dr. Sara Pragluski Walsh explained that the pilot launched last year already allowed students to bring their own device.

A letter to parents one month before the launch date highlights the difference.* Now all students will now be expected to participate. (You can read that message here.)

To understand what will be required, the school pointed families to a dedicated page on the website. It spells out the guidelines, has FAQs, and even links to purchasing options for school/education priced devices. Last night’s sessions were to answer any questions.

Some readers will recall a failed BYOD pilot in Southborough five years ago. Neary School tried to launch one for fourth graders. There was public outcry, with a laundry list of complaints, leading to the school to cancel the initiative. One obvious difference here is the students’ age. But there’s another significant difference.

Neary’s pilot specified iPads with certain requirements at at a cost estimated between $550 – $700. Even many parents who supported a BYOD concept objected to that. Some parents argued that Chromebooks would make more sense.

Algonquin’s BYOD allows for a range of devices. The D in ARHS’ BYOD can be a laptop, tablet, or a Chromebook.

That means many families already own what’s needed. (Even 4th and 5th grade children have a lot of homework assigned via websites. And my 7th grade daughter is required to complete homework for more than half of her classes on the computer.) For those who don’t, a linked purchasing option shows one recommended Chromebook at around $215.

Of course, most families owning devices doesn’t mean everyone can afford a dedicated device for each child. For those who have financial restraints, the FAQs “strongly recommend that students bring in their own devices”. But it qualifies that those who need other options should reach out to their guidance counselors. 

Devices can not include cell phones (which are not permitted for use in class without specific educator approval for that lesson and/or activity.) Equipment must:

  • Be able to wirelessly access the internet, integrate with Google Drive and other G Suite for Education Apps
  • Allow for text entry, through a full-sized keyboard. Tablets would need a keyboard accessory. (Individual exceptions may be made based on disabilities.)
  • Be protected by anti-virus software (not provided by the school)

The school will have a “loaner” chromebook program for students who sign an agreement. But it is not offered as an alternative to bringing your own. Guidelines call for to students’ use to be a “rare occurance”. A warning notes that the number of loaners available are limited and:

ARHS cannot guarantee devices for all students every day.

You may question that since taxes already paid for computer carts in the school. But presenters explained to the School Committee that the carts have another key use. There will still be need for school-owned devices in certain classrooms (e.g. Labs). Those will have instructional programs downloaded.

The initiative is seen by the administration as a long-time coming. The Tech Team reminded the committee that BYOD was part of the district’s “Vision 2020”. (Although the 2013 document referred to “BY03 as the future”, “the availability of three devices, i.e., laptop + tablet + smartphone – all synchronized.”)

That strategic mission described setting groundwork by the end of 2017 for the future 1:1 tech. That included improved wi-fi. Andrew Mariotti, the District Technology Manager told the committee that the school’s wi-fi speed was doubled to 1Gb per second last year. In answer to radiation concerns, he acknowledged that they need to keep on top of research. The tech team pointed out that similar concerns exist for the cell phones everyone carries, and that research in the next ten years “will be telling”.

As for concerns about sharing/spreading viruses, Mariotti responded that all devices are essentially in their own cloud with a limited window to the school. A firewall will notify them if a device isn’t properly equipped with anti-virus protection.

You can watch the full presentation via Northborough Cable here.

*Editor’s Note: Some of you have seen a a comment from a reader last week indicating that the required participation for his/her student explained in the October 5th letter came as a surprise.

Over a year ago, I shared news about the school’s BYOD pilot. The school newspaper previewed the Fall 2017 launch of the optional program. But I didn’t hear/see anything about next steps and I’m not in tune with all that’s going on at the school. A letter at the start of the year referred to the BYOD Initiative but didn’t explain it.

So, I reached out to to Principal Walsh to find out if the October letter was the first time parents were notified participation would be required.

Walsh and Doyle told me that the school had been communicating with parents since last year, with multiple presentations, information shared and resources the website. Initially, the administration hoped to implement BYOD in September with a Q&A session at the Open House. That was pushed off for a second term start.

Walsh said she looked forward to the story “so that I can learn how to better communicate to meet our student and parent needs.”

That sounds like an invitation for feedback! So. . .

If you are an Algonquin parent, please weigh in.

Were you aware of the coming requirement well in advance?

Did this somehow get past you?

If you think the school should have communicated better – how?

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 resident October 17, 2018 at 3:16 PM

I do understand the importance of moving forward in the technological age. However, there are still families who cannot afford a device for every child in their house nor do they want one. There are some families, yes in Southboro that cannot afford food week to week, are living paycheck to paycheck and paying taxes. If we want something like this, we should what Grafton does where they issue a laptop or whatever device each year to each student. They are responsible for it throughout the year, can purchase insurance and it is turned in at the end of the year to be reissued the next year. It take the cost burden off of the parents. We pay more than enough in taxes, let’s stop the bleeding with programs like this and stop segregating the people who cannot afford these types of luxuries. Asking them to speak with the guidance counselors is embarrassing for them as well as belittling.

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2 Mom October 19, 2018 at 10:42 AM

I was dismayed by a remark made by one of the presenters at the talk. She said that she felt a $200 purchase wasn’t a big expense, that in the past she required students to have calculators that cost $100 and all students were able to meet that requirement. Aside from the fact that calculators can be shared, that remark struck me as an elitist attitude. How can someone judge what is a major purchase for someone else? I feel the BYOD program will create a bigger divide between the students. There will be those who have their own and there will be those who have to wait in line each morning to borrow a device. Will that process create problems for those students with getting to class on time? Will being tardy to 1st class lead to more discipline for the underprivileged?
One parent asked, “Couldn’t this wait until after Christmas?” My heart went out to him.

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3 Frank Crowell October 19, 2018 at 3:04 PM

I have become less surprised with each passing year the arrogance of anyone in the education system. There rarely was a meeting I attended whether at parent teacher conference or a school committee meeting where it was clear: They know better than you – just shut up and let them do their job. In the mean time taxes go up, bus schedules get more ridicules and felony fraud occurs. I am still waiting for an explanation on why our per student costs are higher than neighboring towns.

Those same educational elite will tell you that we are all better off without more charter schools. Why don’t we start looking into BYOT – bring your own teacher.

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4 Al Hamilton October 19, 2018 at 6:07 PM

This debate is really about priorities or more precisely the unwillingness to prioritize.

If I have my math correct, a BYOD solution can be had for $200. Assuming that the device lasts for 4 years that is $50 per year. In 2016-17 year the Regional School System spent $16,821.18 per student. Since the School Admin and School Committee is reluctant to fund this endeavor from the generous funds provided by both our communities, it is reasonable to assume that this priority is lower that all the other things which did make the funding cut. In other words, there is no other endeavor at the school that costs $50/year that could be eliminated to fund this program. (Even if the program costs $200/year the conclusion is the same)

It is really hard to make the case that parents should be required to spend monies on such a low priority program.

Both of our communities, on average, are well to do. However, both of our communities also operate food pantries, some of our friends and neighbors have less food security than we would like to acknowledge. It is both insensitive and cruel to inflict additional mandatory fees on a single mom, struggling to make ends meet or a family with a disabled primary bread winner.

If this program is a priority then find the funds from the generous sums provided by both our communities or as a last result, make the case for higher taxes. It is a travesty to perpetuate the “digital divide” punishing and stigmatizing those of lesser means just because on average the personal cost to most families is not high.

The school committee and the administration should be ashamed.

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5 djd66 October 20, 2018 at 6:41 PM

Al –

Do you really think $50/year is a lot of money for a child to have a computer? I realize there are people of different means, however $50 dollars,… really? I would be truly hard pressed to to find anyone that can’t afford $50 for a device that will help your kid.

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6 Mom October 22, 2018 at 8:33 AM

djd66, you misunderstood Al. He was saying that if the device cost $200 and it is in use fro 4 years (presuming the student is currently a Freshman) then the breakdown would be $50 per year.
Just to clear up any misunderstanding:
1. As of November 5, 2018 all students will be required to BYOD.
2. $200 is a very low estimate of the actual cost per qualified device.

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7 Al Hamilton October 22, 2018 at 12:18 PM

djd66

While the school might reasonably account for this expense on a “deprecation” basis (annual cost = Cost/ expected life) for a family, the cost would be $200 (or some multiple if they have more than 1 child in High School).

My point is 2 fold

1. This program is a very low priority for the school. It is not as important as, instruction in Latin, Weight Training Classes, Instruction in Sociology to name a few programs that were funded to the exclusion of this program. Budgets are about priorities and this program did not make the cut so it must be a lower priority than any program that was funded. Making parents pay for such a low priority program seems inappropriate.

2. Most of the families in our communities can lay out $200 or more without incurring hardship, there are families in both communities that struggle with the basics such as housing and food security. Forcing these families to find a spare $200 in their budgets is, in my opinion, cruel. Kids will know who get the “poor peoples computers” and who does not. The digital divide is real and families ability to pay is a significant component.

Actions speak much louder that words. Right now, the School Committee and the School Admin actions are saying very clearly that this program is not important. If it is important then they should find the funds within existing resources or ask the taxpayers for more.

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8 SB Resident October 22, 2018 at 11:24 AM

The main reason the school committee is doing the right thing in this case is that if you sampled the community, the vast majority would want it done this way.

1) The students don’t want another free device paid for by the school. They want to be able to use the device they already have and almost all of them do already have something.
2) In reality we would be being more wasteful by forcing a purchase that isn’t needed in all those cases.
3) That something they already have is often going to be better than the 200 dollar device the school would provide.
4) Different students are different and value different features of these devices differently, a one size fits all solution is never efficient.
5) Most importantly these things can be fragile and removing the liability from the school to handle this is valuable.
6) There is a huge used/refurbished market for all this stuff, great devices at prices even cheaper than $200 can be easily found.

I suspect there are very few who can’t work this out and I am sure that the school will be taking care of them. I’m sure there will even be cases where their friends will take care of them. There are so many old machines just sitting around that are still perfectly capable that they would just give a friend.

I suspect much of the complaining is from Luddites who don’t think that the students should be on a device all day and this cost argument is the best defense they can think of. That’s a valid opinion, but it is in the minority, time to move on.

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9 Al Hamilton October 22, 2018 at 2:35 PM

SB

This Luddite spent his working life in the hardware and software industry and founded a successful wireless communications company.

There are some important principles at work here not a desire to go back to the 50’s.

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10 Kate October 21, 2018 at 8:29 PM

Actually, many families have more than one student at the school which makes this an even larger investment. The loaner program provided by the school only puts a spotlight on the students whose socio economic status is different than his/her peers. This can be a real struggle for many families and I am disappointed in how it has been communicated by the school with little interest in parent input.

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11 Kelly Roney October 22, 2018 at 10:05 AM

I just googled “chromebook”. NewEgg has a refurbished Samsung model for $72 and a refurbished Acer for $80. I’m sure they’re not ideal, but they’re low-cost options.

To Al’s point, why shouldn’t this come from the generous school budget if it’s so important?

This seems to me to be school supplies, which have always been the parents’ responsibility. A device such as this should replace notebooks, pens, pencils, and the like, rather than merely supplementing them. There’s no way those were available for only $20 per year. (On the other hand, getting four years out of a refurbished device is not by any means guaranteed.)

As with more traditional school supplies, our community needs a way to quietly identify and help people who need it.

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12 Mom October 22, 2018 at 11:48 AM

Where did your cost of $20 per year come from?

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13 Kelly Roney October 22, 2018 at 2:50 PM

Mom, $80 (cost of the refurbished Samsung Chromebook) divided by 4 years of high school. Clearly, that’s a bare minimum, and it assumes the refurbished device lasts four years.

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14 Mom October 23, 2018 at 9:53 AM

Oh, ok I get it now. Unfortunately, there’s not an installment payment plan. So, while that would be the cost per year after 4 years (assuming that your student is a Freshman), parents have to pay out the total cost up front.
I wonder if the refurbished chromebooks that you found meet the school’s requirements. I’ll have to check that out.

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15 Al Hamilton October 22, 2018 at 11:56 AM

Kelly

I think the world just turned upside down. You have just argued we should require private funding of a public education and I have just suggested that the School Committee should ask for a tax increase.

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16 Kelly Roney October 22, 2018 at 2:53 PM

Al, LOL!

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17 Sboro mom November 4, 2018 at 10:16 PM

I have a freshman and a senior. My freshman has Mac Pro that was quite expansive and we will not allow her to take it to school, reasons: loss, damage or theft. My senior doesn’t have a portable computer and we are not willing to buy one until he goes to college and he knows what is required to purchase. I refuse to buy two extra devices for them to take to school as it is unnecessary redundancy and I feel that it is the school’s responsibility. AP history text book is $250 and if the school did not supply one, I would not have purchased it either. Look at the devices as text books and loan them to students during school time.

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18 beth November 5, 2018 at 8:27 AM

What is your plan of action? Are you planning to have kids borrow the school devices each morning?

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19 the_plan November 6, 2018 at 8:05 AM

My understanding is that is/was the plan – the school would have a limited number of ChromeBook loaners available each day for students to use. The question is what device they’d have for their use once they’ve left school for the day.

Perhaps Principal Skinner (The SImpsons) would be able to provide the answer?

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20 Jesse November 5, 2018 at 6:47 AM

The issues of financial equity and equal access to educational opportunity are real and important even in affluent towns like ours. There is a world of difference between offering an in-school loaner on a day-to-day basis and offering long-term loaner machines that can go home with the student and be available for homework. Unfortunately, the low cost of Chromebooks misses the point—the annual cost of home internet access will be larger than the hardware cost, and monthly service costs are an ongoing financial demand. I don’t know whether the school already has a program in place to address this aspect of the digital divide, but it is real, especially in a town with limited public transportation and few public WiFi hotspots available for homework. For a student whose does not have a suitable machine and internet access provided by their family, this policy as currrently configured will make a bad situation worse.

That said, the BYOD program could be leveraged to *help* address these issues by making suitable low-cost devices available on a long-term basis to those who don’t have them, including providing cellular-enabled machines if needed for home internet access.

As has been pointed out, allowing students to BYOD will greatly reduce the district cost of providing students with computing equipment in the classroom. But it does nothing towards providing a guarantee of digital participation for every student both at school *and* at home. Our civic duty demands that we guarantee access to the educational resources used in the curriculum.

BYOD could be a step in the right direction, but only if it is configured and applied to close the digital divide, rather than make it wider. That requires long-term loaner machines, including for homework, with cellular access if necessary. Until the district does so, students and parents alike should refuse to participate in digital curricula using personal equipment and services. The issue isn’t whether the majority of students want to use their own devices anyway; the issue is whether there is one student who needs one.

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21 Al Hamilton November 5, 2018 at 3:06 PM

At the risk of stirring the pot further I have a simple question: Does the School Committee have the authority to require that parents spend money in order to send their children to school?

This is a “requirement” in principle, even though the program is demonstrably of low priority to the School Admin, this is a required expenditure that is placed on parents by a governmental entity. In other words, a tax. In this case a tax on the parents of school children based on the number in high school. Does the regional school system have the authority to levy such a tax? I very much doubt it.

If it is “required” what are the consequences of flaunting this requirement? Expulsion? That would seem logical if it is a real requirement backed up by the authority to impose it. If it is required then parents/guardians must comply under threat of compulsion similar to the requirement that we pay taxes. Indeed it would appear that this is, in some respects, really just a hidden tax on children.

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22 SB Resident November 5, 2018 at 4:28 PM

I don’t really know the answer to your question, but the simplified case of this is that the school doesn’t provide pencils. I would assume the question of can schools require students to supply their own pencils has been answered and that the answer was clearly yes. Students have also been bringing their own calculators which cost $100ish for years and years now, so I think those have set the precedent for electronics.

I do agree though that these are direct to family hidden taxes and it is a slippery slope with some communities charging for busing, I’ve heard of others that have surcharges for art supplies. We determined that band is extra and you have to supply your own instrument. It is my understanding that assemblies and field trips are paid for by SOS. I find our districts most egregious example is that tissues are not provided and students supply those. Is toilet paper next? Students pay for white board makers too, chalk was provided when I was young.

Ultimately with regards to the BYOD the biggest problem here is communication. The dedicated page linked above only says that they should reach out to their guidance counselor. That implies that they are working with students individually and have a solution in place to help those that need it, but it just doesn’t say for sure.

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