Along with pencils, pens and notebooks, students at Los Altos High School need to add something else to their list of school supplies: a laptop. Los Altos high is bolstering its use of technology in the classroom, and starting this fall, all students will be expected to have a device comparable to a laptop for class activities.
The new requirement is called the "Bring Your Own Device" policy, and has been in the works for about a year, according to Galen Rosenberg, assistant vice principal at LAHS. He said they looked at two different schools -- Notre Dame High School in San Jose and James Logan High School in Union City -- that implemented a similar BYOD policy to see what works.
Notre Dame is a private, Catholic girls' school that requires students to bring a device from home, and does not provide laptops for students who do not have one or can't afford one. Rosenberg said it's easy to implement device policies at private schools that can just force everyone to go out and buy a laptop.
Logan, on the other hand, is a public school that plans to provide devices for every student at the school. It's not fully implemented yet, but Rosenberg said a "section" of their student body now has school-provided devices.
Between the two extremes -- buying laptops for everyone or forcing everyone to buy their own -- Los Altos High School is going for somewhere in the middle. Rosenberg said he estimates about half of the students will bring a device from home to use at school, and the other half will need devices provided by the school. So to kick off the policy, the school will buy about 800 Chromebooks, a Google device similar to a laptop, for the roughly 1,800 students attending LAHS this fall.
Los Altos High School will use grant money from Google and the MVLA High School Foundation to fund the new policy. Most of the money will go into purchasing hundreds of Chromebooks.
Not any old device will do, though. The policy requires that the device have at least an 11-inch screen, and cannot be a iPad or other tablet device. Rosenberg said things like the iPad, which can be used for some classroom activities, has a limited capacity for creating and sharing documents through the cloud -- a key component to the BYOD policy. He said with laptops, students will be able to easily share created media, audio and video content with each other.
Chromebooks will be checked out at the beginning of the year, similar to a textbook, and will be returned at the end of the school year. LAHS is also discussing the possibility that students could rent a laptop at the beginning of freshman year and keep it until graduation.
Rosenberg said the requirement may seem strange or unreasonable to people who aren't familiar with today's technology, but cloud computing and a personal digital devices are the norm in college and many high schools, and the price point -- about $225 per Chromebook -- is feasible. He said most students will be ready for the school-wide tech upgrade, and already use devices to augment their schoolwork.
"This is where kids are gonna be if they aren't already," Rosenberg said. "Some teachers already know what they're going to do with the devices."
In a document shared with LAHS staff titled "Learning in the Cloud: BYOD Rationale," school administrators said they looked at the plethora of possible problems that could come up with a BYOD policy. Things like lost or broken devices, maintenance, theft, proper use and supervision were all taken into consideration, and found to be "surmountable" problems and a worthwhile trade-off.
Rosenberg said less than 10 percent of other student bodies had problems with devices, and there's a tendency to think losing or damaging a Chromebook is much different than losing or damaging other school supplies. He said if students lose their jerseys, a textbook or even a helmet, those can add up to a few hundred dollars as well.
One perk to the new device policy is that everyone, wealthy or not, will have access to a personal digital device as a school resource. Rosenberg said starting next year, every student will be on even footing. He said there will be some envy when students bring in their fancy computers, and there's no way to account for inequity in Internet access, but the BYOD policy is a good start.
"In terms of equity, this is a huge step forward," Rosenberg said.